How to Win Influencer 'Gold' During the Olympic Games

Four Strategies for Marketers to Use Brand Influencers During the Olympics

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The competition for marketing and advertising executives who want to win during the Olympic Games can be as intense and fierce as the sporting events themselves, and for good reason. As the most iconic global "brand" in the world of sports, the Olympics can create word-of-mouth opportunities unlike any other event.

For decades, the Olympics has been distinguished as the single best advertising opportunity in the world. However, companies are prevented from any form of direct Olympics-focused advertising unless they are official sponsors -- a heady proposition with a price tag upward of $25 million and traditionally the province of worldwide mega-brands.

Nevertheless, the Olympics drives big opportunities and brands need to take advantage of the moment effectively. In approaching this task, it's important for brands to keep in mind that consumers are growing increasingly skeptical of traditional advertising.

One way marketers can think about capitalizing on the Olympic moment is through a well-executed influencer marketing program, which has a longer shelf life than traditional ads and more authentic communication with consumers.

Here are four primary keys to winning enduring branding Olympics "gold" through brand influencers -- brand ambassadors who believe in your company and will be talking about your products and services well after the Games are over.

1. Prepare influencers in advance for the right type of sharing. Many people speak on behalf of a particular brand at any given moment, from paid employees and celebrity endorsers to customers passionate about their favorite brands and talking with friends. Brands can impact the conversations these real-life influencers have by helping ensure that they are well-informed, so the conversations they are having about products, campaigns or special offers are accurate and relevant.

Lululemon does this by recruiting athletes and community leaders from across the country to create a network of ambassadors who are trusted and respected to be the local face of the brand.

In 2013, Lululemon's branding strategy was put to the test when the company waded through its sheer yoga pants crisis and some very misplaced comments from founder Chip Watson. However, the company has been able to rebuild its brand due to the "deep relationship and feedback [they] have built with [their] brand ambassador community."

2. Focus on authenticity. Get real authentic interaction on your product by focusing on deep interaction and education, versus simply mailing a free product with a hashtag on it.

For example, The North Face, a brand influencer pioneer, recently created an influencer network called The North Face Locals, made of up of micro-influencers passionate about the outdoors in particular sport categories (i.e. skiing, hiking, rock climbing). One recent marketing initiative involved giving the Locals t-shirts with the words "Never Stop Exploring," requesting that they share photos on social media of themselves living this mantra. The campaign went viral, with many consumers asking where they could buy the shirts.

3. Seek truly relevant opportunities for your brand. There will be no shortage of companies looking to hijack hashtags or plug their company into trending topics during the Olympics. These low-relevance gimmicks may be timely for a day, but have little to do with driving real, long-term impact. Relevance comes from knowing what events will trigger the right type of conversations with the right people, and then focusing on those areas.

Bestselling author and marketing researcher Jonah Berger, marketing professor at the Wharton School of Business, suggests that brands should find a relevant "trigger" -- a word, phrase or event that gets consumers to think about your brand. Linking your product or idea to prevalent triggers can help your own initiatives succeed.

A good example of this dynamic is the Geico hump day ad, which sees a dramatic increase in views on Wednesdays, the day people are most likely to remember it and share it with co-workers and friends.

4. Have a multi-prong strategy to help capture both trending topics and the following purchases. Tap into active online social influencers, such as marketers and customers, and key professionals in the field (i.e. fitness instructors or running clubs), and work with key retail influencers who can help mold the buying decision. Such influencers are a great way to find timely content that can easily expand your reach and relevance with the right people for your products. Lululemon, Stance, Nike and Adidas are brilliant at using multiple channels.

Companies that follow this approach maximize their capacity to win big during the 2016 Olympics -- and well into the future.

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