In Adventure Race Hub’s first post in our newly minted “Growth Strategies” category, Mark VanTongerren, Adventure Racing’s Chief Marketing Officer (or at least that’s what I call him, he’s far more humble) taught us about the critical importance of actively advertising our races after so much “sweat equity” has been poured into them. We identified the “field of dreams” fallacy that many race directors fall into, expecting lots of racers to show up just because they’ve spent countless hours in the woods building a kickass course, but then no one does because all they’ve done is post 2-3 times on their Facebook page that has 213 “likes”. Mark then gave a terrific example of how to harness the power of Facebook ads to build highly targeted advertisements that put your races right in the face of the folks most likely to be interested, aka your “target audience”.
Which raises the question “who is my target audience?” This topic of conversation comes up time and time again in the AR community. Triathletes! Obstacle Course Racers! Ultra Runners! All valid suggestions. The short answer is we just don’t know. AR is a complex sport with a high barrier to entry. You need to be confident in your physical abilities across multiple sports, have the right gear, money to spare, and most of all, capable of orienteering (or have somebody on your team who is). This makes a healthy list of challenges that weeds out a lot of folks who may like the sports listed above. Basically, you need somebody who likes tough challenges, ambiguity, and is kind of a gear nut. There aren’t too many folks who fit this mold, and frankly, many of them don’t even know it themselves. So we’ve got to get the word out. We need to cast a wide net to catch enough fish since the fish we want are a rare species.
Thankfully, we have our next entry in the Growth Strategies series courtesy of Kristin Tara Horowitz, who literally wrote the book on race marketing. Kristin discusses in detail how to engage a target audience.
Take it away Kristin!
You’ve got the nuts and bolts of how to do Facebook marketing, thanks to Mark’s Facebook Marketing for Adventure Races, but now you find yourself wondering “just who exactly am I marketing to?”
First, you’re going to have to eliminate the idea you might be holding that marketing is a bad thing. “I have a good race, a good community, it really shouldn’t be on me to have to yell about it all the time, right?”
Sorry, friend – even if your product is the very best, you still have to reach the right people. I’m here to tell you how to do that.
Who are you telling your story to?
Before you begin any campaign, you really need to drill down the audience that you want to pursue. This is the number one indicator of your success. It’s one thing to have a great event – but if you’re talking to the wrong people about it, you’ll get nowhere.
Who already knows?
If you’ve been putting on races for a while, you’ve got yourself a database of users. Right? RIGHT??? At the very least, you know some people. Take some notes as you recall who they are – their ages, sexes, professions, where they live, and even how they finished. What gets measured gets managed. Don’t settle for anecdotal evidence, i.e. “I think most of my racers like tough single track because I asked one team what they thought and they liked the last course…” Conduct a post-race survey when you email out the results. Get the facts!
When I started taking over marketing for our events almost a decade ago, our race director had been catering to elite men with his message because that’s who he identified. Once I realized that at least 25% of the field was women (thanks to the traditional team format) and only 10% of the field was finishing, we started changing the message and even the format of the race. You want to keep these people that have come already – they will come back again and again if you do your job well and they will tell your friends.
The demographics of the group should be broken down by event – they’ll shift dramatically by distance/difficulty of the race and even what season it’s in. If you notice the changes are dramatic but unexpected, talk to the people that race and find out why.
The more you know about the people who love your events, the more you can do to help them love you more and more and bring their friends. These people are your champions. Don’t just talk to the winners – ask the last finisher and every DNF’er how they felt at the end of the race and use this to your advantage. People can have a marvelous time when all they have to go is up.
Who doesn’t know?
Adventure racing is a niche sport – it was big back in the day thanks to TV and heavy sponsorship, but those days are long gone now. It’s an uphill battle when you come to bringing new people in. It takes a lot of equipment, time, and a certain mindset to subject yourself to something like this over and over. That means every new adventure racer is a precious commodity. If you’ve been asking your champions about themselves, you’ll start to get a good idea of who else to target. Crazy endurance athletes tend to attract other crazy endurance athletes. We’re magnetic, in our own odd way.
