How Spartan Race Built a Strong B2B Brand
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What comes to mind when you hear “Spartan?” Probably some version of the imagery found in 2006’s blockbuster, 300. Scenes of great battle, troops acting in perfect unison to overcome odds in a gritty, ticket-selling fashion. While the Spartan brand we’ll be discussing in this episode doesn’t boast life-threatening battles, it does feature some dramatic challenges, the kind that help to build teamwork. And given the importance of building and sustaining teamwork for the success of just about every organization, you’re going to want to hear how the CMO of Spartan, Carola Jain, pulls this all together.
On this episode of RTU, Jain discusses the importance of a great team—and not just a supportive CEO or an understanding CFO; Carola emphasizes the importance of the people you work with, the people in the company trenches, not the owners or executives. She discusses how commitment to a purpose can help motivate employees, and how they can boost the effectiveness of internal rollouts. Beyond that, Jain explores leadership, collaboration, purpose, highlighting the Spartan women, and adds in what might be a piping hot take in the business world: “don’t email.” Tune in for more!
Full Transcription: Drew Neisser in Conversation with Carola Jain
Drew Neisser: Hello, Renegade Thinkers. Here we are on a Monday morning, very early, we’re having some technical difficulties, I’m not sure my brain is going, but my guest is on fire here. Her name is Carola Jain, and she is the CMO of Spartan. If you haven’t heard of Spartan, you probably will, because they have some incredible ambitions. One of the things that—oh, by the way, welcome to the show.
Carola Jain: Hi. Thank you.
Drew Neisser: One of the things that I thought was really interesting in your background is that you were at Interbrand for 16 years and then made the jump. What is it about your experience at Interbrand that prepared you to be a Chief Marketing Officer?
Carola Jain: I started at Interbrand in the Brand Valuation Group and I think that definitely set me up for being very comfortable with looking at financials and working very closely with a CEO and CFO of any organization. I really understood early on, what the struggle was for the Chief Marketing Officer because we would either be hired by the CFO or by the CMO and you could always see that the angle that they brought to the table was very different.
I think the CMO was always saying, “Well, my financial team doesn’t understand why I want to spend on XYZ, so help me make that case.” And I think the CFO would say, “Well, I don’t really understand what of these actions is creating value. I know that obviously there are things that I as CFO don’t necessarily need to get involved with, but help me prioritize and really understand that.”
From the brand valuation methodology, it was interesting to look at: how does the customer, the consumer, choose your brand right now? What’s the percentage? How important is your brand in that decision-making process? Which then proportionately also sort of sets you up for what should you be spending on? Then, looking at the future and your revenues in the future, what percentage or how strong is your brand? How likely, therefore, will your brand generate those revenues in the future?
The brand strength score gets translated into a discount rate and the role of brand gets translated into that percentage out of your revenue that we attribute to your brand. I think, taking a step back, it definitely set me up from a brand valuation perspective to understand that not every CFO is going to understand immediately what you want to spend on and you really need to take the financial side to outline that. Then, as I moved into brand strategy, I think also, you know, looking at a large boardroom or looking at a very senior management group where everybody has their own heads on, it’s important to outline a really long term vision, but also be very tactical in the short term.
I think everybody at least at Spartan is looking at daily ticket sales, monthly, and annual ticket sales, so how does everything I do on a daily basis translate into that while still keeping this long-term vision? Hopefully, everybody that is listening to this one day will know what Spartan is right now. Right now, probably not, but I’m saying, in the future, how do you create and communicate that long-term brand vision while still being accountable and driving revenue on a daily basis?
Drew Neisser: One thing about Interbrand is that it’s done a very good job branding itself related to the brand valuation. It’s like they own the idea, which is impressive, indeed. One comment I wanted to make, I was talking to a CMO and I can’t mention the name of the company, but she told me this story, which is mindboggling, how this one company was bought by venture capital, moved over—and this was a billion and a half dollar company—they changed the name to the new brand and sales dropped literally 70%. And here’s the kicker. The CMO comes in and goes, “Oh, my God. Looks at the sales rate,” puts the name back on the products, and sales recover. If ever there was an active demonstration of brand, that was it. But people don’t seem to recognize it. How could a CFO somehow not be aware of stories like that?
