Business Lessons from Sports – 5

Champions, oh, they are around us. We see them, read about them every day. They inspire us, we aspire to be like them.

What do champions do that ordinary mortals don’t? They win, ever so often. When they enter the arena, whichever sport they belong to, we know that they will give their best. They don’t give up easily. They don’t throw in the towel.

Three different sports, three different champions. And, they tell us a story.

Brazil is the most successful footballing nation in history. A powerhouse, its record shows what it is to be a champion. Between 1930 and 2018, only once did it get relegated in the group stage. Of the 21 FIFA world cups it participated in, it won five times, was runner up twice, in the top four three times and lost in the quarter finals stage 5 times. Spread over 88 years, an INCREDIBLE 88 years, this record is exemplary by any standards.

Novak Djokovic is not the most popular player in the tennis circuit. But, for sheer consistency, not many equal him. What do the record books say about him? Between 2007 and 2019, in 13 years, of the 50 Grand Slams he has participated in, he has won 16 titles, was runner up 9 times, reached the semifinals 11 times. Only 6 times, was he relegated in the pre-quarterfinal rounds. His win/loss record in grand slams stands at 87%. In the era of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and strong competitors like Andy Murray and Stanislas Wawrinka, this is a record that embellishes Tennis.

Usain Bolt, the man who sets every athlete’s heart racing, the legend who scorched the race track, is another example of what it is to be a legend. He is THE fastest man on earth, by a margin. Between 2007 and 2017(when he retired), all his 100 metre bests were below 10 seconds. His record at the holy grail of sports – the Olympics? Between 2008 and 2016, he won ALL golds at stake in the individual 100 Metre and 200 Metre races. Silver was not even an option worth his consideration. His exploits in the world championships were equally ridiculous.

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While these exploits leave you in awe, make you believe in impossibilities, they also leave you exasperated. There is monotony, boredom. As a spectator, you see the same teams, same individuals at the podium, year after year, event after event.

Lying beneath their crazy success is consistency. Day in, day out, they churn out the same, incredibly high-quality output as a routine, as if it is a habit. As a fan, as an observer, you expect nothing different from them.

Stripped of jargon, greatness is high quality consistency, over time.

Google is a classic example of high quality consistency over time. For more than a decade now, search=google, google= search. The time of day, the query, the language, the location – nothing makes a difference to the output google delivers. Its response time, the choice of answers it offers, it has only become better. You know that when in doubt, google it. Google never fails.

Uber is another new age example of consistency. Whether you are in New York, New Delhi or Accra, Uber delivers exactly the same output. It tells you the name of the driver, his/her rating, the car registration number and make, the time it takes for the vehicle to come, the amount to be paid and the time it would take to reach your destination. Monotonous, repetitive, high quality delivery over time.

The first iPod was launched in 2001. Between then and now, an Apple product has become the most iconic must-have personal device – be it an iPod, iPhone or an iPad. What Apple has done over the years is to consistently  deliver the best product in the market. The safest and most stylish product in the market. So much so that, consumers kept upgrading from one version to another without even casting a glance at other products in the market.

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The liquor industry is notoriously anachronistic. While the rest of the world prefers to be portrayed as modern, this industry thrives in being patina hued – something grown beautiful over time. The premium liquors pride in giving the same experience over years, nay decades. This makes them retain their uniqueness.

The lessons are all too obvious now. When consuming a brand or a product, the user seeks consistency. The two key consistencies that come to mind are experiential and visual.

To make the journey towards greatness, products or services should deliver high quality experiential consistency. If the service experience varies based on time or location, the consumer stops trusting the brand. The product or service promise can be as simple as being the cheapest. If this promise is not felt by the consumer in every interaction, consistently, the quest for greatness suffers. And the consumer’s faith dwindles, goes astray.

Great companies are built on strong imagery and visual cues. Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs indicates the pains Jobs took to have lighting in the stores that would make the devices look exactly the way they looked in the glossy magazines.

The Nike swoosh is another example of a cue. Brands that do not deliver visual consistency often lose customers as they get confused about the identity of the brand. Uniformity of visual experience across channels is as key. The look and feel of the brand must be uniform whether it is seen on a digital, outdoor, television, print or retail media. This consistency is what builds the brand and gives it longevity.

To sum up, consistency of quality delivery over time makes a product or a company make the good to great transition.

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