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Lenovo Lifts Its Profile Through Sponsorship
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When Chinese computer maker Lenovo Group became the first Top Olympic Partner (TOP) from China in 2004, it was generally considered a bad move.

This response was somewhat justified: TOP sponsorship is one of the most expensive in sport, and it usually costs about US$50 million to get the rights from the International Olympic Committee (IOC). The sponsor then spends at least three times that amount promoting the sponsorship.

Lenovo's revenue in the 2004 fiscal year was just US$297 million.

But despite the drawbacks, Lenovo's partnerships with the IOC, football superstar Ronaldinho Gaucho and the US National Basketball Association (NBA), have been immensely helpful to its emergence as a significant global player.

Lenovo's Li Lan, vice-president for global Olympic marketing, identified five steps in the firm's sports marketing push.

Align sports marketing with the company's strategic demand.

In 2001, the Chinese computer maker, which has led the domestic market for six years, found itself reeling as the Internet bubble burst. Consumer demand dropped due to overspending in the Internet boom. Its Internet joint venture with AOL faced huge difficulties. And its shift to technology services, following IBM's lead, was not as successful as anticipated.

So Lenovo looked to overseas markets as a growth engine. But as a company that was largely unknown to the rest of the world, the plan was ambitious.

Beijing's successful bid to host the Olympic Games in 2008 offered a golden opportunity. The IOC was keen to install a Chinese firm as its TOP partner to stimulate the host nation's interest in the Games. And Chinese people also supported a domestic firm taking a leading role in the Games.

A TOP partner can expose its company and brand to billions of Olympic Games viewers worldwide. It has the right to use the Olympic logos to promote its brand and products in all IOC member countries and regions.

Build an emotional tie with customers.

A common misconception of many Chinese firms when it comes to sports marketing is that money does everything they just print logos on their business cards and products, air TV commercials and invite customers to Games events.

For Lenovo, it will be important to build an emotional tie. The firm wants to impress upon its customers and dealers that it is global, innovative and offers high-performance products.

In June, the computer maker began an Olympic roadshow that traveled to almost 1,000 counties and towns, with over 1 million participants.

The roadshow spread the Olympic spirit, but Lenovo also got returns its shipments to county- and town-level markets rose by 55 percent in November.

Believe in the power of partners.

In October, Lenovo partnered with NBA, the most popular sport shared by Chinese and Americans.

NBA and Lenovo even tailor-made the Lenovo Stat service used by basketball fans to find official statistics.

This is especially important for Lenovo in the United States. Although it acquired IBM's PC business in 2005, the firm needs to publicize its company and products and build its brand in the US.

Be quick to learn and innovative in execution.

For a newcomer to sports marketing like Lenovo, decreasing the learning curve is important.

After signing the TOP deal, Lenovo was coached by the IOC's marketing experts on how to take full advantage of its rights as a sponsor.

It also sent officials to Samsung Electronics to learn tips and launched marketing campaigns with long-time TOP partner Visa.

Lenovo also grasped every opportunity to expose the company and its products. In the 2006 Torino Winter Games, the firm created the concept of Lenovo Internet cafes, allowing athletes and participants to use Lenovo computers to surf the Internet at venues.

Find a consultant that is not necessarily big, but highly committed.

When Lenovo won the TOP sponsorship, many world-class sports marketing agencies offered the firm consulting services.

But the computer maker chose Prescient Marketing, established in 2003 in Beijing.

Li said Christopher Renner, founder of the firm, had rich experience in Olympic sports marketing, having participated in TOP programs since 1991.

(China Daily January 25, 2007)

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