Fun As A Competitive Advantage

An Olympic Example

An interesting contrast and a valuable branding lesson emerged from the winter Olympics in Turin Italy this month.

On one side was the high profile, star studded Canadian Men’s Hockey Team.  On the other, a little known member of the Canadian women’s speed skating team.

All Star Talent

The men’s hockey squad, overflowing with NHL All Star talent, was the defending Olympic Champion.  The team’s gold medal match victory over the Americans in Salt Lake City in 2002 was one of the proudest moments in Canadian history since Paul Henderson’s final game heroics against the Soviets in 1972.

High Expectations

Every red-blooded Canadian hockey fan was expecting a repeat performance in Turin.  But when they hit the ice, they hit the ice.  The All Stars fell flat.  They were tight and ineffective.  They stumbled in the round robin tournament, suffering shut out losses to both Switzerland and Finland.

Advice from the Great One

In discussing the disappointing performance with the media, the team’s General Manager Wayne Gretzky – a guy who knows a few things about winning – said the problem wasn’t that the players weren’t serious or intense enough, but that they weren’t having enough fun.  The Olympics in Gretzky’s view should be one of the best weeks of a player’s life.

No Medal, No Fun

But despite of the Great One’s pep talk, Team Canada was knocked out of the medal round by the Russians, finishing 7th.  No gold.  No silver.  No bronze.  No fun.

A Strategy of Joy

Contrast the men’s hockey team with speed skater Sarah Hughes and her performance in the 5,000 metre event.  In a fabulous example of positive self-talk, Sarah wrote herself a one-word note prior to the race.  The one word was Joy.  Her goal was to have a great time, to have an exuberant amount of fun.

Sarah captured the spirit of fun that eluded Joe Sakic and company.  Joyful Sarah went home with the gold medal.

The Importance of Fun in Business

In the world of Olympic competition, fun appears to be a vital component for peak performance.  But how about in business?  Can fun be a competitive advantage for a brand?  Absolutely.

Fun in the Sky

For an example, think about West Jet, or if you’re one of Brandscapes’ American readers, think Southwest Airlines, the oft-copied pioneer in airline fun.

Both Southwest and West Jet have made fun part of their cultures.  It’s an expression of who they are.  Every time they touch their customers, they make them smile.  They’ve also made their investors smile.  These fun airlines have consistently turned in financial results that have left their stodgy competitors grounded.

West Jet Is Fun Everywhere

West Jet makes it fun to fly.  Fun to listen to safety instructions.  Fun to read an annual report.

West Jet even makes it fun to wait for the next available telephone reservation agent.  West Jet has a fabulous sound loop to entertain you while on hold.  My favorite line from the loop is: “If you’ve been waiting to speak to a reservation agent for more than 90 seconds, hit star 5 5 5 three times.  It won’t get your call answered any faster, but it might make you feel better.”

Good for Employees, Good for Customers

Fun sparks creativity.  It draws people together.  It builds team unity.  A culture of fun brings out the best in your employees.  When your employees are at their best, they do a great job of attracting new customers.  And once treated to a fun experience, customers keep coming back for more.

How to Make Your Brand Fun

So if fun is a branding advantage, how do you make your brand fun?  Well, don’t start by taking a comedy class.

Fun Starts With Great Service

The foundation for fun is the hard work of service excellence.  Make sure your business performs the basics flawlessly and consistently.  If West Jet or Southwest flights were consistently late, all their antics wouldn’t be fun, but a comedy cover up for poor service.  If Sarah Hughes hadn’t put in the long grueling training hours, a “be happy” attitude wouldn’t have elevated her to the podium.  Before customers will enter into the fun you offer, you need to meet their needs.

Let Personality Show Through

Once customer needs are looked after then you can add the fun.  You can add fun by letting the lighter side of your personality show through.  Give your employees permission to be themselves.  If you have an enjoyable culture, let your customers in on it.  One of my clients has regular staff outings.  They have a great time no matter what obstacles come up.  Here’s what they reported in their year-end client newsletter:

“Our tents almost floated away but no one drowned at our annual staff camping trip one soggy weekend in June. We're still not sure if we'll be doing the camping thing again.”

Fun By Design

Great graphic design can make your brand more fun.  Ask your designer for ideas on how to lighten up your logo or add a touch of playfulness to your website.  And if you use advertising to promote your business, you can make your ads fun.

Advertising Fun

My very funny colleague Michael Kerr told me about a motel in Brandon that had a fire.  Fortunately the blaze was contained to half of the building.  Soon the motel was back up in business with a special on “non-smoking rooms.”

How Fun Is Your Brand?

Not every business can or should be as much fun as West Jet or Disneyland.  And I’m not suggesting that you do a Robin Williams stand up routine before a high stakes sales presentation.  But if you add just a moderate dose of fun to every client interaction, you’ll lay a foundation for solid customer loyalty.

If you’re up against an equally competent competitor, fun could be the difference that ensures you get the business.