4 Marketing Lessons Learned From Running a Beer Mile

I recently organized a beer mile during a weeklong management offsite in Maryland. After years of talking about it, and some failed attempts at trying to organize spontaneous runs at conferences like SXSW, I finally had a captive audience of almost 200 people to tap into. After sitting in windowless conference rooms for 10 hours a day, I figured generating interest in this event would be like shooting fish in a barrel. Not to mention the fact that we are entering the holiday season, and as a big fan of Festivus, I assumed everyone would be interested in participating in a feat of strength. 

So, what did organizing and running a beer mile teach me about marketing?

Lesson 1: Know your audience

Every marketer knows that you need to segment and understand your audience if you want to deliver a message that will resonate and ultimately lead to a conversion. In my case, a conversion equated to an individual actually toeing the line at the local track with a can of beer in hand. Without any real analysis (read: no science) I sought out two segments: Runners and Drinkers. I imagined these two populations would be slam dunks, but I started to realize through my primary research (coffee breaks) that this probably wasn’t going to be the case. What started to emerge was a segment that I will refer to as the Curious Adventure Seeker. So, what does this segment look like?

  • They like to run, but not competitively. These folks are not going to win the local Turkey Trot anytime soon.
  • They are not partial to one type of drink. They could be happy sipping a single malt or knocking back a Natty Boh at the local watering hole. (Note: don’t waste your time on the wine drinkers. This type of event is too much of a mental leap for them, and it will waste your valuable marketing resources. They are clearly low-value prospects with the exception of those individuals that drink wine out of a box.)
  • They have a genuine interest in human anatomy. It’s highly likely these folks have participated in medical experiments in the past, and may also be one of your neighbors who frequently tests his dog’s shock collar just to know “how it feels”. 
  • They are analytical. This group has a keen interest in understanding running and beer splits, prior results, the impact that the percent of alcohol has on absorption rates, etc. Bottom line, they probably create pivot tables on the weekend for fun.
  • Note: a separate segment emerged known as Canadians. Interestingly enough, this segment has a 100% conversion rate. 

Lesson 2: Leverage multiple channels 

I should have known better going in to this effort that I needed to leverage every and all channels available (aside from actually buying digital media) to get my message out to the right audience. I failed in this attempt. Since this was a conference, I mainly leveraged face-to-face marketing tactics with some use of online content to drive awareness at the top of the funnel. Most folks had absolutely no idea what I was talking about when I mentioned participating in a beer mile. As such, I needed to share existing sources like www.beermile.com to help educate prospects on the “offering” and rules of engagement. It also helped to have powerful user-generated content available to inspire colleagues like this video from James Nielsen who broke the beer mile world record with a 4:57 mark earlier this year. I will absolutely invest more time and effort in multi-channel syndication next time.

Lesson 3: Remarketing is critical in the lower funnel 

It's amazing how easy it was to generate qualified leads for this event. However, 24 hours prior to the race, I started to realize that my hopes of high conversion rates were in jeopardy. Lots of excuses started to pop up. Example responses included:

  • "I think I have dinner plans tonight."
  • "I have a conference call with China."
  • "I'm worried I might have a cardiac event."
  • Even a quizzical, "You guys aren't seriously doing this, are you?

Clearly I needed to focus my energy on highly tailored and personalized remarketing messages that tapped into individual motivations. I utilized A/B testing via email and text messages. For my sub-segments driven by peer pressure, I used subject lines like, "Don't be a candy-ass" and "Think about the shame you will bring to your colleagues." Those driven by positivity received messaging like, "You could be the Neil Armstrong of beer running" and "You will PR tonight ... I guarantee it." A constant stream of messaging continued right up until the event.

With a potential prospect universe of approximately 75 folks, I ended up with seven conversions. That's right, only seven brave souls toed the line to find out what happens to your body when you drink 48 ounces of cheap beer and run four laps as quick as you can.  Our champion came in around 10:30 and our last two finished around 16 minutes. I came in with a 12:06, and as expected, we all PR'd.  This leads me to my final lesson. 

Lesson 4: Content is king

I did not create a strategy with the end in mind. I underestimated the importance of content marketing and capturing UGC to support future beer mile campaigns. Besides a few poorly filtered photos, I had no content, and hence no real results, to show for my campaign. Having said that, I do have a new band of brothers with memories that will last a lifetime. 

"We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition

— St Crispin’s Day Speech

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