Carola Jain: Yeah, I think when you’re not close to what we would call the fuzzy part of it. Now, I guess in this case, the name is definitely not fuzzy, but I think it’s hard to really oftentimes attribute digital marketing, spending money and acquiring customers digitally. Seems to be a way that you really see, okay, I spent X on Facebook and I got Y ticket sales, for example. But we oftentimes also look and it’s not just that.
There are a whole number of things that “make this do,” as our CEO would say and it could be top of the funnel awareness. It could be television. It could be radio ads. It could be field sales, like people on the ground, and all of those things together then make you more likely to click on that ad that you see. So, oftentimes, I think it’s misunderstood that, yes, one change in itself—the one you mentioned is very dramatic—but one little change may not immediately bring your revenue down, but when you do a lot of those things and don’t necessarily think it through, you can have a large unforeseen consequence.
Drew Neisser: One of the things that we talk a lot about with our clients is the importance of consistency. Talk a little bit about that and why that is. Oftentimes a new CMO comes on to the job and says, “Well, that’s not my story, I’m going to create a new story.” And that’s sometimes a step backward for brands.
Carola Jain: Yeah, absolutely. And again, going back to the Interbrand brand valuation methodology, consistency was very important. Now, looking at my job at Spartan, consistency definitely is important since you have to put yourself in the shoes of the customer or the consumer. They are being bombarded or seeing so many different messages and even when we as the brand team, as the marketing teams think, “Oh, this has been in market, we’ve spent X on it,” the customer may just begin to understand where we’re going with this.
It’s incredibly important to really outline that, and then not only look at the endpoint, like the customer or the big ads that you’re doing but also look at your employees and really understand, have they fully embraced it? Or, are they thinking, “Hey, this is the new CMO coming in, latest trend of the month, and I’m going to just keep my head down and basically ignore it.”
Where I think, both on the Interbrand side as well as on Spartan, while they’re very different types of clients or very different types of brands, we really see when the employees buy-in to it and when they recite that elevator pitch and when they understand where you’re trying to go with this, they then communicate that to their customers and clients. And that’s the way that a brand comes to life. If you then have very strong ads or very strong marketing in-market alongside that, that obviously strengthens it. Oftentimes, you are just putting lipstick on the pig if you have a beautifully branded bus out there that screams your message in a TV spot. But then when you talk to the company, when you reach out, when you look at all the different touchpoints, it’s nothing like what was promised.
Drew Neisser: Yeah, we call that a coat of paint on an old barn. We talk a lot about employees, and I didn’t pay Carola to say that here. We did some research. We asked 110 B2B CMOs how important employees were in the communication process. 80% said really important, but then when we asked how long they spent before launching a new campaign, it was maybe one to two months—actually, less than 70% spent more than two months. In one of the conversations I had a while back with Edelman from Aetna, he spent six months retraining employees because they were making a new promise and in order to make that new promise real, you have to get employees involved. So, in the research that you did at Interbrand, was there a way of measuring employee engagement?
Carola Jain: Yeah, so I think a lot of people have internal employee surveys right now where you really understand how the brand is trickling down. How does everybody understand how important the brand is? From my experience at Interbrand, when it comes from the top down, when the senior leader is most engaged—and really, every time we had a CEO hire at Interbrand or be really involved and attend many of the milestone meetings, that’s when the project had the most success. Because I think, in the end, everybody looks to the top and says, “These guys really bought in, or these women really bought in and if they’re not, then it’s just the flavor of the month.”
So it is important to set an example and then, from the Spartan side, I also think it’s very important to explain what I’m trying to do to each individual vertical because when I first came on board and we were talking about wanting to become a lifestyle brand, there were a lot of people that said, “Okay, that might be your big vision, but what does that mean to me on a daily basis when I’m physically doing the analytics, or when I’m doing XYZ?” We have to—and I think that’s where the Interbrand training came in very handy—you really have to put yourselves into that specific job and understand how you now translate what this brand means to those people.
That’s a lot of the work that we ended up doing at Interbrand for big repositioning or positioning engagements. How does that now make sense for the head of asset management that, frankly, is on a completely different trajectory and is not necessarily thinking about brand? Or the head of fixed income, or anybody in the procurement, or anybody in production? It’s really important to understand what are the things that would be different with this new brand positioning? How are they going to go to market? How are they talking to their customer, to their employees? And ultimately, Spartan being such a strong badge brand, for us, it’s always interesting to really understand, how does our brand positioning bring us together and really create this rallying cry for the organization?
