The Digital Marathon

Unless you’ve been living in a cave over the last few weeks, chances are the marathon season will not have passed you by unnoticed. Whether it’s seeing runners taking the to the parks in their masses, gatherings in the pubs becoming dominated by somewhat alien requests for soda and lime (or avoided all together) or Just Giving requests arriving in inboxes – marathon fever has been unavoidable.

As a runner guilty of all of the above, it has struck me that there is an overwhelming impact from technology on the entire event this year. Whereas, only five years ago, the options to get involved were limited to those taking part, going to support or watching from the comforts of an armchair, technology has changed this irrefutably. Marathons today are leading the way in terms of connecting consumers, whether running or not, to the complete experience, and the benefits to be gained from this are unbeatable.

Arriving in Paris earlier this month to take on 26.2 miles of the city, I was greeted with an email inviting me to download the official Paris Marathon app. Having being billed as the “Connected Marathon”, this seemed like a good place to start. Whilst providing all the expected information on the route and race, the more impressive element of the app was the real-time tracking it provided to enable friends and family to effectively see the race unfold, no matter where they were. This meant supporters knew where to stand along to the course and what time runners were expected at a certain point. It delivered up to the minute insights on how each individual race was going and most importantly gave indications on when a runner was expected to enter the final stretch. On crossing the finish line, results were delivered instantly to mobiles – the days of waiting an agonising 24 hours are gone. Suddenly the entire experience has become much more accessible, interactive and undeniably exciting for everyone.

Beyond this, social media has opened the marathon door more than ever before. Whether it’s through liking a start line photo, sharing a results status or enabling people to publicise their charity page – it’s all contributed to the buzz and positive experience. The smartphone revolution has played a vital role in enabling these instantaneous moments and it’s certainly something more brands should be looking to replicate.

Figures released this week state that Macmillan Cancer Support was the most talked about charity online around Sunday’s London Marathon, mentioned in 53 per cent of online conversations. The charity successfully demonstrated how to bring the experience to life and, most importantly, generate awareness and engagement through Twitter hashtags, Facebook profile photos and a well thought out social strategy – supported heavily by staff at the charity. With a cousin running for Macmillan, the Macmillan presence certainly didn’t go unnoticed on my Facebook news feed.

Whilst I may have a (slightly) biased view on the positivity a marathon can bring (unless asked at mile 21), the impact technology has had in connecting people to the experience, beyond the individual runner, is something more brands should being looking to replicate. Creating brand loyalty is deeply rooted in the customer experience being delivered at every point. As the recent transformation of the marathon experience illustrates, the tools are out there to deliver a personalised, instant and gratifying experience to all.

Like a marathon runner, brands must be looking at investing for the long-term, adjusting as the experience changes and always looking at how to improve – the organisations who fail to take this on board will find themselves quickly lagging behind their competition.

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