How Competing in a Running Race is Like Managing a Digital Marketing Campaign

Although competing in a running race and managing a digital marketing campaign are two incredibly different activities, they actually have very similar preparation and execution strategies. As someone who has competed in 5K’s, 10K’s, triathlons, and a marathon, I’ve had a lot of time to think about the similarities between running a race and running a campaign. I understand that how you train for a marathon is different from how to train for a 5K, and likewise, how you execute a month-long advertising campaign is different from how you execute a year-long campaign. However, there are still seven basic steps for success that apply to races and campaigns of all lengths.

Magnify glass on top of laptop

Do Your Homework

Digital Marketing Step 1: Conduct Research

Before delving into the strategy behind an advertising campaign, it’s important advertisers first become an expert in all-things related to the brand they are advertising for. Thus, there are three key areas digital marketers should research:

  1. The Product or Service: No one should understand what you’re advertising for better than you. Whether you work for an agency and you just won a new client, or you’re marketing for a business you created a decade ago, you should be able to navigate the ins and outs of you or your client’s providings. After all, you never know where a USP may come from!
  2. The Brand’s Marketplace: Understanding where your industry is heading and how your competitors are operating within it will help you craft a digital strategy that is forward-thinking and goes toe-to-toe with rivaling brands. The way consumers interact with different industries and brands is constantly changing, so it’s vital for advertisers to research industry trends and conduct a competitor analysis.
  3. Potential Keywords: Keyword research is a great way to build a foundation for your campaign. Determining what consumers are searching for will help you build audiences, flesh-out budgets, and establish a creative direction.

Running Step 1: Research the Race You Want to Run

Choosing which race you want to run is an exciting, yet difficult process. There are various factors that play into picking which race you sign up for, each of which is dependent on your motive for running the race. For example, if your goal is to get a personal-record (PR) time, then you want to pick a race that has a flat, “fast” course. However, if your goal is to simply finish a race, then you want to choose an event that gives you enough time to adequately train. Regardless, you should spend serious time researching races, as your final choice will inevitably become a big part of your life once you start training.

Pro Tip:

Always use multiple sources when you’re researching any topic. You want to make sure you’re getting the full picture! When in doubt, reference sources like industry reports, blogs, podcasts, YouTube videos, news outlets, databases, and academic studies.

Short term and long term cutouts

Establish Your Goals

Digital Marketing Step 2: Set Campaign Goals

In order to measure the success of a campaign, advertisers must set goals and key performance indicators (KPI’s). 

A campaign’s final goals are oftentimes settled on between a client and an agency, or as a team if you’re managing a brand in-house. It’s important to be realistic about your goals and understand both what your communication objectives are (i.e. Increase website clicks by X%) and your business objectives are (i.e. Increase sales by X%). 

Once you have your big goals in place, you should then set micro-goals with deadlines that occur throughout the course of the campaign. By having smaller action points in place, you can better track your progress toward achieving your KPI’s, and setting smaller goals makes achieving bigger goals feel less daunting.

Running Step 2: Set Race Goals

No matter the distance of your race, you should set goals for yourself because they will shape your training and your race-day performance.

Like marketing KPI’s, you should set long-term goals and short-term goal benchmarks. Your big-picture, long-term goals should be what you ultimately want to achieve by running the race. Many runners choose to select time goals for themselves (i.e. Run a sub-4-hour marathon) or place goals for themselves (i.e. Finish in the top 10 of your age group). Regardless of the long-term goal you choose, you need to have stepping stones to reach it, which is why setting short-term goals is equally as important. Your smaller goals will fold directly into your training plan and will guide the intensity of your training.

Pro Tip:

Find a sweet spot with your goals. In both marketing and running, you need to set goals that are difficult enough to push you to work at a high level, but also realistic enough that you can achieve them with a strong performance.

Running shoes around a clipboard

Plan Your Strategy

Marketing Step 3: Come Up with a Campaign Plan

The planning phase of your campaign is arguably the most important because it will dictate your media placements, creative strategy, and budget allocations. 

The best way to formulate a thorough campaign plan is to stretch your mind and think through all the potential combinations of media placements within your budget that will best reach your target audience. Use your research to make educated decisions that provide for a cohesive campaign with multiple audience touchpoints.

Selecting a creative strategy is a very fun part of the campaign planning process, but it requires hours of brainstorming and testing. If possible, it’s best to ideate a creative strategy with people in your company or agency who have different skill sets because you never know if your big idea will come from a designer with a great aesthetic concept or a data analyst with a key insight. 