It’s really easy to say, “Well, we want top athletes looking for something new.” Or, “men with mountain bikes.” Here’s the thing, though – you can scattershot this and get no return, or you can niche market and pick a few winners. Niche marketing involves you not just looking simplistically at things, but really drilling it down. The formula is this: Target Audience = X + Y + Z (most people only pick 2 variables, your job is to pick 3 or more, but 3 is the sweet spot)
Looking at my race champions over the past 10 years – the ones that come over and over again and put in work for us, I see very specific patterns:
- Adventurous (x) women (y) with children (z), don’t have time to necessarily train but happened to stumble into it (an extra variable)
- Professional teams (x) with budgets to support returning (y) who are tempted by our cash purse (z)
- Adventurous (x) friends (y) who happen to mountain bike once in a while (z) but also climb or distance run (an extra variable)
- Obstacle course racing enthusiasts (x) who have mountain bikes (y) and are looking for a broader challenge. (z)
As you see above, two of these have four variables. This is really hard to target. It’s a big story and a very tight niche. One of these has three variables but is a very limited audience that we’ve mostly captured already. One, however, is right in the sweet spot of three variables AND has a rather large demographic right now.
It also didn’t hurt that we’ve been putting on obstacle course races since before they really became a thing here in the US so we knew who that audience was and how to reach them.
The three variables, however, is key for this reason – adventure racing isn’t for all OCR enthusiasts. It’s for a very small group of them. And of this group, you’ll only capture a few of them. So choosing how to target is important.
Targeting your niche audience
The first step is to figure out where they are and how to speak their language. I can’t stress this enough. We put on a triathlon for a few years but weren’t nearly as successful with it until we hired an actual triathlete to market and direct the race because she knew exactly what her compatriots wanted to hear (editor’s note: this is a two-edged sword. My ideal race description includes the words “blood”, “pain”, and “misery”).
You have to do your research. There are a number of groups on Facebook, media outlet and race calendars online, etc. Look at them. See what those people are saying and what they want. Go do a triathlon and an obstacle course race. Then decide if your race fits their need.
Now’s not the time to be lazy. You have to put the work in if you want it to work automatically.
The first step is creating a landing page for your audience. What’s a landing page? It’s a page on your website custom made for your target audience so when they arrive on your site, it’s the first thing they see. This is ours. So if you’re running a facebook ad targeting OCR athletes, the ad will be hyperlinked to this page instead of your standard home page. I made sure it was chock full of keywords an obstacle course racer would appreciate – and I challenged them, aggressively with the headline: Despite What You Think, You Have Not Yet Reached Full Badassery. I don’t want the OCR people doing it for fun with costumes . . . I want the people with egos who say, “Tell me I can’t.” To them, I say, “Prove me wrong.” Notice how across the landing page, we have numerous comparisons for OCR to AR to help drive home the connection between the two sports and excite the OCR athlete about AR being the “next step up” for them. Take a look at the image to the left, where we specifically target rappelling (one of the most popular events in OCR) and show how much more fun rappelling is in the AR world than in OCR. When we first introduced the landing page and targeted “obstacle course races” in 2014, during what might have been the peak of the OCR attendance, we had a 33% bounce rate (that’s SUPER low – editor) and our registrations showed it. 63% of post-event respondents were OCR competitors. OCR was a proven funnel, helping bring in the right kind of people to AR.
Optimize your page for search engines
Like your target audience, you want to target your search words – obstacle course racing, Ninja Warrior, OCR, Tough Mudder, Spartan Race. Stick them in the metadata. Stick them in the descriptor tags of the photos, put them in the page title that no one reads, and for the love of all that is holy, stick them in the text as much as possible. You have to be found, you don’t have to write the most beautiful prose. (I say this as an English professor and professional journalist in a past life – so, like, trust me.)
Also, link to lots of credible sources. Search engines currently rank you higher for your links and links to your site . . . which brings me to the next point.
Use this landing page
Now that you have it, it’s time to target your audience on Facebook using the tools Mark outlined in his article. You’re going to pick photos that reflect the message you want to send to the audience that you want to reach. If you’re looking for adventurous women with children, don’t show them a photo of a hardened 20-something. Show them themselves. If you want your hardcore OCR racer, show them a shot of a rappel. PEOPLE EAT THAT UP. Rappelling is super hardcore to the uninitiated.
Now you’re also going to drop this link everywhere you can, in those forums, on your page, on your blog, on your friends’ blog. It will be found and shared if you did it right, and between this and the enhanced Facebook love, you’ll be seeing a lot of new faces at your events – many of whom will end up lost or puking their guts out but if you did your work right, they’ll be loving every minute and be back for more.
Kristin Tara Horowitz is production manager for the All Out Adventure Series in California. She and her husband have written a book on how to produce and market events. For more info on developing a marketing plan, check out her base template here.