Marketing “musts” for race directors of events of all sizes
Marketing is one of the biggest pain points for race directors, according to our Race Director Survey. Knowing that, we reached out to and caught up with Running USA member Caring Marketing, speaking with Chief Strategy Officer Paul Carringer. With decades of experience, Carringer shares incredible insights on technology, branding, growing race participation and much, much more.
Running USA (RUSA): Caring Marketing has been around for more than 20 years. How has your firm evolved over that time and specifically over the past 3-5 years?
Paul Caring (PC): Caring Marketing began as a firm focused on the creation and production of catalogs and direct mail. We have added and refined our services to meet the rapidly changing needs of our clients over the past 25 years.
In the past five years, we have added digital/mobile production and content creation services to assist our clients. We now serve clients based in North America and around the world because of the addition of these services and our experience in health, sports, and fitness.
RUSA: We saw a race bib and race medals on your website. Can we assume you’re a diehard runner?
PC: I love to run. I have 170 marathons and ultras to-date with my personal best in the marathon in the 2:36 window. I have also have a 50K best of 3:15. The only challenge back then was that it took so long to chisel the lap times into the tablets of stone. And, the biggest hazard on-course was often the dinosaurs…the meat eating ones.
I have also been a marathon pacer for the past 15 years or so. My favorite races to pace have been the marathons in Columbus, Ohio, Celebration, Florida, and New York City (eight consecutive New York City Marathons I am proud to say).
This all started after “hating” running as a wrestler. Then, one day while rehabbing from an injury running a 5K, I thought “this running thing really isn’t so bad”. That was 39 years ago.
RUSA: What’s one area of marketing you feel most race directors miss or don’t effectively utilize? How can race directors start harnessing that in order to grow their events?
PC: Mobile apps hold much potential for running events. When they work, apps can connect event participants and their families from the moment the entrant signs up all the way through the celebration that comes after the event is successfully completed. In addition, apps hold promise as revenue producers for events by connecting participants to things that meet specific needs such as travel, training, insurances, and promotional items…all in one place. For example, Pacer Pedometer is working with MarathonPacing.com to connect event participants to pace team leaders well in-advance of the event so that the pacers can help with training, travel, and more.
As apps evolve, what we know today as the functional, but stand-alone, app will change and become much more of an integrated tool in the lives of those we are trying to convince to sign up for our events.
RUSA: When you begin work with…let’s say a brand that wants to grow their customer base, what are the first steps you take with them?
PC: In most cases, the first step is to do a brand audit. This tells us what the brand assets are, where those assets are presented to the market, what messages are carried by those assets, and Points-of-Parity (POP) and Points-of-Difference (POD) these assets have with regard to competition. The audit tells us where in the market the brand currently fits and what its brand messages are.
The second step is to turn the mirror of the brand audit around and find out what the specific target markets are that the brand wants to attract and what they think of the brand. This leads to focused, targeted, and meaningful message creation, placement, and fulfillment.
Existing brands most often have some market positioning tools and tactics that should be kept and strengthened, some that should be changed, and some that should be eliminated. Market growth comes from refining the brand message in a way that is meaningful to the specific target markets and moves them to say “Yes” to the brand family of products and services.
RUSA: From a race perspective, it’s all about retaining past finishers and attracting new participants. What’s the key to setting up an effective marketing strategy to reach multiple customer segments?
PC: The event/race would want to know what drives the specific target markets to act in favor of the event. And, the event/race would want to know how those specific target markets receive information about events…what touchpoints they have with the messages to help them make decisions.
Coming back to an event, recommending an event to others, and signing up for an event for the first time all have unique attributes that should be utilized to drive messaging.
It seems today there are two key market forces that are impacting marathons…a static or declining participant pool and competition. As target markets evolve, races need to better define their specific attributes that lead to benefits for the runners and those they bring with them to an event.
RUSA: Your firm offers many different services, but one in particular you seem to thrive in is PR. How can a small, locally-focused race take a first step toward using PR to drive race registration?
PC: One of the most effective tactics that a small event…and in-particular a local event…can use to get coverage is to get to know the reporters, bloggers, and influencers that write about, talk about, share, and recommend local events. One tactic we see often is the “sending out of a press release”…then, nothing happens. A more impactful tactic is to learn specifically who would cover the event and then learn why they would cover it. This goes back to the concept of POP and POD…how is your event a fit for the topic area of the influencer (POP) and what makes it unique (POD)…the thing that makes it a story? Only by talking to the specific reporter, blogger, and influencer can an event director figure that out.
If the event has the resources available to develop an Ambassador program, this can also be very helpful. Successful ambassador programs have a clear focus, a specific target audience, and clear messages to share. But, ambassador programs also require care and management by the event.
RUSA: What’s one trend you’re following in the marketing realm you are excited to follow and put in to practice over the next 12 months?
PC: Digital measurement with human analysis. Today, we can count everything…in particular in the digital/mobile environment. What we see becoming a differentiator is the human analysis of the digital dump…connecting what can be counted to the meaning the count has specific to the brand. I believe we will see market successes coming from brands that do more than count on technology to drive messaging and bring in people to help get all of the digital butterflies flying in formation.
RUSA: Any last minute marketing tips for race directors or words of advice?
PC: Always keep asking questions. As a marathon pacer, I know how important it is along the way to ask my team…and specific members…how they are doing, what they are feeling, what their goals are for the day, and more. Race directors can do the same thing in the marathon that is race creation, preparation, and promotion. Asking questions and auditing the brand and process leads to changes that build market share and satisfaction and ultimately ensure the success of the race.
And, get great pacers!
Originally appeared on RunningUSA.com