Building Your Brand

What’s in a brand? Is it the sleek logo with the matching color palette and catchy tagline? Is it your organization’s mission statement and your event’s core values? Or is it every single thing that makes your event a memorable experience for your participants on race day

Well, according to my guest today, event branding expert Peter Abraham, your brand is all of the above and a whole lot more. It is the heart and soul of your event, and what it aspires to be for your team, your participants, your stakeholders and the rest of the world. And, at a practical level, your brand is the North Star in every decision you make about your event, from your logo and the contents of your swag bag to your choice of sponsors and the design of your race course.

Today,  we have a lot of unpacking to do. We’re going to be looking at understanding what your event’s brand is and how you can develop it, we’re going to be discussing your organization’s mission statement (and how to come up with one, if you don’t have one already) and we’re going to be tying all that back to laying out your marketing plan and finding your event’s unique voice.

In today's episode:

  • What makes up a brand
  • Why your brand needs a point of view
  • Avoiding the trap of being all things to all people
  • Consistency as a cornerstone of your branding
  • Don't be different for the sake of it - be different for a reason
  • How is your brand solving you participants' problems?
  • The importance of having a robust mission statement
  • Using your mission statement to make decisions on everything you do: designing a logo, mapping your course, conducting yourself in public
  • Writing a good mission statement: What do you do? And how do you do it?
  • Going from your mission statement to a marketing plan
  • Telling the story of your race experience through your marketing campaigns

Thanks to RunSignup for supporting quality content for race directors by sponsoring this episode. More than 25,000 in-person, virtual, and hybrid events use RunSignup's free and integrated solution to save time, grow their events, and raise more. If you'd like to learn more about RunSignup's all-in-one technology solution for endurance and fundraising events visit runsignup.com.

Episode transcript

Panos  1:58  
Peter, welcome to the podcast! 

Peter  2:00  
Hi, Panos. Thanks for having me!

Panos  2:02  
Well, thanks a lot for coming on. Where exactly are you based in California?

Peter  2:05  
I'm in Los Angeles. 

Panos  2:07  
Okay, lovely. So, Peter, tell our listeners a little bit about you. I know you've done a great deal of things in the industry and that you worked with some great brands and events. Tell our listeners a little bit about your background and the kinds of things you've done in this space.

Peter  2:22  
I've always been in marketing in some form or another. I started producing television commercials and some movies after college. I had always been an outdoor athlete, a bicycle racer, a runner, a triathlete. I had a deep love for endurance sports. After the ".com" meltdown in the early 2000s, I kind of decided to be - rather than just a producer - an actual marketing person and a chief marketing officer. I needed something to kind of show that I could do that, so I started my own running event in Santa Monica. That grew pretty big, pretty quickly. I got a Red Bull and Nike as sponsors. So, I just started going in and learning from them. Every week, I'd go into their offices. Then, I was able to sell that event to the Los Angeles marathon and become the chief marketing officer there. At that time when the LA Marathon had just been purchased, it was near bankruptcy. We had to rebuild it from zero, and I took a lot of the ideas from my own running event to the LA Marathon and we built it up bigger than it had ever been. Then, for the last 10 years, I have just been a consultant, basically, on my own, working with not only running and cycling events but also with all kinds of different brands, including Nike, Lululemon, Best Buy, and Amazon on various marketing initiatives. I've sort of worked in every area of marketing. I can work on the full lifecycle of marketing from strategy through creating a marketing plan, through execution and content creation.

Panos  3:59  
Awesome. From what I can gather from your Facebook feed, you're also a keen cyclist. Are you a fellow Canyon rider?

Peter  4:06  
Yeah. I am a keen cyclist. I have been my whole life and I have done a lot of work with Canyon bicycles, which is based in Germany, which opened an office in the United States in 2017. I mean, it's really the world's first direct-to-consumer bicycle brand, and they've done an incredible job. They proved the model that you can sell bikes without selling to bike shops. So, I do a lot of work with them on strategy and content creation.

Panos  4:35  
Yeah, and they are an amazing brand. I bought my first Canyon, maybe, five years ago now. I remember it coming through the post, having to assemble, and everything - it was a great moment. It is an amazing bike and an amazing brand. Since we're going to be going into brands and stuff - what an amazing brand also - without actually knowing anything about brands, I feel like I need to say that, right? I guess that's how brands work. They've done a great job. So, today we're going to be talking about brands, branding, and mission statements, which I've seen you discuss in many of your past talks. You feel very strongly about the importance of mission statements that we'll be getting into. I have to say that I feel even more ignorant than usual about today's topic more than any other topic, so you may have to hold my hand a little bit. I can, sort of, like, guess that lots of people would be perplexed by the idea of branding. So, why don't we get into it? Starting with the basics, why don't you just give us the definition of what a brand is for you? So like, what goes into it? What makes it up? Are we talking like just a logo? Like, what exactly goes into the brand?

