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Five lessons for marketing from London 2012

Dave Stevens – Olympic volunteer!



By Dave Stevens

In the last week, I’ve taken time off from my regular marketing job to play a part as one of the many volunteers helping to make London 2012 the big success that it is.

I’ve not been stationed anywhere glamorous like the Olympic Park or Horseguards’ Parade.  Instead I’ve been based in one of the airports where my role, alongside four colleagues, is to help visitors find their way into London to enjoy the Games.  To help us, there’s a big display board that describes the Olympics and shows a big map of the City and we have hand-out materials such as maps of London, theatre guides, and copies of “Time Out” magazine.  My coleagues and I are very proud to be doing our bit for the country where we live and for the the great cause of the Olympic Games.

My volunteering has given me time to think about the lessons from the London Olympics that I can take back to my marketing job when the Games are over.  I think there are five key points.

1.  Your biggest brand channel is your work-force.  London 2012 volunteers have helped to make the Games such a positive and memorable experience (for example:-;  The volunteers feel really proud of London or the UK and can relate to the brand values of the Olympic Games.  To be working for causes that you are proud of creates positivity.  No one trained the volunteers to be positive.  Positivity is nowhere mentioned in the many training manuals I’ve been given.  It arose naturally from the brands of London, the UK, and the Games.  That positivity is infectious among the volunteers and it has left our clients and customers feeling good too.  I’ve been astonished by how many people have come up to the airport volunteer team and asked to have their photos taken with us or praised the role of the volunteer task force and how good it has made them feel.

And so my first lesson to take back to work is that your employees need to feel pride in your brand if your customers are going to feel positive about what you have to offer.

2.  Sponsorship works if there is a direct and tangible connection.  There has been lots of talk about the merits or not of becoming a sponsor of the Olympics.  Some brands have declared that such sponsorship is not for them citing Gallup & Robinson research that the sponsorships of some companies are known by less than 10% of viewers.  But other brands have really invested and the 11 biggest corporate sponsors paid nearly $1 billion for the rights to flaunt the Olympic seal in London (source:  It seems to me that that the sponsorships that have worked best have been where a company is able to make a direct and tangible link between itself and the Olympics.  So John Lewis does retail and associates itself with the Olympic retail shop.  I understand that John Lewis’ takings in Oxford Street in London have been dramatically up in the Olympic fortnight with revenue targets for whole weeks achieved by day two and that they can directly relate this back to passing trade from the London 2012 shop stationed in their store.  Adidas have reported that their Olympic sponsorship has already driven a return of £100MM (source:  As the manufacturers of the Team GB kit, there is again a direct and tangible link between Adidas and London 2012 that good marketing can emphasise.  Such direct connections are more difficult for businesses like McDonald’s or Lloyds TSB (neither of whom even retail in the Olympic Park).  The Olympics is not about hamburgers or bank accounts.

So if your organisation is going to sponsor something, make sure that there is a direct and practical link between what your company does and what it sponsors.  It is not enough just to make a connection on the basis of brand values.

3.  Small changes in your market can have big effects.  The presence of Olympic volunteers in a London airport has had a big impact on two other airport operators – the taxi drivers and the newsagents.  Both have complained.  The taxi drivers are used to picking up lost arrivals at the airport and persuading them to take a taxi to their destination.  But now there are Olympic volunteers in the airport who can explain objectively to the visitor that they could more cheaply take the train or the bus.  As a result, the taxis are losing business.  WHSmith sell maps and “Time Out” magazine.  But now there are Olympic volunteers at the airport giving out copies of the same and offering free advice on how to get to a visitors’ chosen destination.  These small market changes were predictable and canny organisations could have taken advantage of them.  For example, O2 left some pre-paid mobile SIM cards with the Olympic volunteers to give out if visitors needed help here.

The lesson to take back to work is to keep on top of even small changes in your market, because they can have big effects.  You need to keep constant vigilance if you are to react to them in time.

4.  You can use social media to manage your public relations crisis.  The Olympic volunteers were invited to rehearsals for the Opening Ceremony in the week before the Games started.  In the Twitter age, the organisers faced the very real risk that rehearsal spectators would give away the secrets of what they had seen on Twitter well in advance of the launch event.  And so very cleverly, they used Twitter to stop people from giving away Olympic secrets on Twitter.  Organisers gave all attendees a special Twitter hashtag to use: #savethe surprise.  And on using the hashtag, tweeters were joined by London 2012 advocates who urged them not to pass on the show’s secrets.  As such the pressures of the group stopped people from giving up what they had seen.  This even spread out from social networking into other channels.  Attendees refused to give away secrets to the press waiting outside of the stadium, for example.  So the secrets of the opening ceremony were preserved.

It is worth considering a similar approach with your employees in your next PR crisis.

5.  The useability of your website is all.  Not everything about London 2012 has been a success.  The most frequent complaint that visitors to the volunteers’ stand have made to me has been about the London 2012 website and how difficult it is to use.  Particularly frustrating has been the site’s tendency to announce that Olympic tickets are available only for users to find that the position has changed by the time that that have pressed the “commit” button.  The web designers have a difficult job to do here.  There are only a few thousand tickets available but there are millions of vistiors seeking to purchase.  But a simple reservation process for each ticket where a ticket can be reserved for a prospective buyer until they have entered all of their payment details would make all the difference.  With this system, there would have been no complaints for people were complaining about the web system not ticket availability.

Web user experience matters.  Invest in the useability of your website otherwise the perception of your product offering will fall.

These are the five lessons that I shall take back to my work-place when the Olympic party is over…  But for now, back to the airport…

Categories: b2b marketing marketing social media marketing

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Dave is an experienced global B2B Chief Marketing Officer / Marketing Director with an established reputation for delivering commercial results in start-up, mid-tier, and blue-chip businesses across technology, and business services and professional services sectors.

Dave has worked for major brands such as Telefonica O2, EY, and Barclays and held posts from Chief Marketing Officer to Director of Online, has run his own business, and managed a P&L for a major corporate. He is chair and co-founder of the Business Marketing Club ( - a network of B2B marketers. In 2019, he was named one of the top 100 B2B European marketing leaders ( He is a graduate of Cambridge University, a Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) Chartered Marketer and holds a MBA with Imperial College, London. Dave is a keen cyclist and adventure traveller, is married, and lives in Buckinghamshire. You can read his blogs at

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