Running Insight: What has 2020 been like for you and BibRave? Looking forward to turning the calendar to 2021 yet?
Tim Murphy: Haha, well, 2020 has been pretty “2020” for us, but we feel very lucky overall. In the past two years or so our brand/product marketing business has outgrown our race promotion business, so we were able to weather the storm of early race shut-downs relatively well.
How have you been able to do that?
We’ve stepped up a number of our key race partnerships to support and innovate on the virtual event side. More and more races and brands are tapping us for guidance on how their virtual event can stand out — something deeply important to us and the entire running ecosystem. Virtual events are going to be the only option for a while, so it’s critical for events to host creative, high-quality experiences rather than generic virtual races that run the risk of generating consumer fatigue. Consumers will lose interest very quickly.
Has the BibRave business model changed at all as we begin to emerge from a pandemic-mandated lockdown?
We haven’t changed our model, but we’ve had to shift our focus like everyone else. One shift has been a much deeper level of customization for a select amount of partners that recognize the imperative to innovate.
Any examples of that?
We mentioned our support of virtual events – concepting, executing, and promoting – but we’ve also had to shift our own IRL events to virtual experiences. We were weeks away from our annual summit for the BibRave Pros – our network of turn-key storytellers that we use to help races and brands reach more runners – in March when we had to cancel the in-person event and create a totally new virtual experience. By creating our own virtual experience early on, we were able to parlay those lessons and best practices into a truly outstanding virtual ambassador summit for the Brooks Run Happy Team, which we planned and executed with our partners at Brooks.
How about with sponsors and events?
Starting as early as last spring we’ve been helping brands and events re-imagine what sponsor activations look like in the virtual world beyond email and social posts. Thankfully our background in digital marketing and activation has made us a key thought-partner for many of our partner organizations.
With so many events cancelled in 2020 and now into 2021, how do you think the overall running business has adapted?
It’s been mixed. At first, everyone was in reaction mode and had to pivot to virtual with very little lead time and room for creativity. Now that we are six months in, some races have done a great job of pushing their creative efforts and putting together some amazing (and very well-subscribed) races. Those that haven’t used the past few months to innovate will definitely struggle as larger IRL gatherings will be on-hold into 2021, and consumer demand for compelling virtual experiences grows. Similar to many industries, we’ll see the event landscape change based on those that innovated.
And on the brand side?
It’s been a bit better. Brands that have well-established, properly-invested communities have really reaped the benefits of having those voices to champion their brand and new initiatives during these uncertain times.
What trends that began in the COVID-19 environment do you see continuing as the running world returns to a “next normal?”
For the events doing it right – and even for the ones doing it “wrong” and being not super successful right away but at least trying something new – virtual events will represent an attractive and lasting revenue stream. There are so many creative ways to engage consumers and COVID has forced everyone to become a lot more comfortable doing things virtually. For events and brands who are ready to embrace this new world, we think there’s a lot of upside.
Any advice for run specialty retailers on how to survive in this business and social environment, especially in relation to their involvement with races and other events?
Without IRL events, races need consumer touchpoints right now like never before. Because retailers are so ingrained into their local communities they have access to the athletes and inspirational stories, which makes them a huge asset.
How about for retailers that operate their own local events”
There may be opportunities to rethink how they serve both their race athletes and their event sponsors in new and different ways via their retail doors. This could be new programs that inspire and incentivize people to run and engage.
And those that don’t have their own races?
Now is a time to think creatively about how to work with other local events to create new, innovative experiences that enhance your store’s value and position within the community.
How do they do that?
The key when approaching any brainstorming or creative exercise is to lead with what the consumer needs right now. So often we as businesses and organizations get caught in what we need and we often put out products/events/experiences that serve us and not the end-user.
What is on the BibRave calendar for the remainder of 2020 and then into 2021?
Our white label ambassador management services will be a big part of the fall as we open applications, recruit, contract and on-board our client communities for 2021. We’re also helping more and more races rethink not just their event structure and marketing strategy, but also the consumer engagement experience.
Anything in particular?
Our team is working with the Smuttynose Rockfest Half Marathon and 5K to put together a fun and engaging virtual post-race party. This race is well-known for its beachside party that includes lobster rolls, craft beer and ’80’s tunes. The digital experience will enhance the virtual race by bringing these elements to life, complete with an emcee, music, a lobster roll cooking demo, beer tasting and pairing tips, and giveaways.
Finally, what do you think happens next for the racing and running businesses?
It’s been well-reported that more people are running and staying active during COVID, so the running industry has a really valuable opportunity and imperative to capitalize on that growth. As an industry, we need to wow these newcomers to the sport, while continuing to serve our core consumers with gear or experiences that delight them in new ways.
How do they do that?
Traditionally when there’s been growth in the sport we’ve seen a lot of new players and non-endemic organizations try to capitalize on this growth. It’s critical that the industry at its core – brands, retailers, events – deliver creative, meaningful and impressive experiences, not just transactions. We’ll likely see a divide between the organizations that really lean into innovation and ones that are uncertain or uncommitted to change. We know running isn’t going away, so it’s up to us as an industry how we shape the future.
BibRave is a consumer-facing brand with a large community of runners and also a digital marketing agency with deep specialization in the running space. They work with hundreds of races and dozens of brands every year using their insights as a consumer-driven running brand to inform how they guide clients to reach athletes differently.