Peter  5:48  
Okay, well, that's a great question, Panos, and I get asked that a lot. I would say that a brand is the sum total of all the different touchpoints for that brand. Like, you think of a brand like Nike, there are thousands of touchpoints. It's not only the product, but it's also their retail stores, their advertising, the athletes they sponsor, how they speak to their employees, their buildings at their headquarters, their apps, and all of that. I came up in an era of advertising, like, in the 90s when I was making television commercials and, honestly, a brand didn't have that many touchpoints. There was, like, television, print, radio, maybe billboards, or maybe they were in a store - there just weren't that many touchpoints for a brand. Now, there are so many different places where the consumer interacts with the brand. You think of a brand like Starbucks, it's the cup, it's the person behind the counter, it's the sign on the store, it's the advertising, it's the coffee. Like, there are so many different things. So, that's number one - there's no one thing that makes up a brand. So, when a brand says, "Hey, we're gonna redo our logo. We're a new brand now", you're not really a new brand, that's just 1 of 100 things. So, that's why a brand has to be thought of holistically. I think what is really, really important - particularly, in a world where you have hundreds of different touchpoints to manage - is that you need a point of view. So, when I talk about things like a mission statement, it's not having a mission statement for the sake of having a mission statement, you need a point of view, you need, sort of, an organizing principle, an angle on how you see the world, and how you manage not only your customers, but your product and your employees - you got to organize that. When I see brands that don't have that - you can, kind of, see it because you can see that they're, sort of, all over the place-- if you look at a brand like, let's say, Apple, everything Apple does feels like Apple. If you walk into the Apple Store, if you see an ad, a billboard, if you look at their product, it all kind of feels like Apple because they're so disciplined about their brand and how they show up in the world. That's basically how I would describe it.

Panos  8:13  
One of the questions I had is, is a brand something that, sort of, my company or my event is, or is it more like how it's being perceived by the outside world?

Peter  8:28  
Well, I think those two things are one of the same. I don't think you can separate. Like, I don't think you can say, "Hey, I am one thing, but it's perceived as a different thing." I think perception is reality. I think those two things go together. I don't think they're two separate things. So, all these things that I'm talking about - Starbucks, Nike, Apple - that also apply even to a very small, let's say, running event like a 5K. What's your point of view? Why should I sign up for your event? How are your shirts designed? How was the course designed? What does your website look like? All that should be organized so that it feels like it's coming from a single point of view rather than just, sort of, all over the map. What I saw with running events is a lot of them just looked at other running events and did what somebody else did. "Oh, they used a photo of somebody coming across the finish line with their hands in the air. We should do that!" And you go, "Yeah, but every single running event does that. Why do what everybody else is doing?" I think it's important to differentiate yourselves in the marketplace and have a unique point of view also.

Panos  9:36  
Yeah. We're definitely going to be coming back to the whole idea that even a 5K can have a brand and, like, a substantial identity there because I think it's important. In terms of selling the idea of putting more effort into branding to race directors, how would you go about that? So basically, what would be the points that you think a race director needs to take in terms of the benefits of using branding for their event, being smarter, and putting more effort into it?

Peter  10:09  
Well, like I said, it's about having a point of view. Another mistake I see, a lot of races is trying to be all things to all people - just, sort of, being generic. I think it's far better to be the most amazing race for a smaller group of people and an amazing experience as opposed to, like, just an okay experience for a bunch of people because, then, what happens is you're nobody's favorite race. I'd rather start with serving a smaller group and have them just be passionate about your event being the most amazing event for them, and then build from there. When you think about building a running event, really, you're in the experience design business. You're designing an experience for people. If you think of, like, just a 5K, let's say it's $40 a person, let's say a married couple comes to your event, they're spending $80, plus maybe parking and something to eat after, that's $100 that they're spending on that Sunday morning. You're competing for their dollars with, maybe, them going out to dinner, or movie the night before, or to the theater. Whatever it is, you need to make your experience compelling and amazing - that should be a fantastic experience for them. So, I would start by thinking about, "Are you creating a remarkable experience for people?" When I say experience, I don't just mean on race morning, I mean, starting with the website that they might go to a month before, "Are you clear about the parking, the results, and the photos after that whole lifecycle?" Customer touchpoints are what I'm talking about.

Panos  11:50  
Earlier today, I was looking back at the example of-- so, Orca Running is an event management company based in Washington - Porter Bratten, who runs that, was a guest of mine in one of the podcasts. When I was thinking about brands, but not necessarily, like, Chicago Marathon level brand, but more of the kind of level of events that would be more like the people in the audience, I guess. That struck me because I seem to be getting from them a lot of consistency, right? When Orca Running comes to mind, I know what they're about. They've been very heavy, for instance, on sustainability stuff. They've taken lots of steps to offer options instead of medals. There's a service called "Trees Not Tees" and Porter is a big advocate for sustainability. So, beyond just the website, the logo, and the experience, do you also include these kinds of things like communications and how the event conducts itself as part of the brand of the event?

Peter  12:55  
Yeah, absolutely! That's critical! I mean, how you write your emails, the photography you use, all of those different things are really important. And you brought up a very important point, which is consistency. Like, I think people want some consistency from their brand. So, it's not only a point of view, but they want to know that you're repeatedly bringing that point of view in everything you do. So, I think consistency is a very important part of the branding process just like when I was talking about Starbucks, Apple, or Nike - they're very consistent in any communications - the signage, whatever it is. Their product is very consistent and I think that is important. People want that. 

Panos  13:36  
Are there any events just to, sort of, like, make it a little bit more concrete for people whose brands you really admire and what they've achieved? Or something that you can hold up as an example for people to look up to in the events or in the races world?

