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grow: mark healy

Two-time Olympic figure skating medalist Elvis Stojko propels a bobsleigh holding the CEO of the Canadian Olympic Committee Chris Rudge, RONA Vice President Marketing and Olympic Programs Mark Hindman and TV host Jody Vance, Thursday, January 26, 2006, at Olympic Spirit Toronto.Derek Oliver

Who won and lost at the Olympics, from a brand strategy perspective?

As with the trade deadline in hockey, it's easy to guess, but you only really know weeks or months later when you see which players are contributing and which ones don't fit in.

The question of winning and losing versus success in marketing is complex. What does it even mean to "win" as a brand in any marketing initiative or campaign? As is the case with many questions in business, it depends.

There are three ways to think about winning in branding and marketing, and they are sequential: What, how and how much? Calling the ultimate winners and losers in branding can take quite a bit of time.

1. What?

The real place to start with any brand, under any branding or marketing scenario, is to ask what the strategic goal is.

If research has revealed that brand awareness is low ("I haven't heard of you"), then mass exposure might be enough. For example, Aldo advertised during the gold medal men's hockey game at the Olympics. It was not necessarily a brand everyone watching would have recognized, or that one would expect to see on such a broadcast. But with 16 million Canadians tuning in to watch, exposure certainly was high.

If awareness is not the goal, but instead it's familiarity or likeability ("I have heard of you but either have no opinion or don't like you"), the marketing idea, the content and the tone of delivery are critical. You could argue Rona was a brand some Canadians would not have had a strong opinion about prior to the Games. By doing more than advertising – by participating in sponsoring athletes and sending workers to literally help build the Games – and then telling those stories, Rona put its brand in position to get a boost in familiarity and likeability.

If conversion is the goal ("I know you and now I'm going to buy"), even more attention must be paid to customers' current points of view and to metrics tracked over time. If we think about the province of B.C., it is clear the goal was not simply to get Canadians to think it's a nice place, it was to get Canadians to act – to plan a trip to the province this year.

Thinking specifically about what you are trying to accomplish, and how it ties to strategy, is a sometimes overlooked first step in planning a marketing campaign. And it is crucial no matter how big or small the budget.

2. Who?

Following right on the heels of articulating the strategic objective is identifying the target audience for the initiative or campaign.

Segmentation is the place to start when identifying high-quality customer targets. (Let's leave a detailed discussion on segmentation to another time.)

Zeroing in on one or two segments typically has more impact and it is more cost effective than mass advertising. If we look at Bell and Canadian Tire as examples, both opted for big TV campaigns, seemingly to improve awareness or familiarity and likeability. I'm sure there were internal debates over how many of their target segments would see the TV ads. And if at any time you thought "I don't get that ad," you likely were not in the target segment.

At the other end of the spectrum, we can look at chocolate maker and marketer Lindt, which took a very targeted approach to the Olympics, sponsoring and providing product for the Swiss House, and ensuring it had a presence at a particular restaurant in Vancouver. It sure looks like it was targeting two segments: consumers interested in high quality eats, and consumers interested in Swiss culture.

Finding the right balance between directed efforts with specific segments in mind, and more general approaches to marketing where halo effects will show up in many segments, is a big piece of designing any marketing campaign.

3. How much?

Achieving strategic objectives is nice. So is connecting with targeted segments. But if in the end the campaign is not profitable …

Too often, marketing gets a pass on financial accountability. Historically we can all understand why, since it was tough to measure the success of particular marketing or advertising initiatives. Much has been written about how the Internet and social media are changing that dynamic and driving new metrics such as return on market investment, so let's not go there. Instead, let's get back to the original question around winning and losing.

We know some brands had success at the Olympics. But did they win?

If we take HBC as an example, we would have to understand the total cost of its presence at the Olympics, which would go beyond the official sponsorship cost (extra staff at stores, rush distribution and delivery, and added supply chain costs) and then measure lift (the total additional revenue tied directly to Olympic participation). The math could be done quite quickly, since conversions are immediate in retail.

The same math would apply to RBC or GM, but the time horizon to judge this aspect of whether the brand won or lost is far longer since it may take months or years for customers to, for example, switch banks or buy a new car.

At a rumoured $365,000 30-second TV spot during the gold medal game on the final day of the Games, some brands bet heavily on exposure and familiarity and likeability turning into long-term profit.

Understanding the full costs of marketing and projecting realistic returns – then ensuring the efforts are actually measurable – is the third point on the marketing campaign design triangle.

Mark Healy, P.Eng, MBA, founder of Torque Customer Strategy, is now a partner at Satov Consultants – a management consultancy with practice areas in corporate strategy, customer strategy and operations strategy. Mark's focus areas inside the Customer Strategy practice include consumer insights, customer experience, innovation and go-to-market strategy. He is a regular speaker and media contributor on topics ranging from marketing to strategy, in telecom, retail and other sectors. Mark is known as much for his penchant for loud socks and a healthy NFL football obsession as he is for his commitment to Ivey and recent Ivey grads. He currently serves as chair of the Ivey Alumni Association board of directors. Mark lives with his wife Charlotte and their bulldog McDuff in Toronto.