14/05/18

The London Marathon – what brands can learn from the event

Struggling with a knee injury, Sense's Beth Nicholas wasn't sure she'd be able to finish this year's London Marathon, but the crowd drove her to the finish line. And she believes brands should take the same approach with consumers…

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A few weeks ago I ran the London Marathon.

I still can’t quite believe I did it – especially considering beforehand, the odds felt a little stacked against me.

After sustaining a knee injury in February, I’d been restricted to the gym and had only braved the treadmill for a few weeks before the race. Although this had gone well, I was conscious that running on real ground was a different ball game and, coupled with the intensifying heat, I was resigned to the fact I’d be walking the majority of the way to the finish line. Fine.

As it turns out, the infamous words of wisdom I’d sceptically shrugged off as myth, turned out to be true – the crowd will carry you through.

Their sole aim is to improve the journey of every runner that passes, and urge them that much closer to the finish line – their persuasive power is in the genuine nature of their intentions.

For all intents and purposes, and with a little creative license, this is a great analogy for brands. In some way or another, brands will be offering a product or service created to enhance the lives of their audience – they need to attract attention and be convincing to ultimately nudge consumers that much closer to purchase.

Here are 3 tactics that brands can pinch from the London Marathon crowd to get their consumers over the finish line…

1. Build familiarity and anticipation

There is literally no better feeling than knowing a familiar face is waiting for you at the next mile – it forces you to pull up your socks and resets your frame of mind to make sure your best tired self is ready to greet the mate/sibling/parent that has travelled across the country for you.

This is one of the reasons some of the most effective campaigns use multiple touchpoints and repeated messaging to prepare their audience for the point at which they ‘meet’ the brand – be it
in-store, or a face-to-face experiential introduction.

This worked brilliantly for Jordans Granola when it integrated a cleverly targeted OOH campaign with face-to-face office sampling. The OOH creative laid down the ground work as target consumers made their way to work. Product awareness and understanding had been established during their commute, and by the time they arrived at the office they were more than ready to try the bowlful we had waiting for them.   

2. Keep it personal

There’s a reason the most valued and broadcasted piece of advice for anyone attempting the London Marathon is to slap your name all over your vest. I’ve learnt I have a surprising ability to hear my own name over background cheers, steel bands, sirens and feet! It has an instant uplifting effect when you are singled out from 50,000 other runners and creates feelings of gratitude that you want to reciprocate. Yes, sunburnt man necking pints in a cowboy hat, I will finish this for you!

Brands have been quick to recognise that grouping people into segments and assuming their needs blanket across the masses is both unrealistic and offensive to consumers who are wising up to outdated marketing techniques. Instead, the best are identifying individuals, listening to their needs and championing what they believe in.

Glaceau Vitamin Water did just this when it recognised that their target audience, the up and coming creative elite, often struggled to get their work seen and their voices heard. To give them a step up in a competitive arena, we provided them with a creative space and invited them to showcase to London what they are able to achieve. And in return? They told 500k of their friends, and 48% went on to purchase.

3. Be human

It really is no exaggeration that it takes blood, sweat and tears in equal measure to complete 26.2 miles. The best and worst of human emotions are felt and it’s witnessing the exchange of these between participant and crowd which makes the race so special. Watching a limping runner at the peak of exhaustion turn the corner to see their partner brimming with belief and pride for their loved one provides the ultimate boost – even when you don’t know them from Adam – because at that point there are no holds barred and the most honest of emotions are laid out for all to see.

In a world of growing scepticism and fake news, it’s crucial to be honest about who you are, and use trust and transparency to establish credibility amongst consumers. Those able to define their true underlying purpose and beliefs will win, and even more so if they’re able to convey these through tangible actions and human interaction in the real world.

The Economist has been channelling this approach for a number of years, and reaping the benefits. It acknowledges and celebrates the excellence in its product, whilst accepting that it is not for everyone – and has adapted its face-to-face subscription driving activity to directly address this. By being honest and realistic about its offering, it has successfully managed to attract curious prospect readers while deterring those unlikely to subscribe. And with 80,000+ subscriptions and counting, you can’t argue being honest pays back.

So even in the absence of blisters and sweatbands, there’s certainly a lot to be said for applying a similar ‘people first’ approach when addressing consumers, to ensure that brand intentions come across as genuine and authentic. In my opinion, brands could do far worse than taking a lesson or two from the legendary London Marathon crowd to help see their consumers through to the all-important finish line – or check out!

Beth Nicholas is Account Director at Sense.

This article appeared in Marcomms News.

14/05/18

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