Peter  13:55  
Yeah. I mean, I think in terms of consistency, you can look at Ironman Triathlon, in which you really just know what you're getting there. It's incredibly consistent, not only in terms of distance, whether it's a 70.3 or Ironman distance, the websites they use, the results, or even a lot of the athletes - like, super consistent. Events like the Chicago Marathon and the New York Marathon, I mean, they're massive and their courses are amazing because they have a monopoly on their cities. Like, there's no other marathon that goes through the streets of New York City, and that is a unique and amazing experience. In terms of their communication, I think those marathons are, like, fine but I don't think it's anything special. I think in some ways, it's almost a negative that they have a monopoly because they don't have to be, maybe, as good as a smaller event that's trying to get better. I think in the early days of the Rock 'n' Roll marathon, I thought that was - I'm going back, like, 12-15 years now - a unique event. There was no other marathon that had branded itself around music, and had bands all over the course. Like, I thought that was interesting. I think they lost their consumer experience after that and it became just, sort of, a commodity, but it was different. And I always respect events that are taking a chance in trying to be different. If you think about, like, a 5K or a 10K, that's kind of a commodity now. In a place like Los Angeles, there are like five of those every weekend, all year long. So what is it that is different about your event? And I think brands really need to think about is, "Is your course different? Is there a theme that is different? Is there, like, a costume thing?" If you remember - I think it's almost gone now - there was a thing called the Color Run. 

Panos  16:03  
Oh, yeah. No, it's still around.

Peter  16:04  
I guess it's still around. I did one once and I don't think it was that amazing of an experience, but it was different. There was nobody else doing anything like that. So, I do give that to them. 

Panos  16:16  
Right. You kept mentioning this idea of being different, of having a unique voice, identity, and stuff. I guess you're saying, "Be different, but don't just be different for the sake of it." I think you also said that earlier, right? Just be different for a reason. 

Peter  16:33  
Yeah. And again, like, I would step back and go, like, "What problem are you solving for a runner? Like, what does a runner want?" Like, if you look at the New York Marathon, the problem that they're solving for runners is if you want to run a marathon through closed streets of New York City with 2 million spectators, that's the only chance you ever get to do that. So, having done it, there's no other experience like that in the world. So I think, to just start a generic 5K with an unremarkable course, with unremarkable marketing, with unremarkable T-shirts and photos, you're really not solving a problem for an athlete because they can get that anywhere else all year long. So, I would think about, like, "People want compelling and remarkable experiences. How do you give that to them?"

Panos  17:27  
I think you have a much broader view of the world than other people in the industry because you work outside the industry, but you've also worked within the industry. Would you rate, sort of, like, the branding standards within races and our community higher or lower than your average event or your average brand or company out there? Are we doing a better job, a worse job, or just average like everyone else?

Peter  17:55  
I don't think it's fair to try and rate running in relation to other businesses. It's hard to say but here's what I'll say. What I love about endurance sports, generally, when you're talking about running, cycling, triathlon - those businesses, whether it's running shoes, or running events, or bicycles - they've been in that their whole lives. Like, in running, you look at somebody who is, maybe, a competitive runner in high school, then in college, then they graduated, and worked for Brooks or New Balance or Nike for a few years. Then, their friend started an event. So, they started a running event and they have been in the running space their whole careers. What is great about that is they're into running or running events because they're passionate, and they love that, and I think that is awesome. The downside of that is, maybe, they haven't gotten outside of running, saw the world, and did a tour while working for Nike, Red Bull, other brands, events, or businesses which I think is really valuable, and I would highly recommend that in people's career paths. And that doesn't only go for marketing, it goes for somebody who is an operations person, which is obviously such an incredibly important part of the running event experiences operations. I'm speaking as somebody who's not an operations person. Like, one year at my event, we mismarked the turnaround for the 5K and it became, like, an 8k - it was too far and everybody had a terrible experience in the 5K. Like, that's part of your marketing. Like, you gotta have your ops together. So, the operations are critically important. I do think it is important to have some, kind of, outside point of view and really see what some of the top brands are doing in terms of marketing and content. I think that it's important.

Panos  20:00  
My question, by the way, was sort of motivated by stats showing that running has some difficulty attracting younger audiences. Like, if you look at statistics of people who run, it tends to, sort of, like, drift towards older people, right? So, the races in the industry seem to have some issues with attracting younger runners - the kinds of things that, maybe, Color Run that you mentioned earlier and other events tried to do. So, my question was more motivated from the point of view of, "Is there something we can do from a branding point of view - both at the event level and at the industry level - to, basically, rejuvenate the industry, and grab the attention and the imagination of younger runners?

Peter  20:50  
Yeah, it's a great question, and I have spent a lot of time studying this and doing some work on it. Here in LA, where I see the younger runners is not out at 5K's and 10K's - I see them in the night run crews. So we have Blacklist, we have Koreatown Run Club - I just sent somebody there last night who is 25 years old - DTLA runners. They're a bunch of night run crews that run at night. There's also the November Project, which is 50 cities around the world, that I go to here in LA, which I'm a huge fan of. And all of those things like the night run crews, November Project, I would say the average age is like 27 or 28 - those are essentially free community fitness. What I hear when I walk around those events is a lot of these people are really fast runners - they're the runners that you would want if you had a 5K or 10K or half marathon here. And what I'm hearing from them is the cost is an issue for them. They're like, "I can't afford to pay $45 for a 5K twice a month." And I'm hearing that social is really important. A lot of these run crews and November Projects operate a lot on digital - like, Instagram is often the hub of these groups - and they're really about social. In some cases, it's about going to see art around the city. I think they just have a very different point of view, and I think the 5K's and 10K's of the world can learn a lot from them about attracting young people - cost is one thing. Why do all the events have to be at seven in the morning? Why couldn't you do one at night? BlacklistLA's have runs probably five days a week on Monday nights at 10 PM downtown, not even at a running area really. It's packed. Hundreds of people show up because it feels like a big party. When I go to, like, a marathon training group, I feel the average age is, like, 60. So, I feel like all race directors should be out - if they're near any kind of urban area - with the Night Run Crews and out with November Project and really, kind of, like, just being out with that community and learning from them.

