5 Things Small Businesses Can Learn from the 2012 Summer Olympics

1 Aug

Though I tried awfully hard to resist, over the past couple weeks I’ve come down with a pretty bad case of Olympics Fever. (Damn you, NBC, and your endless hype!)

Thankfully, it’s been an exciting few days and there have been plenty of highlights — a great Opening Ceremony and Ryan Lochte beating Michael Phelps among them.

Even if you don’t have much interest in swimming, diving, basketball, gymnastics, tennis, cycling, weightlifting, track and field, or any of the other events taking place, there’s still good reason to tune in to these Games — particularly if you’re a small business. That’s right, the Summer Olympics may seem like a giant corporate blowout, but they can also teach small businesses a thing or two if you look at them the right way.

So in the spirit of my earlier post about marketing lessons you can learn from baseball, and because there are five Olympic rings, here are five things that small businesses can learn from the 2012 Summer Olympics.

1. Practice makes perfect.

You can’t just wake up one day and decide you want to be an Olympic athlete. You have to work at it. And work. And work. And work. Aly Raisman, of the gold-medal-winning women’s gymnastics team, has said she trains for 7.5 hours a day, and has been doing so for eight years. That’s the same kind of work ethic you’ll find with nearly any other member of Team USA.

It’s like with many activities a small business owner does, particularly the marketing ones. Few people are good at using tools like social media, or blogging, right out of the gate. But the more you do it, the better you’ll be.

2. It’s important to be unique.

While there are always certain formal things that are the same from one Olympics Opening Ceremony to the next, each host country tries to differentiate itself by putting on a distinctive show, and sharing a bit of its history and culture. Friday’s Opening Ceremony may not have been as spectacular as the one in Beijing four years ago, but it was very British — from the way it celebrated National Health Care and pop culture to its inclusion of Mary Poppins, James Bond, Voldemort, Rowan Atkinson, J.K. Rowling, Sir Paul McCartney, and the Queen herself.

Take a cue from the Opening Ceremony: What can your business do to be distinct and memorable, so customers differentiate you from others? (Hint: The more you show off your authentic, human side, in videos and photos, and social media updates, blog posts, and emails that are written in a conversational tone, the more unique you’ll be.)

3. Not everyone will be happy.

NBC has put itself into a no-win situation this time out, promoting a “most social Olympics ever;” encouraging people to tweet about the events; building a site where people can watch every event live online; broadcasting on Twitter, on the Nightly News, and in commercials the results of the day’s competition; and yet still promoting and broadcasting its primetime coverage as if it was live and unspoiled. No wonder the network has (rightly) received so much criticism.

Sure, this is an extreme case, but unhappy customers are unhappy customers, no matter the size of your business. Be ready to listen and respond to your dissatisfied customers and critics — even if you think they’re just a vocal minority — and think of ways you can make them happier. As loudly as people may be complaining about you on social media, that’s as loudly as you want them to be saying you did something right.

4. Attitude is everything.

Not everyone goes home a winner at the Olympics. After all, it’s not a kids’ soccer league where everyone gets a trophy. You can practice, practice, practice, and you may still mess up the dismount, cramp, pull a hamstring, or something freakish like that.

The trick, for athletes as well as small business owners, is that when faced with disappointing results, you have to get right back on the horse (or back on the diving board, or whatever) and keep fighting. Stay positive. You’ll get other chances to compete, and you can win then — especially if you learn from your setbacks. (Just ask 19 medal–winner Michael Phelps.)

5. Unity is more important than competition.

Yes, everyone at the Olympics is a competitor. But the great message of the Games is world unity. It’s symbolized in the rings, which overlap, and it plays out at the Opening and especially the Closing Ceremonies, when the athletes cross country lines and all gather together to celebrate. (Not to mention what they’re doing over at the Olympic Village.)

You, too, have competitors, but it’s always good to remember the value of coming together as peers. You can share ideas and adapt them to suit your own purposes, you can build your network, and you can possibly find new customers too. Do that and you’ll be a winner too.

What lessons are you learning from the Summer Olympics this year? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

3 Responses to “5 Things Small Businesses Can Learn from the 2012 Summer Olympics”


  1. Is Your Brand in on the Joke? Or Is the Joke on You? « Martin's Musings - August 13, 2012

    […] to at least lessen the impact it was having on her personal brand. After all, the weeks after the Olympics are an important time for the athletes as they try to cash in on their medals. An unhappy brat will […]

  2. 25 Things I Learned This Summer « Martin's Musings - August 31, 2012

    […] 6. Likewise, it’s impossible to resist something as heavily hyped as the Olympics. […]

  3. What Were My Top 12 Blog Posts of 2012? « Martin's Musings - December 27, 2012

    […] wasn’t a leader, despite it being an election year. And surprisingly, my post about what small businesses can learn from the Summer Olympics didn’t win the Gold […]

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