Over the past decade, there emerged a two-word synonym for speed - Usain Bolt.
The Jamaican's rousing exploits, not only obliterated the American dominance of sprinting; they also extended the very possibilities of the human form. Eight Olympic gold medals, eleven across the World Championships, and a multitude of audience electrifying moments, have assured Bolt of his place in history - as the greatest sprinter of them all.
But even as Bolt leaves a host of world records in his wake, there are some interesting ideas that his career catalyses, which find relevance in the world of branding. Elemental thought starters ignited by his blazing spikes. Potent parallels these; that could kick start branding teams to bring the same champion mentality to their own challenges at hand.
Presented below are the 5 'R's' of branding, as inspired by the feats of Bolt.
For someone so fast, it was perhaps inevitable that he would have zipped past the otherwise more conventional 'P's', and moved on to the next thing...
RPM - The need for speed
Usain Bolt is a speed merchant par excellence. He holds the world record across the 100 meters, the 200 meters, and the 4x100 meters relay. But he did not rest on these laurels once he had achieved them. Over the past few years, he has rewritten his own records a few times. It was this relentless urge to stay out in front, which defined him as an unparalleled athlete.
Bolt does inform the branding world about the importance of speed. In times when every single player, from television news channels to technology companies; are trying to nudge ahead of their competitor - speed is sometimes the very essence of a branding strategy. The need to establish oneself as the pioneer of new exciting innovations has its unique long term strategic benefits. The necessity to react quickly to competitive threats or controversies has its own tactical rewards. The speed of customer response, often lays down the very groundwork for a lasting and fruitful relationship. The business world does ruthlessly divide its participants, into the quick and the dead. Hence it is often prudent to follow Bolt's example, in terms of exploding off the starting blocks.
REVIEW - The imperative of recasting things differently
Bolt would perhaps say in typically 'modest' fashion that his succeeding at athletics ensured the career of many a batsman around the world. This was because he began life aspiring to become a pace bowler. It is only when his school coach, noticing his phenomenal speed, urged him to try out the track and field events that this sporting phenomenon really hit the ground running.
A speedy start is one thing. But keeping an expert eye on what ground is being covered, is quite another. Many brands in the pursuit of innovation need to develop a keen sense of how newer initiatives are developing. Just because what is being uncovered, was not initially aimed for, does not mean that it might not have inherent value. From the time Columbus stumbled upon the 'new world', having initially set out to find India, great discoveries have always been marked with the flexibility in mindset to reposition what has been revealed. And just like cricket's minor loss was athletics' major gain, similar stories might be waiting to be unfolded in the competitive marketplace.
RESURRECT - The overcoming of setbacks
In 2011, Bolt had experienced the abysmal depths of failure. Hot favourite to retain his 100 meters title at the World Athletic Championships, he was disqualified in the final, because of consecutive false starts. And when Yohan Blake beat him in the Jamaican trials - just a few weeks before the London Olympics, 'experts' began predicting his downfall. But come London, Bolt answered all his doubters in the best manner possible. By emphatically brushing aside those failures and coming back even stronger.
This ability to rise above failures is as important in the world of branding. Teams behind brands encounter setbacks (of some sort), fairly regularly in the marketing world. And it is often their attitude to these 'failures', which determines the health of a brand going forward. Those which display the ability to learn from these experiences, and develop more directional ideas and initiatives; are usually the ones who ensure that their brand returns to the same challenge triumphantly. Finally, it's the quintessential human resolve to prove their sceptics wrong, which stands both Olympic champions and great brands in good stead.
RITUAL - The seeding of actions
Usain Bolt's victory celebration routine, has brought a hitherto unseen showmanship and charisma to the world of athletics. His trademark 'bow and arrow' ritual is a sporting meme on the level of the 'Mexican Wave'. It is utterly simple in execution, and always brings back memories of its creator whenever it is rendered. For a person whose body of work often is the mere blink of an eye, it also goes a fair way in helping increase his interaction with the audience. It makes his triumphs far more participatory.
Brands have long understood that actions speak louder than words. It is only when they begin to become a part of daily rituals; that they truly embark on cementing their places in the lives of consumers. And when they manage to catalyse rituals on their own, they push involvement and bonding even further. This is especially true when these rituals, allow consumers to interpret and experience the brand for themselves. From automotive brands, which foster excursions that celebrate 'the joy of the drive', to social networking brands, which are creating newer benchmarks of audience participation and involvement; this aspect, like Bolt's victory routine, is likely to linger for a long time.
RETIRE - Making the right kind of exit
As awe inspiring as Bolt's career exploits might have been, the recently concluded World Championships proved to be one event too many for the champion. He was beaten to the bronze in the 100 meters final. Then, quite tragically, he pulled up with an injury in the 4X100 meters relay, and was unable to even complete the last race of his career. Perhaps Rio 2016 had already provided the perfect swansong moment, and whatever his motivations for participating at London 2017, it eventually only served to sully an otherwise unblemished report card. Sport does not offer perfectly scripted endings, unlike long running soap operas.
However, in this tale of defeat and dejection there are important lessons for brand custodians. In a rapidly changing marketplace, yesterday's success is no longer sufficient to ensure today's triumph. Even great brands and products must eventually bite the dust. There are very few that endure the test of that fickle taskmaster - time. Knowing when to make a profitable exit from the market is a key mindset to acquire. Planning what comes next from the company and how those shoes can be filled, then becomes the challenge for corporate strategy. Because while one stalwart might have hung up its proverbial boots, for the long term success of the company, the lane it used to ply has to be filled in by a new, well prepared prospect. Not just any bolt from the blue.
As the dust settles on Usain Bolt's epochal career, new perspectives begin to emerge. Those, which point towards not letting the residual effects of such sterling sporting endeavours subside; but to let their adrenaline rush truly energize thinking in the board room.
Bringing the influence of Bolt to bear on branding problems just might ensure they get resolved in less than ten seconds.
(The author is an independent creative thinking trainer and brand ideation consultant. He has written two books, 'Lessons from the Playground' and 'The Madness Starts at 9'.)First Published : August 18, 2017