Panos  23:05  
That's really interesting. I feel like we need to get together with, like, a few guests I have in mind and just do an episode on just that - how we can get more younger runners into races. But for the time being, let's switch gears a bit and let's go into mission statements. You are someone that keeps pressing on this argument of the importance of having a mission statement as it pertains to branding, almost like a compass for everything else you do. So, tell our listeners a little bit about what a mission statement is. I think many of us may have slightly confused ideas of what it should be about.

Peter  23:44  
The way I look at a mission statement is, as we mentioned earlier, it just gives you a point of view. I think any good, kind of, business or process needs guardrails. There's both art and science into creating guardrails that are not too narrow, but not too wide. So, I'll give you an example of a business that I've worked on that did not have guardrails and how it went - this was a few years ago. I was doing a lot of work in experiential marketing - live event stuff - and I got asked by a fast-food chain here in the US called 'Taco Bell', which has, like, thousands of mediocre Mexican food, but it's popular and it's a huge business. I got asked to come in and do a whole brainstorming session for Taco Bell for some new experiential activation, and there were, like, maybe, six of us in there and each person had their own area of expertise - somebody with great experience in digital, someone who was an architect, someone who was a designer, and everyone was really experienced, professional, and at a very high level in their field. I remember the brief was, like, "Taco Bell wants to do a new kind of experiential activation and we're going to, kind of, work on what that might be." Okay, well, what does Taco Bell stand for? Other than, like, cheap, low-quality food, there were really no guardrails on the process. So, when we're ideating, we're like, "Oh, maybe we should do something on college campuses." "No, no, no, no." "I know! Let's do something at music festivals." "No, no." "Could we do something at schools?" And because the brands didn't have a point of view, you had nowhere to, like, anchor yourself in terms of what they should do. So, when you don't have guardrails in anything that you're doing, whether it's a running event or a food brand, you just don't know where to start, and we ended up not coming up with anything good. We couldn't come up with one great idea, and there was no idea that they went with after that. On the other end, I'll give you a company - how about, like, Patagonia? Patagonia is about sustainability, okay? Their original mission statement was, "Make the best product." Then, they changed it to make the best product and do no harm. Then, recently, two years ago, they updated it again, that said, "We're in business to save the planet." So number one, your point of view and your mission statement can evolve with your business, but theirs, for the most part, started with, "Make the best product, but you do have to have a great product. But it's really been all about sustainability." So, imagine if we were doing some, kind of, ideation session to try and build a marketing campaign for Patagonia, you immediately know that it's got to be built around sustainability because that's what the whole company stands for. So it focuses your energy and what you're doing, and it becomes so much more effective. That's an example of how a mission statement is a strategic tool that helps you be better at what you do. Do you want me to give you an example of how that would work in a running event? 

Panos  27:13  
Yes, please. 

Peter  27:14  
LA Marathon - we took over it. When we took over in 2008, it had been, sort of, left for dead. It was almost gone. It was almost in bankruptcy. We decided we really needed just to start with a mission statement. So Russ pillar, the President, and I would go every Friday afternoon to his house and just start working through, like, "What would our mission statement be?" Where we ended up was, "We inspire athletes and we connect communities." And that came over everything. So then, we need a new route for the marathon because the route they were using was terrible. So we decided to start at Dodger Stadium, which is near downtown, go through downtown and all the landmarks of Los Angeles, Hollywood Boulevard, Sunset Strip, Rodeo Drive, and end at the Santa Monica Pier - one way across the whole city through all the landmarks - and you could go, "Hey, that will inspire athletes and that will connect all these communities of LA." So just the route was living up to the mission statement. Everything we did, we would first go, "Wait, does that match the mission statement? Does it inspire athletes and connect communities?" And that's how we used it. The shirts, the expo, and everything had to live up to the mission statement first.

Panos  28:36  
That's an interesting example. Listening to that - I may not be, like, a professional or particularly imaginative in this field - I would have said, "Okay, inspire athletes and connect communities" I guess, like, most events are trying to do that. What am I going to do with just that one-liner? Then, you said, you come to making decisions about the event, creating the route, and other things, and you just go back to that - sort of, like, your reference in everything you do - right?

