3 Ways Marketing is Like Running a Marathon (And Not a Sprint)

Brittany Krueger

Written by:
Brittany Krueger

marketing strategy marathon

Marketing is essential to a successful business. You may have the most innovative product or service in your field, but without marketing, none of your potential customers will know about your product or service. If your business isn’t marketing, your business isn’t progressing.

The Content Marketing Institute found that while 93% of marketers use content marketing, only 42% of marketers are effective at content marketing. That means 51% of marketers who use content marketing aren’t producing efficient results.

How do you go about making a successful marketing campaign?

First, it’s important to know that marketing is an umbrella term. Marketing incorporates “advertising, public relations, promotions and sales.” Marketing is how a product or service is presented to potential customers. Successful marketing takes planning, sustained effort, and determination, just like running a marathon.

Making a commitment to running 26.2 miles is no easy feat. Training occurs over months, not days, and requires countless hours of preparation. Running a marathon doesn’t happen overnight. Neither does successful marketing.

To create a well thought-out and effective marketing campaign, use three main steps commonly used in running: smart and strong, cruise and climb, and guts and glory. These steps define the three main sections of a marathon: beginning, middle, and end.

RELATED: How to Make 2016 Your Most Successful Content Marketing Year


Smart and Strong

marketing strategy marathon smart and strong

When starting a race, it’s tempting to want to fly way ahead of the pack. Doing so is fine, as long as you know that you can maintain your pace. However, since most people aren’t capable of running full-speed for an entire race, knowing where to push and where to conserve energy is vital.


marketing strategy marathon remember your goals

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One of the key aspects of being smart and strong is setting goals before the race begins. Know why you want to run a marathon. Without proper motivation, you won’t have the willpower to stick to your goals.

It’s the same with marketing. If you don’t know what image you want to project, you won’t know which direction to take and where to focus your marketing efforts. Your goals form the basis of your marketing plan. Marketing goals should:


1. Support your intended business goals

AT&T’s mission statement states: “Our mission is to connect people with their world everywhere they live, work and play - and do it better than anyone else.” This mission is the guiding force behind all of AT&T’s decisions, actions, and business goals, such as AT&T’s goal of “serving customers more effectively” and “outsourcing non-core activities more easily.”


2. Be measurable

Whether measuring a goal qualitatively or quantitatively, having a measurable goal enables you to focus on that goal. You have a clear objective to obtain. An example of a good marketing goal could be increasing Product Z’s revenue by 10% over the next 6 months.

According to B2B research, the most effective content marketers have a documented content strategy and are producing more content than they did the previous year. Committing goals to paper and regularly reviewing those goals leads to “a 95% higher chance of achieving desired outcomes.”


3. Be specific

Well-defined marketing goals help everyone within the company clearly understand what the company’s aim is. Vague goals don’t provide adequate direction, which can lead to confusion and misunderstandings that can harm your product or service. “Defining precisely where you want to end up” will help your company focus on how to achieve the end goal.


4. Be realistic

Be honest about your company’s marketing capabilities. Knowing what you and your team are able to accomplish within a set time period ensures that you won’t create marketing goals that aren’t attainable with the resources you have.

As Shanelle Mullin, Director of Marketing at Onboardly, said, “The key to setting achievable marketing goals is to spend time evaluating your current position. Many startups set lofty, unattainable goals and end up discouraged, which can be detrimental in the early days.” At the same time, only setting insignificant goals can mean missed growth potential.

Noah Kagan, AppSumo and the OkDork blog founder, is in agreement: “Overall there’s no 'right' goal; you want something that isn’t easily achievable but also something that’s realistic so you don’t feel overwhelmed.”


Cruise and Climbmarketing strategy marathon mini maxi race

Once you hit the middle section of the marathon, you want to work on winning your mini and maxi races. When running a race, there are other people running around you. A mini race is when you make the goal of passing the person directly in front of you. A maxi race is the goal of passing the person three or four people ahead of you. Eventually, your maxi race turns into your mini race, and you have to set a new maxi race.

This method of goal setting enables you to break up the main goal—finishing the marathon—into smaller, more manageable chunks. 

As Noah Kagan said, “We break our goal into a daily target so—even if our goal is a billion—we know on a specific day if we are on track.”

This method also helps you strive to be the best in your field.

Being the top in your product or service’s field means getting ahead of the competition. The way to do this is to constantly be improving your marketing. To do this, follow these steps:


Break Your Big Goal Into Smaller Steps

Having big goals is great, but if you don’t break down your long-term goals, they can seem impossible to reach. Using the methodology of maxi and mini races, break your big goals into smaller, bite-sized chunks.

Teresa Amabile, a Harvard researcher, discovered that fostering progress and improving motivation to reach long-term goals involves setting small, reasonable goals that can be achieved daily, weekly, and monthly.

Ran Kivetz of Columbia University showed how perceived progress is a vital component to attaining goals. People who believe they are making progress, even if they currently aren’t, will try harder and accelerate their efforts. This causes those people to attain their long-term goals faster.

The key is to have attainable goals, ones that aren’t discouragingly difficult or complex.  For example, your long-term goal is to expand your social media presence. While this goal is admirable, it doesn’t give any good indication on how to start achieving that goal.

To make the goal more attainable, break it down into steps. Find out who the heavy hitters on social media are in your field. Connect with them, such as following them on Twitter. Study them to see what content they post and how they interact with their audience. Learn from what they do, and then, as another smaller goal, entice them to share something you created. Find a way to use their audience to grow yours.


Provide Potential Customers With Free Valuable Information

By giving people free information, you’re establishing yourself as an expert in your given field and building customer loyalty. People will begin turning to you for information, and they will actively show interest in your service or product. This can lead to increased revenue and marketing presence.

