Going for the Gold with Your Brand Strategy

The past week in Sochi has provided viewers with some extremely compelling ice hockey. Despite the fact that the U.S. Women’s hockey team suffered one of the most crushing defeats in the history of the Winter Games, both the men’s and women’s contests have been extremely entertaining, even for casual fans of the sport.

If you watch enough U.S. hockey during these games, you are bound to hear some anecdote or mention of the 1980 “Miracle on Ice,” where a group of unheralded college players bested a heavily favored and previously thought to be unbeatable Soviet team 4-3 in the tournament semifinals. The U.S. then went on to beat Finland in the gold medal game to complete what is universally considered one of the great American sporting achievements of all time. The gold medal victory—and the stunning win over the Soviets during the height of the Cold War in particular—spawned books, special stamps, Disney movies, magazine articles and documentaries.

The gold medal also created opportunities for many of the team’s players. Quite a few of the team’s members went on to successful careers in the National Hockey League, as did Coach Herb Brooks. But perhaps the greatest rewards were reaped by the team’s captain, Mike Eruzione, a man who never played a single game in the league.

Eruzione, most famous for waving the entire U.S. team to the podium during the medal ceremony, parlayed that iconic moment into a career as a motivational speaker in which, according to estimates, he is paid $30,000 per speaking appearance. The captain of that beloved team became a brand in his own right after the 1980 games, and he has maintained that branding for more than 30 years since.

Of course, branding excellence is not limited to hockey heroes or other great moments in sports. Some of the most successful companies in the world owe at least part of their success to a few words (think “Just Do It” or “Got Milk?”) or a single campaign that stamped them on the American consciousness for decades to come. Like Eruzione’s wave to his teammates, coming up with these brilliant branding ideas may have taken only a few seconds, but their impact has endured.

So what can business leaders and marketers take away from Eruzione’s tale? Yes, it would be great branding for your company to somehow win a gold medal—but it seems unlikely. Daring to be different enough to create a singular branding moment, however, is certainly within the scope of what’s possible. If you ditch the conventional in favor of the creative, you may be able to create something that lasts longer and does more for your business than you could have imagined. It’s time to take your place on the brand strategy podium.