What Running Taught Me About Marketing
Almost 10 years ago, my family and I were on vacation in Charleston, S.C., when we stumbled upon a pack of runners. Clad in wrapping paper and antlers, with dogs dressed as elves, these locals were taking part in a December tradition: The Reindeer Run. And they were obviously having a lot of fun.
My wife and I knew immediately — this needed to happen in our community. And now it does! We co-founded the Reindeer Fun Run, and for nine Decembers now, thousands of participants have gathered in our beautiful corner of North Carolina to run, jog, laugh, celebrate and support a good cause (all money is donated to our local Boys & Girls Clubs).
I've always been an entrepreneur and marketer, but I never considered the possibility of being a runner until that day in Charleston. After running regularly for nine years, it's changed my outlook on life. And to my surprise, it's taught me a few things about marketing, too.
Start With the Basics
When it comes to running, all you really need in order to begin is a good pair of shoes and the drive to go (actually, even the shoes are optional). Maybe a long-sleeved shirt, if it's cold. Watches, timers, gloves and vests, this stuff is nice, but not always necessary. That's because extraneous gear isn't going to be the determining factor in your success. Willpower, or mental strength, is what's going to push you toward your goal.
Good marketing is built upon the basics, and it requires that same core strength. Do you have strong data, analytics and content capabilities? Is your team cohesive? Is everyone working toward a common, understood goal? It pays to follow trends, but to be successful you must first have the basics in place.
Pain is Temporary
"Many runners only use 70 [percent] to 80 percent of their potential, because they have not developed the mental ability to reach their physical limits," wrote Pete Pfitzinger in a Runners World article, "How Tough Are You?"
I think it takes every runner a while to reach the point (and some never do) of using mental toughness to bypass pain in order to run harder, stronger, faster or longer. Pain is only temporary, whether it's tired muscles or a campaign slipup. Your job is to acknowledge these difficulties gracefully with grit, while keeping your sights on the long view.
Strength Comes in Numbers
Running is primarily a solo endeavor, but I often enjoy it most and feel strongest when I'm in the midst of others working toward the same goal. Running races and hosting a running event of my own has emphasized this point: strength and joy come in numbers.
How siloed is your team? When a big project is on the table, does everyone contribute? Does everyone feel comfortable contributing, or is the work left to one individual to complete? Not everyone enjoys working in a group setting all the time, and it isn't necessary, but make collaboration a standard practice and you'll find the work produced is a step above the rest.
Set Measurable Goals
Speaking of steps, success is a matter of many small ones. Measure them. Mark them.
As with running and racing, your goals should be well thought-out, achievable, yet difficult enough to move you forward. The same is true in marketing. Don't start with a plan and hope for a successful end. Set small goals to reach and make sure you get there. Change course when necessary. This is how you win.
Persistence Pays Off
Completing a race is an indescribable feeling. Getting to the finish line is never easy. It takes an entire year to prepare for the Reindeer Fun Run, and sometimes months to train for a single race. But the euphoria I've felt at these finish lines is what taught me to focus on the long view, not minute-to-minute disturbances.
It's cheesy, but true: Persistence pays off. You know how it feels when clients come to you after many months of work on a project and tell you how excited they are about the product or campaign you helped produce? That's the same as getting to a marathon finish line. It might seem difficult at times, but it's within reach.
I started running because I was impressed with how much fun the runners I saw seemed to be having. I wanted that for my family, my community, and myself. It's not drive alone that sends me back to the starting line of races, it's a feeling of joy.
It's worth asking: Am I having fun? There are ways to smile in the face of mistakes and feel lighthearted, despite looming goals. Fun is necessary and possible. Achieving it might, at times, require a little mental toughness, but it's the fuel that will keep you going.
Running taught me that, too.
David Petsolt is founder and president of buyCalls, a company that specializes in lead generation, and online and offline and national and local marketing support. David can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or @DavidPetsolt.
Related story: It’s Time to Own the Customer Experience