Marketing Lessons from the 2016 NYC Marathon

Living across the river from New York City, we in New Jersey are acutely aware every year that one of the greatest (if not the largest) marathons on the planet is happening a few miles away. The New York City Marathon is just a part of life, a challenge that thousands of people undertake each year. In my mind, it was the closest thing I could ever get to conquering Mt. Everest. It’s not an easy feat to be a part of — so after years of trying, you can imagine my shock and amazement when I got the email congratulating me on qualifying for the 2016 race.

Let me tell you: experienced NYC Marathon runners can share their experiences with you and you can watch video footage from various news outlets, but it doesn’t compare to your experience once you’ve run it. I’d have to say it was one of the most exhilarating experiences I’ve ever had. Likewise, as a marketer, I could only imagine the level of marketing that goes into putting on the marathon. I had no idea what this entailed until I saw it firsthand.

In terms of video, there were hundreds of camera crew members strategically placed along the route and embedded with us as we ran. The number of runners was upwards of 50,000 in 2016, so it was clearly impossible to capture all of us. So what helped the marketing decision-makers determine who to video and photograph for the promotional shots you see throughout next year?

Good old shameless self-promotion.

I’ve always been a proponent of shameless self-promotion, and preached it to others, but seeing it in action on such a high-profile level was a different animal entirely.

There were runners in full costume, dressed as everything from superheroes to ballerinas, burlesque dancers (complete with sequined lingerie and feathers) to brides-to-be (with veils and tiaras). I ran alongside marathoners in t-shirts with pictures of their inspiration or social media hashtags, and people with balloons tied to their backs, painted faces and wigs. Funny sights to behold, media darlings at their finest, and the cameras ate it up!

These people are the ones who got prime “face time.” Outrageous outfits and big personalities captured everyone’s attention. Even the onlookers with the most outrageous signs and antics had their share of screen time. Everyone else was relegated to B-roll.

This experience gave me some great suggestions for the marketer:

Lose your inhibitions and just promote.  No one else knows your products, services or business model like you do. You’ve worked tirelessly to have it all come to fruition. Your product or service is ready—now you need to sell it. Find every opportunity (within reason) to talk about it, share it, pass out flyers, demonstrate or post to social media. As a marketer, you are your first and best salesperson.

Go beyond the status quo and make your unique trait a BIG deal. This race was so important to those runners that stood out, they let the whole world know it—and brought us into the celebration. Accentuate what your product/service has, can do, the benefits it provides and other traits that go beyond the usual. Don’t be afraid to dig deep and find those little-known facts that could give you an edge over the competition. For example, I know a business owner who sells oils and bath products. In particular, she carries lemon essential oil. Many people know lemon to be soothing and somewhat healing. But she found it also helps to disperse cellulite and keep wrinkles at bay, which is a trait she proudly touts.

Be genuine. You can use your best sales pitch, perfect smile and have all the gimmicks in the world to make that sale, but if you don’t believe what you’re saying, chances are we won’t either. Use the very products and services you’re selling to get a real sense of their outcome and share their results publicly. Be honest about their strengths and limitations, and be crystal clear in your message. If it’s a major part of how the products came to be, tell your personal story. Sincerity is a direct path to connecting with your audience. Though a lot of the marathon costumes were head-turners, runners who wore signs explaining that this was their first marathon or running for a cure to a disease affecting them or loved ones got the greatest enthusiasm from the crowd. Connections were made, tears flowed and inspiration was sparked in the wordless communication between throngs of people as I ran by.

Yes, I made it to the finish line, though it was dark and there was not much of a crowd left. But you’d best believe I gave the cameras a big heartfelt show, especially when I saw my husband and two boys waiting at the finish line with my medal. That was a genuine moment I’ll never forget, which is an equally important part of the formula. If you feel good about your marketing strategy, you’re sure to succeed one way or another.

Beverly Brister