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Case Study: How Lenovo Used New Media Along With Olympic Sponsorship to Establish Global Brand Awareness

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Company: Lenovo
Contact: David Churbuck, Vice-President, Global Web Marketing at Lenovo
Location: Morrisville, NC
Industry: Computer Technology, B2C
Annual revenue: $16,352,000,000
Number of employees: 23200

Quick Read:

It worked for Sony in '64 and Samsung in '88. This year in Beijing, Lenovo joined their ranks, leveraging its Olympic sponsorship to develop global brand awareness.

Unique about Lenovo's approach was the company's use of new media, which both fortified its traditional marketing and created a new level of athlete and fan interaction that will no doubt change the way the world engages with future Olympics.

The campaign centered around an athlete blogging program, the first allowed by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), and included the first Olympic-themed Facebook application. It was also the first to use a Zumobi smartphone application in connection with a major event.


And the results? Well over a million visits to the campaign Web sites, more than 1.8 Million Facebook views, 60,000 smartphone downloads, and perhaps above all else: discernible global recognition.

Challenge:

Lenovo became a leader in business notebook computing when it acquired the IBM Personal Computing Division in 2005. In January this year, it entered the consumer computing market with the introduction of its IdeaPad line.

While most of the world had heard of IBM, Lenovo was not well known outside of China, and the company was eager to build global awareness for its brand and new product line through the activation of its 2008 Olympics sponsorship. It also wanted to specifically connect with the target market for the IdeaPad product—i.e., tech-savvy optimists who believe in the transformative power of technology and are likely to engage in social media.

So in addition to traditional marketing, the company decided to pursue interactive media and charged David Churbuck, Lenovo's vice-president of global web marketing, with developing a Web campaign that would make the company stand out. Marketing partner Intel (its Centrino technology powers the IdeaPad) also put pressure on Churbuck to take the company's Web marketing to the next level.

Campaign:

In late 2007, the IOC determined, for the first time in the history of the Olympic Games, that athletes would be allowed to blog during the competition, as opposed to waiting until after the closing ceremonies. Lenovo saw that decision as a prime opportunity for organizing the first Olympic athlete-blogger program.

Beyond its historical significance as the first program of its kind, a blogger campaign would resonate well with the IdeaPad target market, Lenovo believed, as well as drive in the product's marketing mission, which is to enable the creation and sharing of ideas.

In addition to 12 high-profile athletes whom Lenovo already sponsored directly—including US volleyball players Kerry Walsh and Misty May Trainer—the company worked with Ogilvy's 360° Digital Influence group to recruit 100 participating athletes from some 25 countries and 29 sports. Each was supplied with an IdeaPad notebook and video camera, as well as blogging tips and advice, and asked to share their Olympic experiences through personal blogs. Lenovo also offered the athletes technical support during the Games and set up a series of i-lounges throughout Beijing to ensure the availability of Internet access.

Lenovo made an effort to ensure the independence of the blogs. All were hosted on either Google or the athlete's own Web site, and there was no editorial oversight on Lenovo's part. The athletes were not required to either sign any contracts with Lenovo or mention the company's products. They were asked, however, to post a "Lenovo 2008 Olympic Blogger" badge on their blogs, which most agreed to do.

Lenovo aggregated the blogs in several locations (also available via RSS); the first was the campaign's core Web site, "Voices of the Olympic Games," which featured the Olympian blogs in six languages, along with bios for each blogger and information about the blogging program and its sponsor, Lenovo. Each page also included an IdeaPad promotion and links to the following:

  • The LenovoAthleteBlogger YouTube channel, comprising personal videos recorded by the athletes at the Games
  • The Lenovo Summer Games Photostream on Flickr, which displayed athlete-uploaded photographs taken at the Games
  • The Lenovo2008 Twitter stream, which relayed Olympic highlights and alerted users to new athlete blog postings, photos, etc.

The site was predominately promoted through a dynamic xml banner that was circulated through Federated Media's blog network. The banner displayed the latest Olympian blog post and linked users to the "Voices of the Olympic Games" site.

The campaign further included the following:

  • A Facebook application: Inspired in part by the pro football team applications on Facebook, Lenovo's "Team USA" application enabled users to send virtual cheers to their countrymen, follow event results and medal counts, and participate in virtual fan relays, in addition to accessing the athlete blogs and photos. It also offered e-coupons and information on Lenovo products.

"Team USA" was launched in June as Facebook's first Olympic-themed application, with the help of Intel, Federated Media, and San Francisco-based Citizen Sports Network, which develops sports-related applications for social media sites. It was promoted on Facebook with banners and other text; however, most of its momentum was gained virally via user advocacy and prompts within the application to invite friends.

