Starting at the end – reflections on a 26.2 mile journey

Last Sunday, I joined 45,000 other runners to run from Blackheath to Westminster at the London Marathon. Having had time to reflect on a once-in-a-lifetime experience, it struck me that there are some interesting parallels with our 4 guiding principles here at Flume. These are principles we bring to bear in all our work, but I thought I’d share another way of thinking about them.

1: Easier not better.

The thing you sell doesn’t have to be the best at what it does – it just needs to be easier to think of, buy and use at the ‘moment of truth’.

As a runner, the London Marathon was the one event on my bucket list. Is it the ‘best’ marathon? Probably not. Most of the time you could be in any random town or city, landmarks are actually few and far between, and the number of people can make it challenging to run. Is it unique or different? Arguably not – it’s a 26.2 mile race with several thousand other people. But is it the one event people think of when they hear the word ‘marathon’? Almost certainly, yes. It’s hard to explain or describe the pull this event has, but for so many runners, me included, who enter the ballot year after year it’s the one race that comes to mind when they set themselves that goal of taking on a 26.2 mile challenge – the perfect illustration of Byron Sharp’s well known concept of mental availability.

2: Changing context changes everything

You only need to casually observe the marathon to see that it’s clear that runners have a wide range of goals, all of which frame what they want to achieve. From elite and championship runners who are racing not only the clock but each other, to those who have recently taken up the sport purely so they can take part as a one-off experience, and everything in between.

Whilst everyone on that start line has one thing in common (a desire to get to the end in one piece!), context frames so much about what each individual wants to get out of it. There’s no one way of looking at the ‘data’ of those 45,000 runners without digging a little deeper to understand the underlying drivers and motivations which inform their individual goals. Even people who may, on paper, appear to be the same (those who finish in the same time, or those who share demographic traits for example) will have their own individual story which will have informed all their training and preparation as well as the way they go out and run the race.

As a quallie, I’m naturally curious about the people surrounding me. Never has it been clearer to me that whilst we all set out to get to the same end point, in considering how we all made our way there and in what time, context really does matter.

3: People don’t care about brands

This is probably the principle where the parallels with marathon running are harder to draw, but if you think about the premise behind it there’s a simple truth at play.

It’s all about the decisions people make to best help them achieve their goals, and in a marketing sense, this means choosing brands which will do just that.

When it comes to the marathon, it may be less about brands, but still about choices and decisions – What training plan shall I follow? How will I have to adapt my lifestyle to fit the training in? What kit do I need to be able to train in comfort? How am I going to change my diet? As a runner, you consider how much emphasis to put on each one to give yourself the best chance of meeting your goal, but it’s in finding the best solution to each one that gives you the best chance of success.

 4: The full mix matters

Success doesn’t come from just having a great product sitting on the shelves waiting for people to come along and buy it. I guess the marathon running equivalent here would be a pair of legs which are geared up to run that far, supported by a cardio-vascular system that has been trained to cope with the strain. Those things will get you so far, for sure, but there’s much more to it than that. In marketing of course there’s the classic Ps model, but if you stand on a marathon start line having also thought about nutrition, sleep and hydration in the weeks and months prior; and wearing kit you know works for you; and with a fueling/hydration plan for the race then you stand a better chance of success. Having paid more attention than in previous marathons to the less visible stuff, and having seen it pay off in a new PB, it’s never been clearer to me that it’s not just about the obvious stuff – the full mix matters.