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
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
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
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
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
Find a consultant that is not necessarily big, but highly
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)