Drew Neisser: One of the things that you mentioned is CEOs, and that comes up in a lot of episodes, that you really as a CMO have to pick your CEO very carefully because you simply can’t succeed without their support and their commitment to marketing as being an important part of the brand. I want to just sort of, before we take a break, talk about the transition that you had and how you prepared yourself, or how you jumped into the job, because they’re very different roles.
Carola Jain: Yes, they are different roles and I wasn’t really able to prepare myself, I just jumped in. But I did do a six-month consulting stint so I came in on a freelance basis and I particularly worked on Spartan Women and how we can communicate that we are a truly co-gender sport and that we almost have 50/50 female and male participation. I started working with that. Through that, I really understood what the company had to offer, and also from a marketing and brand perspective, how much I was able to potentially unleash, so that gave me good framing of what the opportunity is.
In terms of really being prepared, I feel like, you know, if you’re in a fast-moving business, and I like to say we’re a 10-year-old startup because we have added a huge merchandise business. We have added a large sponsorship business where we have a lot of B2B companies, or larger companies, not B2B, that are now sponsoring our events and creating a better customer experience in order to then be associated and have a little bit of that equity transfer.
From my perspective, just having that training from Interbrand was helpful, but then I started doing a customer call a day. Again, going back to what I did at Interbrand when we had large assignments, I always really participated in the stakeholder interviews and I really felt that that gave me a seat across the table from the CEOs or CFO or CMOs that I was talking to. Since you get thrown into a project specifically in consulting work, oftentimes, you were not necessarily an expert in that industry three months ago and then you speak to all the analysts or you really read up on the industry. But the one thing that nobody can take from you is the customer interview and that’s something that I’ve actually noticed that, at Interbrand, not many people were doing. Oftentimes, you had then a rather refined point of view and what could be done better with the customers, and people were really thinking that was quite a unique perspective.
Now being at the company, I definitely want to own that unique perspective. And yeah, we have a lot of people in the field talking to our customers every day so it’s not just the one-on-one qualitative customer interview, but it’s also going into our social media communities and asking questions there, speaking to our field team, our production team, so we do have a very good feedback loop, but still being able as a CMO to pick up the phone—I normally go through a list and look at a business problem I have and really try to understand, “Okay, if I could fix one thing here, I think that would really create a larger impact.”
I try to understand what is that one business problem, and then ask our Head of BI to give me a few names that are in our database that I could be calling and then really follow up with those people in detail. Again, it’s qualitative, and if I think there needs to be a bigger follow up, I’ll do a quantitative study afterward, but I really enjoy and have learned a lot.
Drew Neisser: Perfect. Great place for us to take a break. We’ll be right back.
Drew Neisser: All right, we’re back, and I thought it was really important, I want to emphasize this: you make the calls personally. I know that there are a few CMOs that I’ve talked to who have done the same. Ian Howells, who was CMO of Sage Intacct, talked about how, before they go into a micro-market, they do 25 to 50 interviews. He also personally does the interviews and then he trains people to do the interviews and of course, as someone who worked at Interbrand, you were trained to do that. So that’s just a really great place to start. I’m curious, what were some of the things that you learned in some of those interviews that you were then able to apply or fix?
Carola Jain: Yeah, I’ve actually learned a lot of very interesting things which, from my perspective, has then enabled me to build new products or to strengthen existing products based on that insight. Just to give you one example, I called a customer that was on our largest team leader customer base and I just wanted to basically thank him for bringing 50 people, on average, to the races. It turns out that he is an employee at a large telecommunications company, and he said, “Look, I have risen the ranks in my company by being the guy that makes people do things that they weren’t thinking they could do. So, I now go to market, I go to work, and people ask me like, ‘Hey, when is the next time that you’re doing a Spartan race, I want to come with you.'” He said he actually got a seat on the senior leadership team through that, or he was able to really meet people way above his current position because those people now also race with him or they see him as a leader where they can say, “Take this group and spend three months with them, help them prepare for the race and then take them out.”