By the time you reach the planning process, you will likely already have a set budget. While planning, you want to distribute your budget as honestly and as accurately as possible for the duration of the campaign’s flight. Additionally, it’s best to include a contingency between two and 10 percent, depending on the brand. As a result, your brand will be prepared for any uncontrollable threats to its campaign’s performance.

Running Step 3: Come Up with a Training Plan

Training plans vary based on the distance of the race an athlete runs and his or her goals for the race. Regardless, there are two things every runner should do when creating a training plan:

  1. Set a run schedule – Your run schedule will be personalized to your current physical condition, the distance of your race, and the amount of free time you have in your day-to-day life. Traditionally, longer race distances, like a half-marathon or marathon, will require between three-to-six months of intense training, whereas shorter races, like a 5K or a 10K, will require between two weeks and two months of training. I recommend running three to four times a week with the schedule: 
    1. Day 1: Easy Short Run 
    2. Day 2: Variable Distance Run
    3. Day 3: Easy Short Run
    4. Day 4: Long Run with a weekly pattern of build, build, maintain for your distances (i.e. Week 1: 5 miles, Week 2: 6 miles, Week 3: 5 miles, Week 4: 7 miles, etc.)
  2. Budget your time – If you’re training for a marathon, then running will likely become the biggest time consumer in your life, outside of your normal work schedule. However, if you’re training for a 5K, then you may have more flexibility. Ultimately, you must be honest with yourself in budgeting your time because if you fall behind on your run schedule, then you will certainly pay the consequences come race day. Additionally, if you find yourself skipping too many runs and pushing yourself to distances your body isn’t ready for, then you significantly increase your risk of injury.

Pro Tip:

Coming up with your plan doesn’t mean anything if you don’t execute it. Once you have your plan, make sure you add it to your calendar, tape it on your wall, and, ultimately, stick to it!

Female runner stretching

Get Yourself Ready

Marketing Step 4: Prep Your Campaign

Before going live, marketers must ensure they have certain fundamental preparations completed in order to ensure peak performance and accurate measurement. Key items you don’t want to forget to do when building your campaign are:

  • Connect your measurement properties (i.e. Google Analytics) – Google Analytics or any other campaign measurement software will be vital in tracking your progress toward achieving your goals and KPI’s, and you don’t want to launch a campaign without some sort of measurement software attached to it.
  • Build your audiences – Building your audiences on whichever media you choose will designate the traffic your campaign receives, so be thorough with your audience profiles and give yourself enough time to review them before launch.
  • Set up A/B testing Implementing A/B testing is a great way to test and optimize creative once your campaign is live. However, you’ll want to make sure your campaign’s settings are A/B testing-friendly and will allow you to single out the variable within your creative that you’re looking to test.

Running Step 4: Train for the Race

Your performance on race day will be dictated by your pre-race training. As mentioned above, sticking to your training schedule is imperative, and taking care of your body is equally as important. Before each run, take at least 15 minutes to stretch and warm up. Injuries as minor as a muscle strain can linger and set back your training, so it’s better to put in extra time preventing them rather than recovering from them. 

Hours of running can feel a bit monotonous at times, so it’s also key to find new ways to make your runs interesting. A few suggestions I have are to:

  1. Stimulate your mind – Listen to music you’ve never heard before, try a new podcast, or download an audio book. It’s amazing how much you can learn while training for a race!
  2. Change your scenery – Although some people prefer to run the same route everyday for routine purposes, I’ve found that running different places is a great way to explore different parts of your neighborhood/town/city, and it adds a fresh perspective to your training. If you choose to run different places, however, make sure you’re mapping out the distances you’re running so you can stick to your plan.

Pro Tip:

Success happens when preparation meets opportunity, so if you work hard on the front end, chances are, you will set yourself up for success down the road (no pun intended).

Business man crouching on a track

Execute Your Plan

Marketing Step 5: Launch Your Campaign

Launching your campaign requires more than just hitting a “go” button. Marketers need to ensure they have gone through their pre-launch checklist to ensure landing pages have the correct links, audiences are set up correctly, and creative is uploaded to the right ad groups. From there, you should go through the launch process of your campaign twice. Your first launch will be when you turn everything on, and your second launch will be when you double check that you have all your keywords, ads, and audiences live.

Running Step 5: Start the Race

Before the gun goes off, you need to go through your pre-race checklist. Many racers go through the same routine before competing, and each likely has his or her own quarks. However, there are a few universally practiced day-of race preparations, including eating a healthy breakfast, stretching, and ensuring all your equipment is working (i.e. shoes are tied, bib/timing chip are on correctly, watch is set up).