Peter  29:05  
Yes, exactly. And you can go, "Well, that sounds kind of generic." But it's not. We actually wrote it down. The graphic design, the logo that we designed at the time looked like a route map that would connect communities. And in terms of inspiring athletes, we felt like the shirts and the apparel we made had to be of high quality, it had to inspire people. Here's another example. The operations team came to me and they said, "Hey, Peter. In the past, we've done goodie bags for all the participants and all the volunteers as well. Should we do goodie bags this year?" I'm like, "Well, what's in them?" They said, "Well, first of all, we're going to have to do about 40,000 plastic bags." Then, I'm like, "Well, what's in them?" "Just coupons for $20 off this and $5 off that." I'm like, "Is there anything of value, really, in the bags?" "Not really, but we got a few brand partners who gave us a total of a few $1,000 to put their coupons in their bags." I'm like, "Okay, wait. Does that inspire anybody?" "No, it's a bag of junk, basically." Then, you just looked at the environmental issues of 40,000 plastic bags - that's horrible. So, does that connect communities or inspire athletes? It does not. So we said, "Forget it. Let's just not do goodie bags at all." And it was fine. We never got one complaint about it, and we explicitly used our mission statement to decide whether we should do them or not.

Panos  30:40  

When it comes to branding there’s two things you need to always keep in mind: 1) owning it and 2) being consistent with it across all your customer touch points. Peter, in fact, stressed that quite strongly earlier in our discussion.

So how do you achieve brand ownership and consistency, without going completely overboard?

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Ok, now, let’s rejoin the discussion on brand building with branding expert Peter Abraham. Next up - coming up with your event’s robust mission statement…

Panos  32:30  
Speaking of mission statements, other things that come to my mind are things that brands or companies speak about like their values, right? So, these are our values. You also know that companies and many products have taglines and little mottos that, sort of, sound a little bit to me like, maybe, a mission statement. Are all of those things, basically, the same? Or is the mission statement something different to, like, a company's values, its tagline, its motto, or all of that little, like, bite-sized chunks that it markets with?

Peter  33:07  
Okay, that's a great question. I'm glad you asked that. Talking about values, values are supporting information that can come under the mission statement. So, think about the website where you'd have the mission statement and then you'd have, "Here are our five, whatever, core values. We believe in transparency, whatever it is, which is great - it just, sort of, adds more depth to your point of view. And I like brands that can be a little bit, maybe, eccentric with their values. Like, if you look at Zappos shoes, which was bought by Amazon, it has kept their core values of keeping things a little weird - I like that. I've been and toured their headquarters and stuff and it definitely, like, felt quirky and doesn't feel like anywhere else. So, your core values can add support underneath your mission statement. You need a mission statement first - you start there - and you can add more detail with core values. You don't have to have them but it's a great idea. Now, let's talk about a tagline. That's very important because a lot of people get a tagline and a mission statement confused - they think they're one and the same. A mission statement is something that really doesn't change. I mean, you might update it once every five years or whatever. But basically, that is, like, the gospel of your business. A tagline could change month-to-month, year-to-year. So, let's look at Nike. Nike's mission statement is, essentially, inspiring athletes with technology - that's basically their mission statement, if you boil it down. Their tagline could be 'Just do it' or all kinds of other things depending on the campaign or whether it's for basketball, football, or running. So tagline is a more temporary advertising hook that you put into a brand and, honestly, I think taglines have lost. In the days when I came up in advertising in the 90s, 'Just do it' was what you heard from Nike for a whole year now. 'Just do it' would be, like, a hashtag in an Instagram post now. It just wouldn't be as ever-present as it used to be. The point is, a tagline is a short piece of communication in advertising and not the guardrails for your whole brand that a mission statement is.

Panos  35:47  
I'm seeing, sort of, like, this pattern emerge where we're saying tagline is more like an outward-looking thing - like something I use for my marketing. Whereas the mission statement is, like, inward - like, it's who I am. It's sort of, like, what I'm made of, kind of thing - right?

Peter  36:03  
Right. And I want to add one more thing about a mission statement because you brought up, sort of, outward-facing versus inward-facing - that's an important distinction. One of the things I've learned about in decades of working with mission statements and brands is that the mission statement is as important - maybe, more important - for your own employees as it is for your customers because your employees, your staff, and your team want to know what you stand for and what's it all about here. So let me tell you, like, at the LA Marathon, not only did we use the mission statement as a way to orient ourselves with our own staff, but when we go to a meeting with the Beverly Hills city council or any city government in Hollywood, Los Angeles to get permission to go down Hollywood Boulevard, I'd walk in, and start with, "Okay, here's what we're about. We're about inspiring athletes and connecting communities." Then, I would give an example of that. I'd say, "Let me give you an example of how we connect communities. We've got 3000 kids and students around LA who are mostly below the poverty line. Their middle school and high school kids - 13 to 18 years old - 3,000 of them, we give a free entry to the marathon. They train for six months, they run the full 26.2 miles in the LA Marathon, and of those kids who finish, 92% go to college. That's what we stand for. Do you want to be a part of that or not?" And like, it was really hard for the city government to say 'No' to that point of view when you back it up with those kinds of statistics. So, the mission statement can be used as a tool. It's not just for, like, your ads for customers - it can be used with brand partners, sponsors, city governments, employees. Like, you can use it in so many ways.

Panos  38:05  
And in terms of the practicalities and best practices around mission statements, are there any rules as to how long the mission statements should be? Also, very importantly, are there any guidelines as to how do I sit down, brainstorm, and create a mission statement?