Carola Jain: That was definitely very interesting learning for me, to see that Spartan, as a platform, is really helpful for corporates, where everybody’s looking for an opportunity to bring their employees together and create team bonding exercises. Looking at that as a way to really ask, how do I strengthen that offering? Yes, we know we have corporate teams sign up, but what can I do to make that guy’s job or passion point easier?
One of the things that he said is, “I would like to have a T-shirt. I’d like to have swag. I’d like to have emails that I can easily forward to people.” When you look at it from the brand’s perspective, we’re like, “Yeah, it’s all there,” but he didn’t see that and he, on a daily basis, a monthly basis, recruits 50 people to come to our races. From that perspective, it was definitely very helpful to work with him directly and the other thing that I feel like people will see is, even when I call lapsed customers, which obviously I do try to understand why did you do X races, or what made you not come back, it’s always very interesting. And people are so grateful to even get a call, just having their voice heard.
Oftentimes, we as the brands underestimate the power of a phone call and just listening to somebody. Even if we feel it might be a single incident, more than often, almost every time, I’ve really heard that there are a lot of nice insights in there that I can then extrapolate and build a mini case study around.
Drew Neisser: Well, what I heard, which was so interesting, is that if you are a Spartan advocate, you might get promoted faster because it shows that those characteristics of the Spartan brand are important to the business. I think that’s really, really fascinating. I’m wondering, talk a little bit about this as a badge brand and what that means. The fact that you could actually help someone with their career is amazing.
Carola Jain: Yeah. We definitely know that, in business—and all the listeners I think would agree—oftentimes, you look for people that have played team sports or that have excelled in sports, maybe during college or in their earlier years. I think what we find is that those people are able to build teams, get consensus, and get everybody marching in the right direction, but also, those are people that had to multi-task. If you’re playing sports in college, you had to manage your sports career as well as your academic career. Oftentimes, we know that those are the characteristics that everybody’s looking for in a strong team leader and so bringing that back at a non-college age is very important.
We find that there are a lot of senior leaders or leaders in organizations that want to take that step. They outside the work are then able to really create these strong teams and then they get noticed in their organizations. It gives them another dimension, and I think what we’re seeing from just the general teams is that this is a very nice alternative to just basically taking people out for drinks. As we’re looking at the whole wellness aspect becoming much more important in the corporate life, what type of employee would one rather have? Somebody who is not taking care of themselves and who is not really able to be in a competitive environment, or somebody who really enjoys the challenge and has a larger team that they can come to the race with?
Drew Neisser: What’s so interesting to me is, how do you know when you really have a strong brand? I think you know when you have a strong brand, one, when people want to wear your brand, but two, what was so interesting here is that this individual who wore the Spartan brand and became recognized as a leader, how powerful that was. It’s almost like you could market this as a way of building corporate culture.
Carola Jain: Yes, 100%. I wrote I LinkedIn article about it and I got a lot of suggestions from people where they say, “Oh, I wish my company would be doing this. I wish my company would give us other ways of showing that you are a leader in your community and bringing that wellness aspect to work. I feel like in this day and age, everybody is looking for an ability to combine working out and having mental and physical wellness. This is an opportunity where we, as an employer, are now saying: “Not only do we give you free food or free swag, but we also help you become a better person, physically and mentally. We help you push beyond what you thought was possible.”
With this specific individual, he has very tangible proof points and he’s actually shown me comments when he then reposted something from his boss’s boss that was saying, “You have been a true shaper of our culture. You’ve brought teams one notch up.” He really felt that he was able to push his whole company that way.
One of our clients, Rakuten, has actually participated I think now 800 and some employees in 24 different races and they have fully embraced it to the point that their senior leadership team at our World Championship in Tahoe last weekend all participated in one of the hardest races. They’ve definitely identified this as a way to really bond over something, and they’re now bringing their clients. They brought their Barneys clients, they brought different media clients and they said, “When you’re on the course and you see each other struggle, or you see each other push, then when you meet on a Monday morning by the water cooler you have a very different relationship and that twinkle in the eye.”
Seeing each other vulnerable, which I feel like a lot of the marketing conversation now is about how you show vulnerability as a leader, it’s definitely very impactful, specifically if you’re managing millennials who are looking for that “bring your whole human to work” and don’t just show up as the boss and make me do things.