While having a website or blog for your company is a great step toward successful marketing, it’s only one step. Adding in infographics, linking to other sites, and conducting webinars and podcasts are some ways to help improve your website or blog.


Delve Deeper Into Content Marketing

The Content Marketing Institute defines content marketing as “a marketing technique of creating and distributing valuable, relevant and consistent content to attract and acquire a clearly defined audience—with the objective of driving profitable customer action.” A content marketing plan creates information that potential customers want to know, and information that they often actively seek out.

Birchbox is an online subscription service that sends subscribers a box of makeup samples on a monthly basis. The company’s how-to beauty tricks videos provide free information ranging from how to get beach waves for short hair to how to care for acne-prone skin. Birchbox draws potential customers in by providing them with free information, while subtly advertising their product and establishing themselves as experts in the beauty products field.


Diversify Your Marketing

marketing strategy marathon components of marketing

While you should focus on content marketing, you should also look to other modes of marketing. If you built a table that only had one leg, it wouldn’t be a very good table. If you put all your resources into one form of marketing, and that form fails, you won’t have other avenues to turn to.

According to the inbound marketing consultant Tami Wessley, other forms of marketing include:

  • Growth Hacking. This marketing strategy is a favorite of startups that have limited marketing budgets. “Growth hacking combines creativity, analytical thinking and social metrics to sell products and gain exposure.” By combining “low-cost alternatives,” such as utilizing social media and viral marketing, growth hacking focuses on one goal: growing the company. Growth hacking can generate “10% more leads than traditional marketing techniques.”
  • Attend Networking Events. Going to trade shows enables a company to showcase their most innovate services and products to other companies. This method of marketing is great for business to business marketing. It’s effective because it stimulates “face-to-face interactions,” helps build relationships, and increases visibility for businesses of all sizes. “67% of all tradeshow attendees represent a new prospect and potential customer for exhibiting companies.”
  • Storytelling. This marketing method engages consumers on an emotional level. Through creating a backstory for your company, you show customers what you value, what your company’s personality is, what you contribute, and your engagement style.

According to Damien Dally of Jeep U.K., storytelling has played a huge role in marketing for the automotive industry. It’s importance has only increased since social media and interactive technology came about. Storytelling “can be something metaphoric, yet simple, like a journey, to something more in-depth, with use of roles and a plot for the more adventurous.” It’s vital to showcase “your brand as the protagonist.”


Guts and Glory

marketing strategy marathon guts and glory

In the final stretch of the marathon, your muscles are burning, you’re tired, and the only thing keeping you going at this point is willpower. This is the part of the run where you discover how determined you are, and find the strength within you to push past your preconceived limits.

This last section of the race is also where your training really kicks in. All those goals you set months ago to keep you motivated and all the training you’ve done are paying off.

The final part of the run is a test of your endurance, much like marketing.

It’s easy to post a blog entry or a podcast, receive a few likes and no comments, and announce that marketing does not work for you. But marketing is “a marathon, not a sprint.” It takes time and energy to build your customer base.

According to Fractl, a marketing strategies company, “it takes at least 6 months to see results from on-site content marketing.” On-site content marketing is what you publish on your website. Off-site marketing takes even longer: about 6-12 months for visible results. Off-site content marketing is what you publish on websites not under your domain.

At least 6 months seems like a long time to see marketing results, especially because content moves so quickly in today’s world. However, marketing is about the long haul. It’s about long-term benefits, benefits that last.

However, while waiting for results to start coming in, work on the following:


Answer Potential Customers’ Questions.

With the Internet readily available, when people have a question, they often go to Google and type their question into the search box. When links appear on their screen, you want your answer to be the one they click on. This means continuously looking at what questions your customers are asking, and then writing articles and blog posts answering those questions. 

Barry Feldman, founder of Feldman Creative, had a customer ask him a question about understand search engine optimization (SEO) in 10 to 15 minutes. Feldman responded by posting the article “SEO Simplified for Short Attention Spans.” This post became one of his most successful.


Listen Proactively

Related to the above topic, listening proactively involves giving 100% of your attention to what’s being said, then understanding that information, responding to it, and remembering that information for potential later use.

According to Jason Falls, founder of Social Media Explorer, a hugely popular social media marketing blog, proactive listening includes paying attention for sales and marketing opportunities and moving ahead of demand, instead of following its wake. “Search for people mentioning the need for what you do, not just your brand name, and step in front of consumers looking to purchase.” Falls has over 100 thousand Twitter followers.


Get Some Face Time In

While in today’s society social media and online contacts are important, business is still about relationships. Often people mistake networking for relationship building.

However, networking puts the focus on what you can get out of someone else, and once you start thinking in those terms, others can sense that you’re more focused on promoting your product or service than you are interested in getting to know them. While building a list of contacts to better your company is a good goal to have, focusing on securing relationships with others enables you to cultivate more beneficial relations.

Lewis Howes, founder of LewisHowes.com, states that part of his success came from meeting up with his LinkedIn and Facebook contacts offline. Call up your connections, “meet them in person and get to know them on a personal level. It will do wonders for your business.”

Marketing helps your company build a strong customer base that advocates for your company. It helps you become an authority in your product or service’s field, and, according to entrepreneur Amy Power, will create “a snowball effect of influence that will build an audience of followers, friends and, eventually, clients.”


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    About the Author

    Brittany Krueger works in pediatric research and as a technical communicator and consultant. She graduated from Johns Hopkins University with a Master of Arts degree in Writing.

    When not working, she’s usually taking her German Shepherd hiking or preparing for her next bike century.

    2 responses to “3 Ways Marketing is Like Running a Marathon (And Not a Sprint)”

    1. It is not important to win a marathon, but to finish it. To run a marathon, it takes the heart, muscles and brain as well as for content marketing

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