Peter  38:24  
Yeah, I'm glad you asked that. So yes, yes, and yes. A good mission statement contains two things, in my opinion - what you do and how you do it. So Nike inspires athletes - that's what they do. How do they do it with technology? In terms of a guardrail, it doesn't inspire athletes with shoes or with apparel - it's just technology. So that gives them license to create apps, to be leaders in design because that's part of technology, experiment with different fabrics, whatever it is, but it's always grounded in athletes. So it's tied to sports. So I think it's the two things - what you do and how you do it. Now, how do you create the mission statement? Here's the process that I recommend, and I'm involved with this with a startup right now. You start by, I recommend, writing down a bunch of words that come to mind that associate with your brand. So let's say you've got a 5K or 10K running event and you get in a room with some of your key people, get a whiteboard, or you can use sticky pads that you can stick on the wall, or if you're a virtual, because we're in a pandemic, you can use this great app called Miro - it's, like, a virtual whiteboard - and start putting words up. I recommend, like, "Well, running would be like inspiration, community, endorphins, athletics, achievement, whatever it is." So, you spend, like, 15-20 minutes on that. Then, you take that and you start forming those into basic mission statements - like, come up with five or ten of them that just, like, use some of those words - and some will be too long or too short. Like, at the LA Marathon, we had this idea of inspiring athletes and connected communities but our first pass, like, when we thought we had it was, "Using the transformational power of sport, we inspire athletes and connect communities." And I remember, we had a meeting right after we came up with that, like, the next day. We're like, "That's it!" The next day, we had a meeting with Anita DeFrantz who was on the International Olympic Committee and lives in Los Angeles, and she said, "So what are you guys about?" And we gave her that mission statement, "Using the transformational power of sport to inspire athletes and connect communities." She's like, "Wow, that's a mouthful!" I was, like, "Oh, my gosh. It's too long." So we went home and we cut it short. So the point is it's an iterative process that takes time to get down and, I will say, it is tremendously important that the mission statement is short and to the point because, otherwise, nobody can remember it. If nobody can remember it, then it'll never get used and, like, "Why bother?" So really, that wordsmithing, getting it down short, is important. So let's say you've come up with a bunch of words, now you've started to string them together into some sentences that, sort of, feel right - that's a one or two hour process to get to that. I recommend taking a break for a couple of days, then come back, revisit it, start shortening things, think about it, and then maybe come back one more time. It does take work to wordsmith it down to like a really, really concise statement. But it's really important to get it right.

Panos  42:05  
Right. Okay, let's assume that I do follow that process. I think it's a lot clearer now that we've gone through some examples and, also, sort of, like, the theory of how to come up with it. So let's assume that I have come up with my mission statement, what do I do with it? So in terms of, like, reexamining my brand and developing my brand further, how can the mission statement inform and help through the process?

Peter  42:31  
Okay. So, here are the places that I use it. 1) Again, like we talked about, it's not a tagline. It has to be everywhere in your communications, but you're not hiding it either. So I usually have it on the 'About Us' page on the website. 2) Let's say you need to design a logo for your event, I start the brief for the designer with the mission statement and, maybe, the core values because, in anything you do, you want to reflect that mission statement or whatever the point of view is. So whether it's a logo or your route, do they reflect that? And I want to just take a minute to say that for running events, the low route is, like, the core of your event. If you do not have an exciting and interesting route for your 5K or 10K, your event is always going to be limited and that is, I think, maybe, the most important part of your race. So, does your running route live up to your mission statement? Like, designing all the signage - do the signage, bibs, apparel, the shirts, the website, all those things reflect that? So for anybody who is designing all that, you start with, like, sharing with them the mission statement so that they get your point of view. And what starts happening is all your assets, the banners, the signs, the T-shirts, the website, the photography, all of the sudden, it starts feeling like it's part of the same event rather than just random things all over, and that's when you get consistency. Through repetition, your brand starts to really come through to people and they get it.

Panos  44:25  
Would it also be helpful to look towards my mission statement for me to decide, for instance, what social media I should be investing my time in - whether I should be on Tik Tok, Facebook, Instagram, or whatever? Like, can the mission statement also say something about that? 

Peter  44:46  
It can and I think it's not necessarily about which channels you'd use - like, should I be using Tik Tok or Instagram - but it tells you how you show up on those because the channels can change from year to year. Five years ago, Tik Tok didn't exist - you wouldn't have done that. Now, it's a huge thing. And what I would say is that it helps explain how you would show up on those channels. I think, as an aside, there are so many different channels that are available to us as marketers. Particularly, like, a running event, triathlon, or cycling event just doesn't have the resources that Nike or Starbucks would to execute across all of them. So I think it's better to do fewer channels, but do a really good job on them than trying to, like, Tik Tok, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat - like, there's so many- and I think it's better to just, sort of, limit but really execute, do a really good job, and live up to your mission statement.

Panos  45:50  
So we were talking actually, at some point, a couple of weeks ago about marketing plans as well. So how do I go from my mission statement to building a concrete marketing plan? What does that even look like?