Drew Neisser: “Bring your whole human to work.” We’ve talked a little bit about badging and the importance of this, and I think one of the indications of your brand is I think that there are 20,000 Spartan folks that have worn their tattoo, which brings us to an interesting question. Tim Yeaton from Red Hat revealed his tattoo on the show. Are we going to see yours anytime soon?
Carola Jain: No, not quite. I have a few peel on tattoos that my daughter has put on my arm, but, yeah, we’re very proud. I think, again, having worked at Interbrand and having looked at Harley-Davidson, which is now a client, it’s interesting to see when you have a brand that has such affinity that there are roughly 20,000 people that have a tattoo. And that’s not necessarily because they’re all tattoo lovers, but the brand is transformational and there are so many stories that we have of why people have that tattoos.
Having a badge brand and being a steward of a badge brand really gives you a large opportunity, but also makes you think differently about how you communicate that brand because people want to be associated with something bigger than themselves. Again, in the workplace, if you are the guy or the woman that is the Spartan and you invite people into your group, that is powerful. If you are with your children, and as a mom specifically, when I do these races, my kids look at me differently for sure. They all of a sudden think like, “Oh, you’re strong and you’re pushing yourself,” and they like that. It’s something to do on the weekends for people, they definitely love it.
How do we put our warriors into an outfit or armor out there? What do we give them that they feel that they have an easy way when people come up to them to talk about it? As we see digital communications and emails and social just becoming more and more part of our lives, having these real-life experiences on the course, with people, obviously you can post it afterward, it’s a good post-able Instagramable moment, but having real experiences with real friends definitely is a huge factor of why Spartan has grown so fast.
Being real and not having to put lipstick on the experience. The experience is not what Spartan says it is, it’s what the individual makes out of it. We always feel you might not like it while you’re on the course, you might have a hard time, obviously, it’s difficult, but in the end, you’ll know at the finish line. Every single one of the people that have done the race feel like something changes. When you physically push yourself over a boundary in life and on the course, afterward you look back and you say, “Okay, that wasn’t as bad as I thought and I’ve learned something from it.”
Drew Neisser: Amazing. So, social has come up, and for B2B brands, social is really tricky. But one of the areas and opportunities is with employees. What’s interesting here is that you talk about corporate teams and so forth, and it seems like that would create a lot of great social opportunities for these B2B brands. Being a participant, giving them, as you called it, something that would be Instragramable. Talk a little bit about the role of social in your brand and then ways for B2B brands to be thinking about social media.
Carola Jain: For us, social is very important. We’re definitely a brand that was built on social and it makes my job pretty easy because our customers are very social-savvy and they want to post their experiences. We don’t use models, we don’t really have shoots, we just use their user-generated content. I think that’s the nice thing, as I was saying before, you don’t have to put lipstick on the pig. There’s no experience that we need to create to then make people believe. It’s pretty much this expression and this transformation that people want to share.
Carola Jain: How that then translates into a B2B brand and into the workplace… you want to bring your human to work, you want to make the experience at work meaningful. Spartan gives an opportunity for brands to attach themselves to that mission. We want to change 100 hundred million people’s lives. And obviously, you know, one by one, that’s very difficult, but if a company comes on board and says, “I want to partner with you,” like Rakuten, “and I make this experience available to my employees and they then rally and they create their little teams and they go out.” Now I think in London they’re doing their Rakuten Cup where they have different countries in Europe all come to Twickenham and compete together. That’s a great experience.
They can take the corporate suite afterward, they can do drinks and food and their families can watch, so, again, it’s an opportunity to bring your family, bring different people to a work situation that otherwise would have been very isolated. We really see that as being the opportunity for social for B2B companies, because now they talk about their employees as being gritty, as being forward-thinking, and as being leaders in their environment. I think we’re seeing a lot more companies, very large companies, coming to us and saying, “Yeah, we used to do golf outings, we used to do partner dinners, but people are looking for something else. We want to be inclusive to everyone, so what can we do that gives everybody the opportunity to push at their level?”
Drew Neisser: Perfect. Well, that’s a great place for us to take a break. We’ll be right back.
Drew Neisser: We’re back, and one of the things that you mentioned in the last segment was that your purpose is to impact a hundred million lives. What I love about that one is how succinct it is and how bold it is. I’m curious, as a purpose-driven organization, how does that permeate and help you as the CMO do your job?