  • A smartphone application: Lenovo worked with Intel and mobile platform developer Zumobi to create an application that allowed users of the iPhone and other smartphones to access the athlete blogs, photo galleries and more from their phones. The application was offered on iTunes and promoted on the Zumobi Web site; Lenovo also mentioned it on Twitter.
  • An aggregated gadgets and content site: Lenovo's "Podium" site provided streamlined access to Olympic news feeds and a collection of Google gadgets that tracked event schedules and results, medal counts, Google maps and guides to event venues, and more. Most of the gadgets were pulled from other sources and united under the Lenovo header; however, custom gadgets were also created to incorporate the Lenovo-sponsored Olympic torch relay, athlete blogger program, and athlete photo galleries.

Results:

Even though television viewing was still in force this year, Churbuck said, some are heralding Beijing as the first Web 2.0 Olympics, largely because of the athlete blogger program—and he couldn't be happier to be at the forefront of it all.

Ogilvy's Kaitlyn Wilkins agreed in her August 25, 2008 posting to the 360° Digital Influence Blog: "Everyone I talked to from the sponsors, to coaches, to 'traditional' journalists, to the USOC sees this 'Athlete 2.0' as an essential ingredient in Games going forward."

The athletes, too—many of whom originally regarded the program as a means to communicate with family and friends back home—were pleased with the experience and surprised by the breadth of readership and recognition received. India's Abhinav Bindra, for example, was overwhelmed by the more than 600 comments he received on his blog after winning his country's first individual gold medal.

All in all, the "Voices of the Olympic Games" and "Podium" sites achieved a joint 1 million visitors from the Americas (US, Canada, Latin America and South America); 460,000 from Europe, Africa and the Middle East; and 142,000 from the Asia-Pacific region. Targeted traffic levels were exceeded in all cases.

Still, the campaign should not be measured "by the Web 1.0 metrics of millions and million of impressions but by the Web 2.0 measure of thousands and thousands of conversations between athletes and their fans," Charbuck said; he pointed out that the athlete blogs received over 5,000 comments during the Games.

The "Team USA" Facebook application received more than 1.8 million views and was downloaded more than 250,000 times, exceeding by 25% its target of 200,000 downloads. Some 120 countries were represented in the user base, and at least 398,000 users visited the application more than once. In addition, over 1.6 million invites and 167,000 cheers were sent via the application.

The smartphone application also performed well, with 60,000 downloads—140% more than the 25,000 initially targeted by Lenovo and Intel. The application almost immediately became one of the top iPhone applications upon its release, with 58,780 of those downloads initiated by iPhone users.

The Web campaign also generated widespread coverage, both from blogs and from the mainstream press, with 10 million external site references, many of which touted the company's technical innovation. CNET Asia, for instance, blogged about "How Lenovo Changed our Olympics Experience," and CommunicateAsia plugged the campaign as "an excellent example of marketing 2.0 that more Asian companies—and global companies, too—need to be paying attention to."

Lessons Learned:

The two-way experience afforded by the blogs and other social media proved to be not only a great contributor to the rest of Lenovo's Olympic campaign but also a highly valuable marketing tool in and of itself. Churbuck contends that the more than 5,000 comments received by the athlete blogs are a strong indication of the power of this medium and its engagement capabilities. It also allowed the company to hear verbatim what athletes as well as fans had to say about its products and brand, good or bad.

"If you create something more interactive and community-based and give the audience an opportunity to consume and contribute, collaborate and comment, you will end up with a much more fruitful experience all the way around," he said.

Some of the tactics that made this campaign work:

  • Selecting athletes based on their enthusiasm and intentions to blog, as opposed to solely going after those with gold-medal potential
  • Generating broader coverage and exposure through the inclusion of 25 countries and 29 sports
  • Fostering athlete participation by providing them with equipment, know-how, and support
  • Honoring the integrity of the blogs by forfeiting any control over their content

Another key strategy was using Google's scalable architecture, and other services such as Facebook, to host the blogs. This reduced both workload and risk for Lenovo and helped to signify that the blogs were owned by the athletes themselves, not Lenovo.

Similarly, Churbuck knew that users would not readily visit a Lenovo Web site for updates on medal counts and other Olympic-specific information; yet, by borrowing third-party gadgets for the "Podium" site, he was able to offer this information in conjunction with company-sponsored items, such as the athlete blogs and Olympic torch relay, without having to bother with multiple-language versions for each widget or regular content management upkeep.

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Kimberly Smith is a staff writer for MarketingProfs. Reach her via kims@marketingprofs.com.

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