I was in a meeting where the race director told me that they wanted to attract more runners for their ultra races. The problem they had was that they attracted a lot of older people, who tended to be walkers, not runners. They hoped to bring in a younger demographic.
I shared a couple of ideas with them and we worked together briefly, but ultimately our work didn’t click and we decided to split ways.
When I researched their race, what most younger people said was that they were “for people like my mum and dad”. What they mean by that is that it’s not a cool race.
I made a huge mistake taking them on board without digging deeper into the importance of understanding a couple of valuable things about branding and aesthetics.
I worked with another ultra running event company and we increased their sales by 29%.
The difference between two companies is the following: mindset.
We can talk all day about how we can promote on social media, start a podcast, take pictures and share them on social media.
But what differentiates one race from another?
There are many factors in why one race is successful and one is not. The biggest one is brand. How the brand makes people feel and what it means.
I was watching a recorded Zoom call I had with a runner that I was interviewing — (doing research) for an ultra company. told me she’s currently training for a half marathon and that she is doing a half Ironman in July. I asked her which one, as I was doing one as well. She said, “Ahh, it’s not the official Ironman, it’s this thing called Outlaw”. It’s not the official?
Outlaw Triathlon is a brand that is a competitor of Ironman in the UK. They actually say on their website that “they are the UK’s favorite long distance triathlon”.
But it’s a huge lie because they are not. What’s even worse is that your customers don’t even consider you an “official Ironman”. So from a brand perspective there is a problem with brand positioning.
This is why it’s so important to differentiate because if we don’t, people are going to label and position us as they perceive us and a brand is all about perception. It’s not what we say, it’s what our customers say.
Delusion is the biggest threat to all small business owners and race directors.
Because we are in the business, in the race, we don’t have a helicopter view. Nobody is going to come to us and tell us look, your brand aesthetics are really bad, your content is boring, because it’s not their job and people don’t want to feel uncomfortable confronting us.
If we don’t differentiate our own brand people will put us in the commodity box, or just another race.
The first step to increase sales is to work on the brand aspect. Ironman is where it is not by luck, but because they were intentional about what they are doing.
UTMB as a brand might not be the best brand in ultra running, but when you go to their website and their social media you feel a sense of professionalism. You feel that the race is going to be done well.
In the UK specifically, UTMB Snowdonia is gaining more and more traction because of the brand, not because of the race. There are other races in the UK you can do, but unfortunately they don’t inspire you to book a race with them. I signed up for UTMB Snowdonia because I feel that they are organised and the race will be great — that’s the story I tell on a conscious level. But all our buying decisions come from our subconscious, so there is more to that.
Over recent years the demand for entry to UTMB has grown hugely. . Within three years there was a 68% increase in applications. In 2019 the organisation received more than 26,000 applications for only 10,000 places.
How do you differentiate? There are a couple of things as it’s not a linear process.
The first thing I would suggest is you look at the product itself and think of how you can add something that nobody else has. How can I add something so extraordinary that nobody else has it? The goal is to create a Purple Cow as Seth Godin explains in his book. Something that stands out and people talk about. For Ironman for example it’s their finish line — it’s unique, it’s fantastic, it’s memorable and it’s WOW. By wow I mean the people cheering, the design of the finish line, the bell that you ring before going to the finish line and of course the carefully designed red carpet. But the most important thing they say each finisher’s NAME and “you are in Ironman”. That’s their purple cow.
Most races have the same thing: one arch, you get a medal, a t-shirt and off you go.
I once finished a 125 km ultra race and when I came to the finish line I felt that they couldn’t have cared less. Their brand aesthetics were great, designs were spot on but the product itself was shit and overpriced.
The second thing is you create brilliant brand aesthetics, you create a brand story, you include a hero and a villain in your story. You execute your story at the highest level.
There is a race I signed up for in Europe just because of the spectacular views. I couldn’t care less if it was named RACE Z or RACE Q — I couldn’t care less. There was no brand, the user experience was horrendous, the checkout page didn’t work properly but I still booked it. You might say you see, you booked it and they got paid.
Yes, you’re right. But do you think if there was another race with brilliant brand aesthetics and a great brand story, in the same location, I would have booked that even if it was slightly more expensive? Of course I would. They might have got the sales but they are a commodity and they didn’t win a loyal customer. They made a transaction.
A lot of races and a lot of businesses have transactional relationships. They don’t connect emotionally with their customers.
The third thing is you create a content strategy and you execute it to the best of your abilities. One of the most overlooked aspects is the content strategy execution.
Posting pictures on social media with the race location and stunning views is great and it definitely helps but it’s boring. How many times can you look at those pictures? Once, twice, three times?
I mean they surely inspire but your content strategy has to have a mix, not all posts on social media need to be stunning pictures. Surely people might ‘like’ them but do they create an emotional connection? That’s what we want to achieve as a brand. For people to create an emotional connection with our brand.
When creating your content strategy we need to think of the following:
Top Of Funnel — Attention Grabbing = 50%
Middle Of Funnel — Trust Building = 40%
Bottom Of Funnel — Conversion Based =10%
The top of funnel content. Attention grabbing content needs to be the following: controversial or relatable.
At this stage the person doesn’t know you or they are not thinking of buying anything. The problem is that most race directors treat social media the same as traditional newspaper adverts. That’s why they don’t succeed. Social media is not shouting about your products, it’s about engagement.
So attention grabbing content needs to be something that is controversial or relatable. For example, it can be a different opinion that sparks a debate or it can be a relatable struggle.
Middle of Funnel: Trust Building
This type of content needs to build trust between you and the runner. It’s about showing that you can deliver and that they will have a great experience.
Bottom Of Funnel: Selling
This content needs to sell race registrations. Here you can create creative content to grab people’s attention and sell the experience. The most important mindset shift is that you are not selling the race, you are selling the transformation. Nobody wants a running coach, runners want a coach to help them finish a race.
It’s the feeling of finishing the race they want. Nobody wants a Personal Trainer — people want to look good and feel good about themselves.
All content needs to be at the highest standard as the quality of the content subconsciously communicates the quality of the race.
I will share one last tip that can literally transform your sales: speak about the experience, about how your race will help them transform their life. Create User Generated Content with content creators and you will see how your registrations increase.
The goal is not to speak about the product, the goal is to communicate on how this can improve their life. In brief — do exactly the opposite of what most races do.
If you need help with your marketing your race and your content strategy you can reach out to me and my agency Way Boutique and we can have a chat.