Opinion: When sport wisdom applies to marketing too

Vinay Kanchan is brand consultant and author of 'The Madness Starts at 9'

Sep 27, 2011 11:22:00 PM | Article | Vinay Kanchan Share - Share to Facebook

Sport probably began with the objective of teaching survival skills to the young. Or maybe it was just a couple of guys trying to maximise the chances of propagating their genes by displaying their athletic virtue. Those elusive reasons notwithstanding, modern day sport is often seen exclusively as the theatre of the body. It presents a glorious exhibition of the possibilities of the human form.
Strangely though, precious little seems to be said about the words that inspire these actions. For concealed beneath the adrenaline rush of sport, there lurks the exciting possibility of uncovering incisive insight into human cognition and behaviour. Sport offers us the most visible platform for witnessing the outcome of a change in strategy.

In a time when modern-day business is constantly seeking inspiration from outside the box, sport offers an interesting plethora of verbal stimuli, which just might ignite thinking in the corporate and branding domain.

Trying to score at all times

Michael Owen, one of England’s all- time great strikers once said, "If you only give 90% in practice, you will only give 90% when it matters." This perhaps explains how great forwards are always switched on and pounce upon that opportune moment to score. It also illuminates some interesting aspects in the field of marketing too.

Frequently new products are launched after a test market. And when such an exercise is not producing optimal results, marketers often lull themselves into a false sense of security by maintaining that things will be very different when the national launch happens. Sometimes this does not turn out to be the case.

Sport does teach us about the benefit of rehearsal. Champions inevitably have the same intensity at practice as they have at the actual match. Hence, be it a major presentation or launch of a companywide initiative; when practice is perfect every goal seems more reachable.

Always having an ace up your sleeve

Pete Sampras was asked at a press conference what went through his mind when he was serving down a break point. After contemplating the question, he answered pithily, "Nothing".
Many great sportsmen exhibit this almost Zen-like serenity’ in times of crises. They are able to calm their minds, and unwaveringly leave the task to their kinaesthetic intelligence and intuition. Usually whenever Sampras backed himself in a situation, he emerged triumphant.
Such clarity of purpose is an invaluable skill for corporate teams to develop. Keeping one’s mind clear and unwavering, and having the faith to go ahead with the plan in the face of a crisis, is indeed a skill that very few can serve up.

Getting stuck in the woods

Veteran thespian Donald Sutherland, recently quipped something really memorable at a quick-fire interview for a magazine. When asked about the Tiger Woods situation he remarked, "Tiger’s fortunes are on the decline, not because he has forgotten to play golf, but because he is no longer the person that he had been."

A truly profound revelation about how there exists an aura or personality or image (brand) around a basic product (performer). And tarnishing that brand image sometimes has a deeply debilitating effect on the basic product performance as well. It can ensure that even the once-blinding stars begin to shine less brightly.

Betting against batting for long

West Indian cricketer Kirk Edwards recently remarked of the great Richards, "I never saw Viv leave a ball because I only saw highlights". That quote rather inadvertently explains why the once-magnificent West Indians have forgotten how to bat.

In times where short attention spans and declining patience levels are rampant, few dwell on the rigour and industry that is the hallmark of every great endeavour. From individuals trying to make their mark in sport, to organisations looking for the next breakthrough, everyone is trying to find an ‘instant click’ kind of solution.

But as all great batsmen in the world would concur, centuries come to those who learn to wait and wait some more.

Finally there is much more to audio bytes from sport than Maria Sharapova grunting while pulverising a tennis ball. It is time we listened to the wisdom behind the words.