Finishing my 125 km ultra-marathon run at Peak District with 4,780 meters elevation / 15,682 feet.

How To Underdeliver To Customers

This weekend I did something really crazy for the first time in my life. I ran an ultra-marathon of 125 km in the Peak District at 4,780 meters/ 15,682 feet in elevation. It was a two-day event, on Saturday you run 75km and on Sunday you run 50km.

Some people run the 125 km, some 50km.

I finished in 20 hours and 28 minutes, alive and with legs that barely drove back to London on the same day.

The looks says it all. (The bloke next to me was doing the 50km)

What I found fascinating is the value I got from the event. I’m a huge believer in learning from the great brands and from brands that underperform. We can look at them and reflect in the mirror and see how we can improve our own brands.

The event volunteers did a fantastic job. They were amazing at each checkpoint, helpful and very kind to us.

But the organisation had its flaws, and I didn’t see the value of paying £258 (plus £180 for transport) for the event; some people paid up to £300 plus parking.

The Start Day 1

What does value for money mean? Every person values different things, and when we pay a certain amount, we have certain expectations. Most people want to feel that what they bought (the tangible thing or experience) was worth the money they paid.

I and many runners that I met felt that the event run by Ultra X was not worth the money, and the company is just trying to maximise profits.

The problems started even before the race, when I emailed them 3 times and asked if we will have showers and where I can book parking. I didn’t get a response. When I posted my email screen shot to a group on Facebook, they responded promptly that we won’t have showers. Then after a couple of hours, they replied that at the last minute we will have showers, and it’s usually something they don’t provide.

That’s okay, I understand, sometimes we have email problems.

When I arrived, I saw their company car that said the following:

“We organise the best ultra marathons on earth”.

Ultra X Car

That’s a very bold statement there. The best? First — a tagline should never say what you do, and it definitely should never make such big claims for the reasons we will discuss below.

During the race, at checkpoints, they didn’t have any fruit or food for runners. You could say they mentioned it in the description before you bought the event ticket, so I knew about that already. Yes, you are right.

They did have Veloforte gels and protein bars, as it was their sponsor. But basically, they just had water for you to refill.

When we think about value, we usually compare it to something else.

In my case, I’m not a professional athlete. But I’ve done a few 100km ultra runs from London to Brighton, which I found were well organised, by Ultra Challenge.

Finishing 100km run London 2 Brighton — Ultra Challenge

They had a checkpoint every 25km with fruit and other food (bananas, pineapple, watermelon, gummy bears, energy drinks, crisps etc) and toilets. At 50km, they had warm food, free massage for runners, chairs, music and other small things that I think make a difference.

At the end, they have a huge finishing line where you take pictures, a stand that is lit, and again food, drinks that are included and they have an MC, David, who jokes and adds value to the event. They have music as well and it all feels nice.

I thought Ultra X is a more ‘advanced’ ultra marathon event company for serious athletes, and there are no entertainment and food options for those. So perhaps I’m the wrong audience for them because I’m not a pro and I like bananas.

Finishing Spartan Beast

So perhaps I’m comparing an amateur ultra race to a more professional race. But regardless of that, there were many things they missed.

The markings on Saturday were horrible. They could have done a better job. For the London 2 Brighton race, the markings were very visible, and it was hard to get lost. At Ultra X, I understand it’s more complicated, as it’s in Peak District, but the markings were poor and I personally did an extra 5 km from not finding them. I can’t imagine running that in the dark.

Here’s the lesson we can learn. Marketing is not just having pretty images on social media and posting them, but the whole customer experience. Marketing is every touch point our customers have with us.

Having the wrong customer buying from you can damage your business. I don’t know who their audience is, but I assume I’m not their core target.

The other important lesson is under-delivering — if we under-deliver, we will lose customers, and it will cost us a fortune to bring them back, as they’ve already had a bad experience. We will have to convince them to come again and pay more for that.

No amount of advertising will convince an unhappy customer to return.

I have to say their brand assets look great, it looks like they’ve invested a lot in creating a visual identity. But unfortunately the product itself is flawed.

You can’t have a nice logo and nice visuals, and then not care about your customers.

Another lesson is that you can’t over promise to customers, as they claim that they “organise the best ultra marathons on earth”. It’s best to under-promise and then surprise the customer with different things. It’s best to say they offer the worst ultra marathons on earth, and then surprise us by over-delivering.

Trail Run

I felt after the race that they just didn’t care. And then I thought, it’s just me or my tired legs. But when I spoke with other runners, I realised all of them felt it was a rip off, as you don’t even get a finisher’s t-shirt.

For me, a finisher’s t-shirt is like a souvenir, it’s a reminder of what you’ve achieved, and to have to pay an extra £25 for a t-shirt seems like a rip-off.

Once you finish, the only thing you get is a medal and hot water for your own food. For the rest, you have to pay (food, coffee etc).

This morning, I read this post on their Facebook Group from Nicola:

Nicola Forwood Posted on Ultra X Private Facebook Group

This sums up how we can under-deliver to our customers.

When I finished, I bought a finishers T-shirt and spoke to one of the owners briefly. I could sense apathy. I got the wrong T-shirt in the end as well,50km, not 125km.

They responded to the thread that Nicola posted above:

Response From Ultra X

In regards to sustainability (greenwashing) that a lot of companies say the solution is simple: add at the check out a question if the person wants a finisher t-shirt or not.

Finishers t-shirt right, the short answer is that most runners want finishers t-shirts because they use them for workouts, runs etc. But we are not here to discuss event companies, we are here to learn and become better marketers.

Most runners I spoke to didn’t tell me good things about the event, except about checkpoints people and views. Even a woman I met at the event she run the 50km said the following:

Focus on fixing the product, not testimonials

There is some great news for people who care and love what they do; there is plenty of space. If we care about what we do and put our heart and soul into it, people will see it, people will feel it.

When we don’t care, the same thing happens. You can trick customers to buy from you once with nice designs and high-quality content, but not twice.

The difference between the two brands (Ultra X and Ultra Challenges) is huge. Ultra Challenges don’t have nice branding or high-quality content, it looks outdated. But they do have a great product. On the other side of the spectrum, Ultra X have fantastic branding and high quality content but their product is overpriced.

Those hills

The question I have as a consumer is the following: If I pay 22% more, I can do a half Ironman in England, where I feel Ironman will over-deliver from what I heard and from what I read they do have (meals, finishers t-shirts, medals, etc). Or do I pay 33% less and do an Ultra Challenge where I get more value from it?

When we care about our customers, we over-deliver as a by-product, we don’t even have to ask ourselves how we over-deliver. When we are there for the profits only we have to think about how we can just deliver enough.

The answer to me is obvious — if we want to build a meaningful brand, a brand that makes a positive impact in people’s lives then we have to put our customers first.

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Alexander Novicov

Alexander Novicov

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I wake up every day striving to become the best version of myself. I’m a human, an author, ultra runner, skydiver, speaker and CEO at Way Boutique Agency.