Carola Jain: The purpose really was set by Joe De Sena, the CEO, and it makes, again, my job easier because he does think big. Obviously, we need to be rooted in how many tickets we sell, but it gives us an opportunity to diversify our revenue streams as well because a hundred million people are probably not going to run through an obstacle course race.
But very early on, I think he looked at this and, again, I think his whole idea was pretty much born out of being on Wall Street, having to take people out for entertainment purposes, and really saying that’s not how people want to be entertained. That doesn’t get me closer to people getting them out and drinking. So, he very early on asked people to participate in a half marathon. When he saw people’s lives change because at first, they said, “There’s no way I can do this”—he’d ask them to get up early and run with him—out of this he really saw that he created these really strong bonds with people. He said that little by little, he started a whole company that was based on different lengths and different difficulty levels.
But as we’re looking at how we can change 100 million lives. One, being a badge brand, merchandise. If everybody that puts on our shirts becomes a walking advertisement for us and for that Spartan lifestyle, then it gets more awareness to people. That’s already great because our customers are so avid and they want to share the message because again, it has transformed their lives. Then, looking at where wellness and this extreme wellness niche that we really own is going, how do we communicate that to people, the body, the mind, and the spirit? How does all of that—our philosophy—really get communicated?
We’re starting a whole online education platform where we bring this thinking to people because we realize not everybody is able to right now get out there and challenge themselves on a course. But being a Spartan doesn’t just mean you have to run a Spartan race. When you commuted in this morning, there was probably an escalator and a stair. A Spartan would take the stair. And so, if you then count all those steps, that changes your life. When you have the doughnut versus the apple in front of you, if you take the apple, it definitely makes you more Spartan.
All of those little shifts we think are incredibly important in the workplace and having Spartan as a badge brand really helps people to latch on to this versus just, you know, my New Year’s resolution. We want to give employers and companies a suite of products that they can give to their employees to help push themselves and adopt a healthier lifestyle.
Drew Neisser: I’m definitely not feeling very Spartan today. Since we had to record at 9:00 am, I chose not to ride a bike to work. Instead, I took the subway. I had a double espresso with some pretty thick almond milk. And yesterday I think I had bacon, so not feeling Spartan, but we’ll be working out tomorrow. Anyway, I’m curious, we’ve talked a lot about brand, but every CMO listening, particularly the B2B ones, know that they can’t just do brand. They have to do demand gen, and you really didn’t have any experience in that area per se. How did you learn the mechanics of that and how do you balance brand versusdemand?
Carola Jain: One of your guests, Thomas Barta, mentioned in his interview with you that you have to prioritize and you have to create these value creation zones. From my perspective, most CMOs I don’t think can be good at everything that they’re doing, so number one was definitely bringing in the right people that have very strong talent. I very much firmly believe that A’s hire A’s and B’s hire C’s, so I really want to have a team that can challenge me or that, in many instances, is even stronger than me in specific areas.
Bringing in people that are very strong in digital, very strong in just all parts that make our business tick was my number one priority. And now, looking at the difference from consulting to being on the brand side, there are just a lot of different priorities. How do I create not only 20/20 vision, but also a priority on a daily basis? What do I work on? What’s going to move the needle most? And then how do I have the strongest possible team address those issues?
Drew Neisser: Perfect. It’s sort of good to great. Get the team first, fill in the gaps. That takes a certain amount of self-awareness. I recently had a guest who talked about having a 98% attribution ability. In other words, they felt that at this point in time they could track every dollar down to like the last 2%. Where do you think you are with that? I mean, that’s a very tricky area. Have you thought about attribution modeling? Do you have a pretty clear sense of what works and what doesn’t? We could just start with generating demand or filling up seats at the races.
Carola Jain: We definitely work very closely with the CFO and his team and that has been helpful. We know how much it costs us to acquire a customer if we had to spend our money right now to fill all the seats. However, our marketing budget, again, back to attribution, there are other factors that create organic ticket sales and organic merchandise sales. What are all of those things? In my seat, it would be very difficult to say we have it down to a 98% attribution, but I think you want to know, if I need to sell these 5,000 tickets in these next three months, this is how much it’s going to cost me and I can go to my finance team and say, “If this needs to happen, I need X dollars.”
