By Nigel Arthur, UK Managing Director, ExactTarget

The London 2012 Olympic Games are not far away now, with the milestone of one year to go passing on 27 July. As the summer of 2012 draws closer, businesses are, or should be, thinking about how to capitalize on this landmark event.

For many marketers, planning for the 2012 Olympics was already in full swing during the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games. The opportunities for marketers from businesses and brands of all sizes are vast for this event. Those that are signed up as official sponsors will certainly have all the benefits of paying for official endorsements, but there are still ways that others can benefit without resorting to Guerilla tactics or being too badly affected by the strict enforcement of sponsors’ rights, because we live in a digital age.

Social media platforms have been evolving at a rapid pace over the last 10 years and certainly made an impact on marketing for the Beijing games. By the time we reach 2012, the digital landscape will look very different, which in turn will increase the online and mobile audiences that marketers should target in order to make the most of this rare opportunity.

At the time of the one year to go milestone, the Olympic Committee officially encouraged the 10,500 competing athletes from 200 countries to “take part in social media and to post, blog and tweet their experiences,” so long as their efforts are not for commercial purposes. The official London 2012 website also launched its #1YearToGo competition, engaging with international audiences by inviting fans around the world to tweet their support using the hashtag #1YearToGo, and a code for their country to see which nation rallied the most support.

Individual businesses can also take advantage of the opportunity to gain commercial return from social media campaigns, as long as they are careful to ensure they are aware of the London Olympics Marketing Rules. A high profile example of a business making the most of the 2012 Games is GE, one of 11 worldwide Olympic partners, who are preparing a heavyweight UK campaign to showcase the work it has done to deliver the 2012 Olympic Games. Another is Kraft, which owns Cadbury, who has focused much of its social media activity in recent months around their Spots v Stripes London 2012 Olympics campaign, in which the nation is asked to choose Spots or Stripes in order to play interactive games and win prizes. Although Kraft’s campaign has attracted some criticism, independent research from Hall & Partners claims Cadbury has moved from the top 12 into the top 4% of brands in the UK in terms of engagement, since the launch of the activity.

Although the majority of SMB’s across the UK will not have the luxury of being official partners or sponsors of the London 2012 Games, it does not mean they cannot take advantage of the opportunities that the event will present. Nearly 5 billion people are expected to watch the 2012 Games, and as the eyes of the world are on London and the UK, almost every industry has the chance to create marketing tactics relevant to the Olympics.

By designing an offer or incentive around ‘necessities’ for visitors such as accommodations, food, entertainment or travel, and by making sure that the offer requires individuals to subscribe to or follow a brand, marketers will be able to increase the size of their online communities. This gives marketers the opportunity to build relationships that can be nurtured during and after the games, creating a legacy that could prove profitable long after the closing ceremony. In order for this to happen, organisations will need to be careful to identify the right platform for the right consumer to create effective communication. Considerations such as marketing at the most convenient time of day and to the most convenient device must also be made if a campaign is to prove successful.

As well as those tuning in to watch the games on television or via the internet, it is estimated that 500,000 extra visitors will come to the UK during the summer of 2012 to watch the Olympic Games for themselves. Offers and incentives designed to target this huge increase in online attention and physical visitors to the UK are a fun and exciting way for business to get involved, as well as an opportunity to increase income without linking themselves to the games directly.

As this marketing trend has been one that could be easily predicted for a long time now, plans for businesses to take advantage of this worldwide attention should already be in place.

From industries such as food & beverage, construction, accommodation or sport, to those that might not seem so obviously linked to the games, British businesses will be showcased to the world. The flexibility of social media and digital platforms makes them ideal to advertise and market campaigns, allowing businesses to change and update campaigns in line with Olympic news and events.

Careful planning and sustained online activity are key to marketers making the most of the London 2012 Olympic Games