When it comes to reaching new audiences for your race, it’s really hard to think of a place that delivers better value for your time and capital than Facebook. And you seem to agree as more organisers maintain a presence on Facebook that any other social media platform (source: 2018 Online Marketing Survey).
In this feature we look at one specific Facebook marketing strategy for growing your registrations: marketing your race as a preparation event for a major target race in your area. We discuss how this strategy works and walk you through the setup of the Facebook campaign step by step.
The basic premise behind this marketing strategy was first discussed in our feature about winning race partnerships. But we are taking the idea to a whole new level here with a specific campaign aimed at boosting your race registrations.
This strategy combines Facebook’s surgical audience targeting with a nice bit of racing intelligence to deliver a powerful message to just the right people. We will be using known training schedule patterns to put your 10k or half marathon race in front of people looking for a 10k or half marathon in your area.
So let’s get started.
The prep race
Every year hundreds of thousands of runners train for a marathon or half marathon. And most, regardless of experience, prepare for the race using standard training plans (16-week plan for the marathon, 12-week plan for the half marathon).
So widespread has been the adoption of standard training plans by runners that it is possible to observe certain interesting patterns as a result. One such pattern is an increase in running activity in cities hosting marathons on specific weekends before race day – the days the standard plan prescribes the mandatory 20-mile long runs.
Another pattern, much more important for our purposes, is increased demand for preparatory races roughly 5-7 weeks before the target event.
Prep races help runners test training progress and race strategy before their target event under race conditions. 10k races usually serve as prep races for half marathons and half marathons make ideal prep races for marathons.
Targeting this very high and very predictable demand for training races could give your registrations a huge lift. Your message? “Are you training for That Target Event? Come to Our Race – it’s the perfect prep race for you!”
The step-by-step guide
In the remainder of this feature we will show you how to put together a Facebook campaign targeting runners in your area looking for a prep race similar to yours around the same date.
In everything that follows we assume you have a basic understanding of Facebook ad campaigns. If you don’t, start by reading this first: Step by Step: Create Your First Facebook Ad.
Identify one or more major races taking place 5-7 weeks after your race. These should be major marathons and half marathons. Your target audience will be training for these events and looking for a prep race around your race date.
If these races take place in your area, that’s great. If not, and they are still sufficiently large events (e.g. NYC Marathon, London Marathon etc), that’s ok too.
Create your campaign audience in Audience Insights. These are the people we will be targeting through our campaign.
To help understand what we are doing a bit better, let’s pick an example. Let’s assume we are putting on a half marathon in Philadelphia 5-7 weeks before the NYC Marathon. Our target audience will be runners living in and around Philadelphia (i.e. in the vicinity of our race) who are training for the NYC Marathon.
This is how you create this audience in Audience Insights:
- Go to Audience Insights and start with “Everyone on Facebook”
- On your audience dashboard, delete all defaults under the Location panel and type in “Philadelphia”
- Below Location, on the Interests panel find the major event you are targeting. For us this is “New York City Marathon”. If a race is large enough, it will appear here as an interest.
- Save your audience (we named ours “Philadelphia – NYC Marathon”)
Under the audience name you will be able to see the size of the audience in terms of monthly visitors. In this case, our audience is in the range 1K – 1.5K. This is a bit on the low side. Don’t worry – we’ll come back to this in a minute.
It is very important that you do not add “Running” or anything other than the target race under Interests. Facebook Interests work on an “either or” basis. That means that by adding “Running” our audience will be expanded to include anyone with an interest in either our target event or running. That will only be diluting down our perfect segment of only people who have an interest in the NYC Marathon.
(You can confirm our audience is a sound running audience by clicking on the Page Likes tab of the audience we created: it’s all running pages our audience likes. So even without specifying “Running” as an interest we’ve got the right people, because there is such a strong correlation between people taking an interest in the NYC Marathon and people interested in running. More on this in the “Some notes about the strategy” section below.)
Go to the Audience page in Adverts Manager (that is a separate page to Audience Insights where we created our audience) and select the audience you just saved. We will now do a bit of tweaking.
Click “Edit” in the Audience Details panel, then on the audience editing popup page click the little down-arrow by the name of your selected audience location (in our case, Philadelphia). When the map appears, increase the radius of your catchment area to, say, 30 miles. You will notice that the audience reach displayed on the top right has increased from 1,400 to 3,000.
By extending our audience catchment area, we are targeting people within a wider radius of our race location. We are keeping everything else, e.g. the interest in our target race, the same. 3,000 is a healthier audience which gives our campaign a better chance of reaching more registration prospects.
We now have the perfect audience to use in your ad campaign.
We are not going to show all the steps involved in building this campaign here – hopefully, you have some experience with Facebook campaigns or have read the basic intro article at the beginning of this section. However, here are some crucial tips:
- Target the ad copy at your audience. Use something like “Running the NYC Marathon? Give your training a boost with our September Half Marathon” (NYC Marathon takes place on the first Sunday in November). Or “Philadelphia’s flattest, fastest, mildest Half Marathon this September. Your perfect NYC Marathon prep race!”
- Include a great image of happy people. Images of one or two runners waving and smiling at the camera work best. Do not use race-wide crowds: they are impersonal and have poor visual impact.
- Choose a good landing page for your campaign. This needs to be on your race website, but should not be your registration form. That’s a bit too much of a hard sell. Instead, land people on a page that inspires them and pumps them up.
- If you are comfortable with Facebook pixels, optimise your campaign for conversions. Place a pixel event on your post-registration “thank you” page and make that your conversion optimisation event. That way you can get Facebook to work harder retargeting the right people so you maximise your registrations.
That’s it – you’re done. You can now take your campaign live.
Some notes about the strategy
There are a few things worth noting about this sort of campaign.
You may be wondering how well an audience with an interest in the NYC Marathon correlates with people actually registered for the NYC Marathon. The answer is fairly well, but not perfectly.
There are a number of reasons why someone might have expressed an interest in the NYC Marathon without being registered for the race. They may be past NYC Marathon runners. They may be ordinary New Yorkers with an interest in the race. Or they may even be runners residing outside the US who would one day want to run this iconic event. By combining our audience’s interest in our target event (NYC Marathon) with a residence in our race’s vicinity (Philadelphia) we help trim out most of the above segments.
In the end, there will still be people in our target audience that will not have an interest in our race. That is not the point. The point is to get to the people who will, even if we include some who don’t. Because for the people who will our message will be so spookily well-targeted, our conversions will more than make up for the rest.
To elaborate a bit on the audience selection point above, let’s assume our use of the Interest information as a proxy for NYC Marathon runners is completely off. What effect will this have on our campaign?
Well, we are still targeting runners (we know that from our audience’s demographics) that live in our race’s catchment area. Even if our message assumes we are talking to NYC Marathon runners, we will still get results at least as good as any generic campaign targeting runners in our area. So worst case we will get the performance of running a standard registration campaign.
So far we have been discussing this strategy in the context of promoting our 10k or half marathon to an audience of half marathon and marathon runners, respectively. Could this strategy be extended to promoting a 5k to people training for a 10k?
We think this would make a much longer shot for a number of reasons:
- Major 10k races are harder to find
- The training regime for 10k races is shorter and less standard for the approach of this strategy to work
- More can be achieved with a broader base advertising campaign for a 5k than with this strategy
There are certainly lessons to be taken away from this approach for any race, from a 5k to an ultra. But the specifics work best if you organise a 10k or half marathon.
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