Pro Tip:

Have confidence in your launch. At this point, you’ve done everything you can to set yourself up for success, and now it’s time to go execute.

Green upward arrow

Set Your Pace

Marketing Step 6: Pace Your Campaign

In order to stay within your budget, you will have to regularly pace your campaign, which means you need to understand how much its daily spend should be. So, for example, if you have a 30-day campaign with a monthly budget of $10,000, then you should be spending approximately $333 per day (10,000/30). If your campaign is overspending, then you may want to lower your bids. On the contrary, if it’s underpacing, then you may want to raise your bid amounts. Pacing your campaign will allow you to maintain a consistent performance as well as equally distribute your budget so you’re not left with too little or too much of your budget at the end of the campaign’s flight.

Running Step 6: Pace Yourself During the Race

After training for your race, you will have a good understanding of what pace you can maintain throughout the competition.

If your goal is to break a certain time, then you can calculate beforehand what mile times you should be hitting, and you can reference your watch or the on-course clocks (if available) to keep your pace throughout the race. However, if your goal is to just simply finish the race, then you need to remember to control your emotions and not let the adrenaline rush of running a race interfere with the pace you set. 

Your pace during a race can be the difference between accomplishing your goals and falling short of them, so remember to actively think about your pace throughout the course of your race.

Pro Tip:

Be strict at the beginning of your campaign and your race. You don’t want to get off to too fast of a start in either your campaign or your race and then be left with no budget or energy at the end of it.

Someone pointing at a graph on computer

Improve Your Performance

Marketing Step 7: Optimize Your Campaign 

Once you launch a campaign, it doesn’t mean your work is over. Throughout the life of your campaign, you must pay close attention to its performance and make any necessary adjustments. Three reports that will help you optimize your campaign are:

  1. Auction Insights Report – An auction insights report on Google Ads will tell you how your ads are performing in the auctions they’re competing in. The report will allow you to see an honest assessment of where your brand falls in relation to its competitors and make adjustments accordingly. 
  2. Search Term Report/Search Query Analysis – Analyzing your search terms on Google Ads and Google Analytics will not only show what people are searching for to arrive at your ads, but also how well the terms are performing regarding clicks, bounce rate, session duration, conversions, and any other competitive metrics you establish. 
  3. A/B Testing Results If you implemented A/B testing, pausing ad variations that are not performing as well and continuing to iterate the well-performing ads will lead to more relevant experiences for your audiences and, therefore, better results for your campaign.

Running Step 7: Use Mid-Race Nutrition

Running is an extremely demanding sport, and as you compete in your race, your body will need to be replenished with water and (most likely) food. 

Hydrating before a race is extremely important and preventing dehydration during the race is equally as important. Many races will have both sports drinks and water at their hydration stations, and it’s recommended you use a combination of both. Alternating between sports drinks and water will ensure you’re replenishing your electrolytes without taking in too much sugar. If you can feel liquid in your stomach, then that means it’s full and, therefore, you’re hydrated. However, if your mouth becomes dry, you stop sweating, or you start to have salt build up around your eyes, then you are dehydrated and need liquids immediately. Properly hydrating will not only help you perform better during a race, but it will also keep you healthy and lead to a quicker recovery after you finish.

Although you shouldn’t be eating big, heavy foods during a race, it is important you have mid-race nutrition, like Gu’s, Gatorade Gels, or bananas. Sports gus and gels are usually packed with protein, carbohydrates, and caffeine, so not only will you give your body nutrients that it’s quickly burning through, but you will also feel a “kick” of energy from the gel’s caffeine. As old school as it may seem, bananas are also a great mid-race snack, as they are easy to eat and their high potassium content helps fight cramps. If you’re running a short race, you may not need to eat during the competition, but for longer races, like half-marathons or marathons, you will have to give your body some extra fuel.

Pro Tip:

Don’t be afraid of adjustments. Your actions during your campaign’s flight and your race’s duration can and will significantly improve your overall performance.

Runners crossing the finish line

Crossing the Finish Line

Finishing a running race or a campaign is a great feeling, but there’s still work left to be done. 

Reflecting on your performance and measuring it against your goals will help you prepare for future races and campaigns. If you achieved your goals, great! Write down what you did well and the habits that led you to a stellar performance. If you fell short, that’s fine too. Use your experience as a learning opportunity by thoroughly looking at areas you could improve for next time. 

The only time you can ever truly lose in running or marketing is when you don’t take your experiences and apply them to your next challenge, so no matter the outcome, always keep your head up and always keep learning.

If you want to continue the conversation, don’t hesitate to reach out to me at [email protected]. I’d be happy to talk with you about running, advertising, or both!