The best marketing isn’t marketing at all. It’s brand experiences that fit seamlessly into customers’ lives and offer genuine value. Footwear and athletic wear company ASICS America proved that it could keep pace with its running community’s needs by delivering experiences that exemplify what it means to be a marathoner.
Set the pace
As the official apparel sponsor of the 2014 New York City Marathon, ASICS America wanted to find a way to celebrate runners through its “We Are Marathoners” messaging. Doing so would help the brand boost its association with the New York City Marathon (and therefore increase its legitimacy as a running authority), drive conversations both online and at the race, and generate consumer preference for ASICS.
“It’s letting the running community know that we understand what it means to be a marathoner and what it means to be a runner,” says Peter Malecha, senior digital marketing manager at ASICS America.
But if ASICS wanted to appeal to marathoners then it would have to think like a marathoner. So, the company worked with marketing agency Red Door Interactive to create digital, social, and content experiences that showed what it means to be a runner and how the brand could cater to runners’ needs.
One way ASICS America provided this value was through its Pace Your Race program. ASICS has an app called MY ASICS that allows users to set up their own training schedules. For example, a beginner runner may be hoping to run a marathon that’s six months away in under five hours. The app will tell her how often she should train and what types of workouts she should do to meet her goal. Pace Your Race is the race-day extension of this program. Participants can visit a designated microsite before the race; select the race they’ll be running; fill out a profile that includes their name, gender, and email; calculate their split time; and order a free customized pace band that they can pick up at the ASICS booth the day of the event. Runners can even print out a personalized map that provides estimates of where they should be and when to help supporters wanting to cheer them on locate them during the race.
“Because nobody is going to want to start a new training program at an expo, the [Pace Your Race] platform was created to be that next step for the athlete who either takes part in the MY ASICS training program or [they] don’t necessarily have to,” Malecha says.
Not only does the Pace Your Race program offer marathoners a useful running tool, but it also provides ASICS with an important data point—their email address. Once the race is over, ASICS emails the runners and asks them how the race went, Malecha says. The company also sends the participants a survey that asks what other fitness activities they’re interested in. ASICS uses this data to segment its audience for future marketing emails. Finally, the company sends the Pace Your Race program participants an invitation to join its MY ASICS program.
Race to the top
Another prime example of how ASICS offers consumers value is its Mini Marathoner program. Runners could visit the program’s designated site and submit a photo of themselves. Based on the image, ASICS then created a 3-D sculpture of each runner that symbolized the little motivational voice inside of their head. Marathoners could then take these figurines home as a keepsake. (The company spotlighted champion long-distance runner Ryan Hall in the promotional video for the program.)
Runners could even sign in through Facebook and opt to have a picture of their “Mini Marathoner” pop up on their page whenever they crossed a major milestone. Plus, the company created an opportunity for people who didn’t sign up for Mini Marathoner to get in on the fun. ASICS produced a live Twitter board where runners could nominate friends or other runners to win additional statues after the race.
Not only did ASICS encourage marathoners to engage with the brand, but the company also provided ways for runners to engage with each other. For instance, in addition to the Pace Your Race and Mini Marathoner programs, ASICS launched a Run It Forward initiative to benefit Back On My Feet—an organization that helps homeless individuals better their lives through running. ASICS asked a few of its athletic partners—including Hall—to run alongside various runners during the marathon and ask if they’d like to acquire a free pair of running shoes in exchange for helping the organization. If a runner said yes, then the athletic partner would hand him a baton. The runner would then have to relay the message and pass the baton on to another marathoner. Not only did every participant win a free pair of shoes, but ASICS donated $50 to Back On My Feet for each baton pass. To extend the donation opportunity—although not the free shoes—to race fans outside of New York, ASICS invited people to share examples of how others have helped them get back on their feet via social media along with the #RunItForward hashtag. The company shared images of people participating in the program via social.
In addition to driving conversations through “Run it Forward,” ASICS hosted a Twitter chat days before the race. The brand also hired photo crews to take pictures of marathoners during the race and upload them to social media in real-time. “It was important to us to find these little nuggets of stories about people who are participating in the race [and] share that to bring the emotion and heartbeat to life,” says Anne Buehner, Red Door Interactive’s social media manager.
In the run-up to race day
Another major area of interaction with its running community was during their training for the big event. ASICS primarily used content to encourage these pre-race interactions. For instance, as part of the campaign, the company’s marketers recruited five bloggers who wanted to run the marathon and asked them to take part in the #teamASICS Bloggers/Editors Challenge. The participants were given ASICS running gear, as well as access to running coach Andrew Kastor. The writers then shared their training experiences on their blogs and through social media. Buehner says that ASICS even put the bloggers up in hotels during marathon week and provided them with “share-worthy experiences,” like the opportunity to go on a “fun run” and have breakfast with Hall.
“User-generated content for us is more genuine,” Malecha says, “and in a lot of ways it helps us understand the conversations that we should be having online.”
The brand also produced a “We Are Marathoners” infographic, which it shared on ASICS’s website and social media channels.
Although the journey was a long one for the marathoners and ASICS—the brand started promoting the campaign about three months before the November race—both parties came out victorious. According to Red Door Interactive, ASICS generated about 11.6 million digital campaign impressions. What’s more, its infographic produced more than one million social impressions and nearly 17,000 page views with an average time on page of four minutes and 53 seconds. Plus, the “Mini Marathoner” video shown above generated approximately one million views.
Of course, a real champion never stops training, and ASICS acquired a few key learnings from its New York City Marathon campaign and applied those learnings to the LA Marathon, which occurred this past March. For example, ASICS wanted to increase the amount of real-time content it produced during the race. So, for the LA Marathon the company’s marketers outlined the video shots they wanted to get ahead of time and set up a race-day media editing desk to produce content quickly. The company produced eight videos throughout the race and saw a five-time increase in the number of Twitter impressions it received compared to New York’s race.
This just goes to show that marketing isn’t a sprint; it’s a marathon.