Peter  46:08  
Job number one is getting the mission statement done first. Okay? That's job number one. I'll get to the marketing plan in a second. What I recommend, for job number two, before you actually develop the mission plan, is go out and do some customer research. And I think the mistake I see with brands from big to small across the board - not just running events, but even huge brands - is they think they know their customers and they think they know what problems they're solving for their customers. In fact, they haven't really spent the time to speak to them, ask questions, and learn. So, I recommend doing some customer research. Like, if you got a running event, find 15 or 20 runners who have done your event and, maybe, five runners who haven't but you feel like, "They should have done it. Why didn't they do my event? They're here. They live down the street." I'd develop a set of, like, 10-12 questions, do a half an hour or 45-minute zoom call, or meet in-person for coffee or a phone call, and take them through, like, "What's your running background? What problems do you see out there with running events? What do you think running events could do better? What could we do better? Are there any trends happening out there that we're missing?" And after 8-10 people, you start hearing the same, like, two or three things over and over and over. And a running that could do this process in two weeks - it doesn't take a long time. Those things that keep coming up over and over - you'll get a list of four or five of those - you'd want to, like, circle those, and those are problems that need to be solved. So, what you keep hearing from people - and this is why I got into the running business - I kept going to running events, the T-shirts were horrible, they were so bad - it was, like, big heavy shirt, terrible design, and they're like, "Why are they giving me this ugly shirt that they think I'm gonna wear and they think it's a gift? I'll go wash my car with it, maybe." So, things like that start coming up. Then, those are problems that you can solve within your marketing plan. So mission statement is number one. Number two is customer research - again, that costs nothing except time. Then, what I have also found is by going out, interviewing, and listening to a bunch of participants from your event, that's also a kind of marketing because they're like, "Wow, they're listening to me! They value my voice! That's great!" That alone starts to change the perception of your event amongst your customers. I would also include some industry people, maybe a couple of your sponsors in the interviews, and some of your staff or all of your staff, and then start your marketing plan. Let's say, maybe you have a few months until the next event, or longer if it's an annual marathon. Maybe you have 10 months until your next event. Then, you go, "Okay. Let's talk about our marketing plan. What are we going to do and how are we going to do it?" And you can start by solving the problems that customers-- and by the way, some of them might be operational things - it might be "Why are there no mile markers on your course? Why are there no corrals at the start? I got stuck behind a bunch of slow people and it slowed my time. Whatever. There are all kinds of things." Start by solving their problems because those are the most important things. Then, start by thinking about a marketing plan, like, "We have limited resources. How are we going to use those resources and how are we going to get the most ROI?" And again, I want to stress that everything is marketing. What isn't marketing now? Everything is marketing. So like, in running, you can't ignore things like the course and all of the, like, eight stations. Like, I just did a cycling event - a gravel race. This was in November. It hit 111 degrees on the longest climb, which was like an hour-long climb - it was brutal. The aid station at the top was staffed by some kids from UCLA who - I can't blame them - ran out of water and we weren't in the city. It would be another half an hour till you could get to, like, a drinking fountain somewhere. They ran out of water, they were dismissive about it and, like, I'll never do that again. I talked to the race director after. He was like, "Oh, yeah, no big deal." I was like, "No, it's a big deal. My friend that I was with had heat exhaustion symptoms for two or three days after - nearly had to go to the hospital." So I will never do that event again. The event, to me, was poorly run because not only did they run out of water but they were dismissive about it - they didn't even think that it was a big deal. So you can't ignore operations as marketing. You can't ignore, like, getting people's photos out. If you have free photos, you have to pay for them. Are they high quality? Like, one of the things that makes me crazy is so many races make it so hard to find photos and results on their website after. I think the website is its own category of marketing. The mistake so many races make - and this is something I work on very closely with events - is they think they should just have one website before, during, and after. The website should change - like, before the event you're optimizing for runner registration, right? Like a link to RunSignup or whatever. Then, the day before the event, it's more of, like, final instructions, packet pickup, parking, and that kind of thing. Race day, you switch over to, like, maybe, photos of the race and results. There should be, like, five minutes after the race ends, front and center on the homepage should be results. Then, as soon as you get photos - maybe the day after - that should be up there as well. So, I just think, like, again, solving those problems is probably more important than like, "Hey, are we going to do Tik Tok or not?" And you should think about Tik Tok, but just make sure you don't forget about solving those important problems that come from all the research. Then, once you kind of get a list of, like, "Here's what we're going to do for marketing. We have so many resources. Okay, we'll do Tik Tok and Instagram. We're going to solve these five problems - the finish line wasn't good, the expo needs to be better, we need better shirts, and so on." Okay, how are we going to communicate that? Then, what I recommend is doing just a basic Google doc and Google Sheets and, down at the left side, you have, let's say, the different channels - website, email marketing, Tic Tok, Instagram, and things like that. Okay? Across the top, you have time - like, you could have it by week. You could also take a month, January, and divide it into four weeks, whatever. A month before the event, it looks one way. A week before the event, it changes to, like, final instructions and packet pickup. A day before the event - parking. The day after the event - photos and results. So you set up a timeline for each channel, right? Then, you got to figure out, like, "Okay. Tik Tok, let's say, is a channel. Like, who's going to shoot the videos? Who's going to do it? Who's going to be in them? Who's going to edit them?" All that kind of stuff. Then, you have to figure out how you're executing each one and assign a budget to it. In Instagram, we need great photos - right? I think, like, Instagram is a really powerful tool. I think it's consistently underutilized by running events because A) they don't have a point of view and B) they're not really getting high-quality photos and videos on Instagram that are really inspiring.

Panos  54:24  
So in terms of the example that you were mentioning earlier from your own experience - receiving a crappy T-shirt, for instance, and that being a problem you've identified with races - if I am a race director and I get some feedback of, "I'm a runner, I keep receiving crappy T-shirts and I don't like that", how do you go from that customer feedback to actual marketing campaigns to actually do something with that?

