Thursday, December 8, 2011

Ultra-Market Research?


Over the last few years I've sat back and watched as the ultra-landscape has turned into a business. I've touched on various points through-out the last few months here on this blog. From Race Directors looking to make a yearly salary on directing ONE race, to the rising costs of entering (WS100), to selling out to Corporations that leave ultra history and tradition behind (LT100). There are two topics I've yet to cover and in this post I'll be focusing on one of them. The first is the idea of Ultra-Runners selling themselves as coaches as their way of sharing their vast knowledge to new-comers to our sport (more in a later post). The other idea focuses on how running companies are choosing to market us and to us.

The other day, while running with a friend, I asked him a series of questions and I'll ask the same to you:
1.) Would you agree that Ultra-Running is a sport that isn't as enthralled with the front runners and champions as the others like Marathon Running and Triathlon?

2.) Would you agree that Ultra-Running is a sport that mostly treats each others as equals.. where we're in this thing together?

He answered as I suspected he would, and I suspect that many of you have answered the same way as well. So then I'll ask a follow up: Then why do these companies always put their marketing dollar into the front runners and "champions" of our sport?
Since I started ultra-running I've had the privilege of being a sponsored runner. Many would think that I get sponsorships in the form of money, when the reality of it is, that in 7 years of running I've yet to receive any paper money or check. Instead, I receive product that allows me to pursue my goals without having to spend money on the products I use and support. I'm incredibly grateful to have had these opportunities. Mainly because I look at myself as a nobody. I'm just a regular, average Joe, mid-pack runner who just so happens to have a blog. But it always got me thinking.. why me? The answer is simple. I have something to sell these companies in return for product.

But take a step back. If I'm an average Joe with nothing more then a website and the ability to run very long distances; then why aren't more companies waking up to the fact that we ultra-runners really don't care that much about the front runners? Sure.. we pay attention to them and their achievements, but at the end of the day, once we know how they performed, we're off sifting through the results pages to see how everyone else performed as well. While we read the blogs of Rowes, Krupichka and DK; we spend more time reading the blogs of the mid-packers and those who run at our speed.

It amazes me that the marketing reps at running companies haven't taken more time to conduct market research into what Ultra-Running really is. What's it all about? What is the history? Who runs ultras and what do they care about? The big question is: If we're going to sell product to these people, whom are often times very frugal and anal-retentive.. how are we going to do that most effectively?

My opinion is, that these companies should consider laying off pushing their products through folks like Dean Karnazes or Anton Krupichka and Scott Jurek. Sure, we ultra-runners have some respect for them and we do follow them. But at the end of the day, I truly want to know what all of the other Average Joe's out there are wearing and what gets them through the event. Why? Because 95% of us Ultra-Runners are out of the league of the top 5%. So why would I care what the top 5% is wearing or using when the reality of the situation is, What works for them isn't going to work for me? 

So I ask the running companies. Do you treat ultra-runners like all the marathoners and triathletes out there because you're ignorant to who we are? Or do you just do what you think works? Why wouldn't you promote your product through the runners who are out there longer, are slower, have decent websites that carry a message.. when they truly are the ones that will give you the visibility within the sport that you need?

You would think that you'd get more for your marketing dollar by sponsoring the mid-pack runners. The folks who will push your brands and provide visibility for 23-30 hours as opposed to 14-20 hours followed by the quick stage left exit. Sure.. we all pay some attention to "Special K" and the Jerker.. but in the end.. I pay WAY more attention to my mid-pack brethren.

~SJ