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The Tour de France: Sporting Event Meets Branding Masterclass

23/07/2014 13:11 BST | Updated 22/09/2014 10:59 BST

When people are asked to list the attributes of the Tour de France the most common answers are likely to be high mountains, frantic sprints to the line, shaved legs, daredevil descents or maybe something about a fellow called Lance.

What few people tend to say is a lesson in brand strategy. Until you ask someone who thinks positioning and brand equity for business and mulls over elevation gain and RPM for pleasure, that is. So tighten your cleats and put on your marketer's hat for a lesson in how to prevent your brand rolling in on the autobus when it comes to planning and strategy:

Lesson 1: Heritage and History

The Theory Is

Brand heritage provides consumers with an explanation as to how a brand appears in its current form. It also helps to give a brand depth, meaning and provides consumers with the reassurance that the brand of today is supported by a long tradition of excellence.

The Tour Tells Us

The Tour de France revels in its own history. From the awarding of the Henri Desgrange Prize (named after the founder and awarded to the first rider over the course's highest point) to adding a time trial route in 2014 in homage to Miguel Indurain's time trial 20 years earlier, the Tour de France remembers its past. By doing so, the Tour reminds its fans of its great past, as well as allowing the older fans to reminisce.

Successful Brands Show Us

Over recent years the UK fashion sector has been awash with heritage brands. Barbour, Burberry and Belstaff all heavily leverage their heritage. In cases such as Belstaff this has enabled a large international expansion in accordance with the burgeoning profitability of Brand Britain.

Lesson 2: Have a Great Story

The Theory Is

In the marketing world we know that stories and brand narratives can help attract and engage consumers. A story is not just about a start, middle and an end, it is about evoking emotion and building a rapport with a reader.

The Tour Tells Us

The Tour de France is split into several clear stories - the story of who will win a stage and the races for the yellow, green, polka dot and white jerseys, all split into 21 stages (or indeed, chapters). This helps endear it to the non-cyclist enthusiasts, by making it easy to comprehend and understand - broadening its appeal.

Successful Brands Show Us

Arguably the epitome of modern brand storytelling is British smoothie maker Innocent. The tale of management consultants abandoning their dull day-jobs and following their passion for healthy, organic fruit juices is adored by both consumers and the media. But why? Because it's unusual, inspirational and well communicated. This ensures increased word of mouth around the brand.

Lesson 3: Excel at Experiential

The Theory Is

Experiential marketing is designed to offer consumers the opportunity to experience a brand in order to better understand it. This increased consumer-brand interaction creates a memorable experience for the consumer and forges an emotional connection.

The Tour Tells Us

Very few sporting events allow spectators to engage with them like the Tour de France does with cycling fans. One only has to know that 2.5 million people lined the roads of Yorkshire on this year's Grand Depart. That's 2.5 million people who now have a heightened connection with the Tour de France.

Successful Brands Show Us

Red Bull has shown itself to excel at experiential. Hosting events from biking to surfing to Felix Baumgartner's record-breaking skydive, the brand has used a series of events to successfully position its drink as a high-octane product.

Lesson 4: Consistency, Consistency, Consistency

The Theory Is

By making sure marketing communications are consistent, brands ensure that their audience has a clear image of what their identity and offering is. Once consumers believe they know what they are getting, they are more likely to engage.

The Tour Tells Us

For all its varieties in start point, route and contenders, the Tour de France offers a consistent offering - there will be mountains, there will be time trials, there will be sprints and it will end in Paris with a yellow jersey being awarded. As such, the Tour de France has easy hook points for media commentators, recognisable points of interest for the casual fan and in-depth discussion points for the hardened followers.

Successful Brands Show Us

Soap manufacturer Lush is committed to natural and organic ingredients. In order to make this message consistent, it forgoes packaging on the majority of its products. Where packaging is used recycling is strongly communicated and incentivised. And where ingredients are shown they are done so in a transparent way. In short, Lush truly delivers on its brand edict by using these mechanisms.

Although many of these lessons can be learned from other top tier sporting events: Wimbledon similarly revels in its history, and the Olympics certainly contains the experiential factor, I believe the Tour de France is the only major sporting event that demonstrates such complete cohesion between event and brand.