Peter  54:51  
So what I recommend when setting up a marketing campaign is to highlight the great runner experiences you have. For running events, I think the runner experience is everything - that's the course, the T-shirts, photography, website, and operations - and I believe that you can start a marketing campaign just by highlighting the great runner experiences that are at your event. Here's an example - at the LA Marathon, we designed, as I mentioned, this great route that went from the stadium to the sea, through all the highlights of LA, and I was working with a fantastic creative agency at the time in San Francisco called 'Division of Labor'. I asked them, "Hey, I want to make a video about the route. How do you guys recommend I set this up?" They came back with such a great idea. They said, "Okay, here's what you're going to do. You're going to call it a landmark every mile, and you're going to shoot somebody running all along the route, all the way to the beach. You're going to shoot that and then you're going to edit it together with historical footage in front of Rodeo Drive, Mann's Chinese Theater, and all these famous landmarks in LA. You're going to edit it with, like, "It'll be, like, Mile 17, Rodeo Drive" and you'll show historical footage and, then, this runner running by. I'm like, "That is a great idea!" We shot it. It was super successful. It got hundreds of thousands of views on YouTube and on the website. And really, what it was doing was showing you what a great experience you're going to have on our route, and it was just a really nice execution of that. In terms of designing a shirt, I would recommend, like, to go to great designers to help you with that. Like, you can find great designers who love running, who are talented, who will help you. Then, what you do is use that in your content, take photos of the design process, make a video about how you designed it, like, do a reveal or reveal parts of it over three days until you show the whole thing. Like, I would say, really, just focus on telling the story of the runner experiences in your event.

Panos  57:04  
Awesome. Speaking of stories, which is, sort of, like, an overarching theme in so many things when we talk about brand marketing today, I did an episode with Meg Treat who's a PR professional working with races, and she actually said something amazing to me, which is, "Races have a bit of a head start in storytelling because they are intrinsically newsworthy, and they have a story. The fact that there is a course, a date, and everything is the seed to telling a great story around that."

Peter  57:38  
Yeah, I completely agree with that. And I think race directors need to think in terms of what are the stories around their event, not only the course, the cities or places they go through, or the runners who are running in their event. I helped rebuilt this event - the Malibu Marathon. It's a half marathon now, but it ran all the way along the ocean. The entire race was, I think, like, a half marathon - six miles down, six miles back - virtually, just a few feet from the water. So, we kind of built all of our marketing materials - the shirt, the medal, the water, the photography - around the idea of the sun setting over the ocean. You can always shoot from an angle where you can see the runners against the ocean in the background. And that was the whole way we built the event. And even the sponsor activations we built around, like, "We're going to do the expo right here next to the water. We want to make this a really meaningful experience." Another thing, in terms of the storytelling, for events that have an expo, I think the bar is set very low there. I think running events are happy to just have whatever brands come up, set up a table, and do whatever they do. I think events need to be more demanding. So like, at the Malibu Half Marathon, we said, "Listen, it's not okay for you to come and just set up a table and hand out pieces of paper. You will not be welcome here and you cannot do that." Because this expo is part of our runner experience, we're not going to outsource that to somebody who's going to hand out pieces of paper and cheapen that experience. So we want to work together with you and we want to push you to do something that is really meaningful for our runners. We had every brand did some, kind of, like, whole major kind of activation for the runners within the expo and it was great! It was just so much better! It was so much more interesting for people and more inspiring! And you're helping the brands show up in a way that they might not otherwise have it. You're increasing the ROI for the brands because you make them look a lot better, but events need to push back and say 'No' to people who just want to hand out pieces of paper.

Panos  1:00:00  
It's funny you should mention race expos because, by the time our chat here goes out on the podcast, we would have released an episode with Craig Mintzlaff just on race expos. He was telling me exactly what you said here that when you're thinking of putting vendors into your race expo, think of the race experience, think of value-added stuff, don't just think of like money and who's going to give you a few dollars here and there, which is really interesting. 

Peter  1:00:31  
Yes. 

Panos  1:00:32  
Anyway, I think we've also gone a little bit outside our guardrails, as you said there. We went a little bit outside the mission statement of this episode, but I think it's all for a good cause. These were all the questions I had. I want to thank you very much for clearing up for us a very murky area in marketing and brand identity. I hope everyone goes away with a few ideas and a lot more clarity around this. You still help events, I guess, in this kind of area with branding? 

Peter  1:01:03  
All the time. 

Panos  1:01:04  
Awesome. Where can people find you if they want to reach out for some help with all this stuff?

Peter  1:01:11  
My website is abrhm.com - like, the short version of Abraham. I'm also on Twitter as @PeterAbraham. I'm on LinkedIn. People can find me there.

Panos  1:01:22  
Awesome. Okay, great! Peter, I want to thank you again very, very much for taking the time today. It's been mighty helpful to hear you speak about branding, mission statements, and marketing plans. I want to thank everyone for listening in and we'll see you all on our next episode!

Peter  1:01:40  
Thanks, Panos!

Panos  1:01:46  
I hope you enjoyed this episode on marketing psychology with my guest, event branding expert Peter Abraham. 

You can find more resources on anything and everything related to race directing on our website RaceDirectorsHQ.com. You can also share your questions about event branding, event marketing or anything else in our Facebook group, Race Directors Hub.

If you enjoyed this episode, please don’t forget to subscribe or leave a review on your favorite player and, also, check out the podcast back-catalogue for more great content like this. 

Until our next episode, take care and keep putting on amazing races.

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