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Marketers expect big return from their Olympian efforts

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With just a little less than a year to go before the start of the Beijing Summer Olympics, b-to-b companies are already pumping significant amounts of money, staff and other resources into their efforts for the event, which represents a tremendous marketing opportunity for global organizations.

The 2008 Beijing Olympics will provide a worldwide advertising platform, with broadcast viewership expected to exceed 4 billion. The Games also will present an opportunity to make inroads into the lucrative Chinese market, which many companies have staked out as their next important sales frontier.

General Electric Co., for example, is using the Beijing Olympics as a catalyst to reach its target of generating $10 billion in sales in China by 2010.

GE is a worldwide partner of the Olympic Games and will be providing more than 335 products and infrastructure services to help the Chinese stage the event, from a rainwater recycling system at Beijing's National Stadium to enegy- efficient turbines that will power the Olympic Green sports complex.

"The Beijing Olympics are very important to our marketing strategy for several reasons," said GE CMO Dan Henson. "One of the obvious reasons is the revenue opportunity, which is going very well so far. Overall, we're looking at hitting the $600 million mark in revenue associated with Beijing, and we're about halfway there."

The revenue is coming from multiple projects GE has won, from powering Olympic facilities and hotels to providing medical equipment to hospitals that will be treating athletes during the games.

However, the opportunities extend beyond sales to developing an entirely new approach to enterprise marketing at the $163 billion company.

"The Olympic effort for us has really created a new way of going to market," Henson said. "It is an approach to marketing that is perfectly suited for the biggest growth areas on the planet today—big infrastructure projects that are occurring in emerging markets."

To support the hundreds of commercial projects across multiple lines of business that GE has been bidding on and developing in association with the Olympics, the company has put together an enterprise sales team of more than 100 people, led by an executive who reports directly to GE Vice Chairman John Rice.

"GE has a 130-year history of taking a product-specific or service-specific approach to doing business," Henson said. "The Olympics has allowed us to put one GE face on our breadth of commercial offerings and has led us to a greater degree of success than we've had bidding on projects in the past."

The enterprise team, made up of individuals with project management and fulfillment skills as well as sales expertise, is able to respond to project requests across multiple lines of business, such as a stadium project that encompasses water, security and lighting products.

New opportunities follow

The Olympics has also given GE a chance to develop relationships with developers, contractors, suppliers and government officials that will benefit the company in the future as it bids on other projects.

"The learning has not only translated to success in Beijing but to a new commercial approach that we are applying to similar opportunities, such as the Shanghai World Expo [in 2010], casinos in Macao and the Asian Games [also in 2010]," Henson said.

Another benefit to the Olympics is the showcase it will provide for GE's "ecomagination" products, designed to benefit the environment. Many of the projects that GE is developing in association with the games, such as solar-powered lighting at the Fengtai softball field and water-filtering technology at the Qinghe waste water plant, feature its ecomagination products and services.

Henson said one thing the company has learned about projects with the scope of the Olympics is the importance of getting there early. "There is definitely a first-mover advantage," he said.

GE started gearing up for the Beijing Olympics during the Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy, last year.

"As successful as we've been in Beijing, we wish we'd been there two years earlier," Henson said.

Other marketers are dedicating resources, time and travel to Beijing now in order to be ready for the games next year.

Eastman Kodak Co., another worldwide partner of the Beijing Olympics, is providing imaging technology, an imaging center and behind-the-scenes technologies for scoring and delivering information during the games.

To prepare for its involvement as an Olympic partner, and also to set the stage for customer and business partner events during the games, Kodak executives have been traveling to Beijing this year for meetings with the Olympic committee, other Olympic partners and facility managers.

"We are very interested in the Olympics as being a catalyst for growth in the region," said Jeff Hayz- lett, CMO of Kodak's Graphic Communications Group, the b-to-b arm of the company that sells products and services to commercial printers.

Hayzlett said China will be the second-largest printing market in the world by 2011. Currently, the U.S./Canada and Europe, Middle East and Africa are the largest print markets in the world, each with 33% total market share, he said, pointing to industry research.

"The Olympics really provide an opportunity to showcase our technology," he said. "Commercial printers from all over the world will be attending, and they want to see how we are deploying our technology on demand."

Hayzlett traveled to Beijing last month to meet with facilities managers and prepare for customer events, and he'll be returning next month for media conferences and meetings with other Olympic sponsors and business partners to finalize plans.

While it is too soon for most marketers to talk about their advertising plans for the games, some are already leveraging their Olympic involvement with Chinese audiences.

"China is very proud of their participation in the Olympics," Hayzlett said. "Everywhere you go, you see the Olympic symbol. We are starting to integrate the Olympic logo in our marketing materials and on billboards in China."

AT&T, which is the official telecommunications sponsor of the U.S. Olympic Team, is also using the event to showcase its technology, although its marketing opportunities are focused primarily on the U.S.

AT&T invests $3 million

Earlier this year, AT&T invested $3 million in Olympic training centers in Colorado Springs, Colo., and Chula Vista, Calif., providing athletes and coaches with state-of-the art telecommunications services such as wireless Internet access, distance learning and data networking.

"The investment is focused on using technology to enhance the training and hopefully the performance of these athletes in preparation for Beijing," said Jason Simpson, director of Olympic integration at AT&T.

"We are able to bring business customers through the training centers, as well as bring athletes to events, to talk about how the technology is helping them. This is really a showcase for AT&T technology."

In addition to its activities in the U.S., AT&T will also provide digital transmission from Beijing to the U.S. for NBC's broadcast of the games.

AT&T now has a content area on its "Blue Room" site, featuring interviews, videos and case studies of U.S. Olympic athletes.

"Our focus is on delivering the best Olympic experience to our customers," Simpson said. "We are looking at how we can take cutting-edge technology such as video share [a live video-sharing service over cell phones announced last month] and leverage it during the Olympics next year."

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