A week ago the Tough Mudder team brought their unique brand of muddy fun and obstacle course racing to the Seattle area. Founded in 2010, Tough Mudder Inc. has zoomed to $75 million in revenue in just 4 years with over 60 events held per year worldwide.
With growth like that, it’s worth taking a peek at what’s working to spread the Mudder Nation brand so fast.
1. CREATE BRAGGING RIGHTS
Tough Mudder saves a fortune in marketing costs by giving participants a reason to spread their brand. By completing an event you earn bragging rights to a story in which YOU are cast as the hero.
I know what you’re thinking, “Sure, but that’s easy for them. Bragging rights are inherent to an endurance sports event.”
Not true. How many triathlon brands or marathon brands can claim Tough Mudder levels of loyalty and love? How many can you even name? Maybe Boston or New York, and maybe the Ironnman in Hawaii. But that’s it. There are hundreds of companies running thousands of extremely demanding sports event all year long, and most toil in obscurity. In contrast, the Tough Mudder succeeds in turning participants into brand evangelists in a way these other events don’t.
So how do they do it? First, they reinforce their brand story – and cement loyalty to it – with language. Mudders aren’t “participants”, they are “Mudder Nation”. They don’t just get a T-shirt or that signature orange headband – they earn citizenship into the toughest nation on earth. Beat THAT for bragging rights.
Note how using the word “nation” conveys all kinds of beneficial nuance to our understanding of the brand: loyalty, integrity, honor, fealty. This is the language of heroism and the language of belonging.
Look further and you’ll see more savvy language choices that drive brand inclusion and reinforce this heroic brand story. If you run a Mudder more than once (read: repeat customer) you become part of a “Legion”. But you can’t buy it, you have to EARN it:
This language actually treats being a repeat customer as a privilege. How’s that for smart marketing?
How can you emulate this bragging rights strategy even if you don’t electroshock your customers? Think about what your product or service does, and find ways to make it feel like a uniquely qualified or special community. A B2B SaaS tool seems pretty boring, but the folks at Hubspot pull this off quite nicely, calling anyone who works with them “Hubspotters”, and the agencies that contract with them “Partners”. Like the Tough Mudders, the Hubspot folks deploy a language of inclusion to make customers feel like they are part of a larger movement.
2. DEPOSITION THE COMPETITION
The Mudder team needs to attract their target audience away from traditional endurance events they already know and have budgeted for. A more conservative marketer might be afraid to alienate people with tough talk, but not the Mudders. They have the guts to position themselves against other endurance events like marathons – even though they know many of their target audience may have completed one.
In their fact sheet (see image below) Fact #2 is “Marathons are boring”.
Sure they could worry about whether this copy decision might cost them some marathon-loving prospects. But taking that risk ultimately reinforces their unique selling proposition (spontaneous fun over predictable tradition) and in the end entices plenty enough marathoners too. In taking a stand they make the purchase decision easier by giving the target audience an obvious reason to choose their event over the competition.
The lesson here is this: Be bold in your use of whatever sets you apart from your competitors to win more business over time.
3. BE GUTSY ABOUT MESSAGING CONSISTENCY
All too many companies water down their brand when dealing with officialdom, while the Tough Mudders stick to their guns no matter who is on the other side of the table, For example, the Cartoon Network recently sent out this press release and video of Attorney General Eric Holder to support their anti-bullying campaign.
The message isn’t wrong per se, but coming from the Cartoon Network it could be so much stronger. Just think how much better, more powerful, and brand appropriate it would have been had they used a cartoon to tell this story!
Now contrast the Cartoon Network’s weak message with this press release from the Tough Mudder folks:
The profanity isn’t for everyone, but it is a perfect fit for their brand.
Even sponsors are not spared. Look at this copy from the Tough Mudder website page on sponsorship.
They use the page to differentiate themselves by contrasting their brand punch with the safe image other well known brands like Joann Fabrics and Bed Bath and Beyond. The message: we have balls, and our sponsors do too.
How can you use this lesson for your own company? Stay on brand in all contexts. You will attract far more attention for being recognizably consistent than by trying to be all things to all people.
4. CREATE MEANINGFUL STORIES
The Tough Mudder takes storytelling to the next level by infusing everything they do with a higher sense of purpose. The pre-race pep talk is about working together, about people struggling to overcome health crisis or battle injuries. The website encourages Mudders to raise money for Wounded Warriors, and service members are at each event cheering teams on and thanking everyone for their efforts. In stark contrast to marathons and triathlons, this race is not about how long it took or finishing first, it’s about finishing together.
Races are not timed, so everyone is free to help everyone else, whether on their own team or another – and they always do. In this way, the product and the message are in perfect harmony and as a result Mudders are free to create their own great stories. Because as we all know, the strongest stories are ones in which humans show their best natures, putting aside the rush to the finish, and stopping to help others achieve their own greatness.
How can you create memorable stories like this for your own brand? Think about your ultimate purpose. Why does your company exist beyond just making money? Use that noble purpose to find your own customer stories, and you will be well on your way to creating your own Mudder-like success.
All screenshots and images courtesy of ToughMudder Inc.