I think where it becomes more of a stew, as our CEO would call it, is when you look at everything. We have 250 local events, and each local market is very different. The coasts are very different than in the middle of America. If you look at Italy, it’s very different even from Germany based on the competitive landscape. We have to create a perfect marketing mix that really is applicable to that market depending on how long we’ve been in the market, what are we seeing works, who are the influencers that we can they really bring in, and even how many teams do we have on the ground that we can kind of incentivize?
That’s one of the shifts that we’re looking to make: if I can incentivize or reward an individual who is full-heartedly in it and wants to create goods through racing and bringing family and friends in, I’d rather give those people an incentive or reward than paying it to a digital platform since that digital platform only gets me so much, specifically if you’re a mission-based brand. So yeah, I think, are we 100% at attribution? No. But if push comes to shove and we say, “In order to make X, I need to do these five things,” we’re pretty much there.
On the local level, in our business specifically, we have relied so much on digital, the more we can turn it back and say, “Digital can only get you so far. Yes, it can get you a ticket sale at, let’s say, $25, but, on the other hand, it doesn’t give that brand texture.” That brand texture gets communicated, we were very successful recently by doing free workout tours. If I can pop up and get a thousand people to come to our Harley-Davidson dealership—Harley has a benefit because there are people at the dealership—I can do a great free workout to anybody that’s ever thought about possibly being part of a Spartan race. They get a free T-shirt, they meet everybody was there, and get a flavor of the brand. In my mind, it is a win-win situation and I’d rather invest in the deejay and the photographer and the T-shirts and everything that goes with that than just pounding more money into Facebook and hoping that somebody is going to buy.
Drew Neisser: That’s interesting because I have lots of conversations with B2B marketers—we had Anne Lewnes who’s the CMO of Adobe, big advocate of digital for a long time, and when she got to Adobe, she said, “How come we’re spending so much on events?” And then she looked at it and realized, “Oh, my god, this is really, really important to the business.” More and more CMOs that I’ve talked to have said that because we spend so much time digitally not connecting with people, events are very powerful. This experience that you’re describing, bringing people together, it fills a void that your product fills, but also these micro experiences fill.
Before we wrap up, you came in originally to do Spartan Women, and I think that’s really interesting. Talk a little bit about what you’re trying to do there and why you needed a subbrand. Why not just Spartan? Why have a Spartan Women?
Carola Jain: Interestingly, when I came in, we looked at the split between male and female, and I had been to a few conferences and just talked that I’m doing consulting with Spartan. People immediately said, “Well, I don’t know, it looks really hard,” so I suggested to Joe De Sena, the CEO, you know, this is the feedback and he immediately said, “Oh, why don’t we just do women’s only races? Let’s do one in a few months.” I put my Interbrand head-on and said, “Well, I would love to do a few focus groups and really understand if that’s what people want.” And the response was really overwhelming.
It was the other way. People were saying, “Do not do a women-only event. That’s offensive because we don’t wear pink clothes and have padded helmets and run the course. We want to be there right alongside men. We want to compete with and against our friends, husbands, whatever it is.” And so we then very quickly thought that it’s not that the event itself is the challenging part, it’s more the communication. With a predominantly male-focused senior leadership team and that angle as the brand was growing up, it definitely was seen as being more male, so we looked at every touchpoint. All our communications, we built a Spartan Women Instagram account to really feature some of the women more, but definitely then also influence had that impact our main Instagram accounts.
Funny enough, you know, when we then said, “Hey, we’ve now built this audience, we want to have a 50/50 balance on the main Instagram account,” our community came back and said, “No, we love this. We love this place. We have a lot of Facebook groups and we have a lot of activations that we’re really trying to do that are more female-focused.” The key is really to communicate that this is a co-gender platform, that women are treated equally, and that women compete. I myself, after I did these interviews, focus groups, I found myself on a course and I saw a really big, muscly guy sitting on a bucket in the bucket carry. I thought to myself, yeah, it does feel good that there are certain obstacles where you can outrun guys, and obviously vice versa. It’s a good platform to really see that not one body type will win, that you can find your own strength, and you compete with and alongside men.
Drew Neisser: Interesting. Well, what I heard was the need for diversity at the highest level. We’ve had lots of conversations about that in the show, but I also heard, and this is so important: what you think is a good idea, it doesn’t hurt to talk to the customer to make sure. There’s this very fine line in your brand between macho and old guy versus gritty and hey, women, welcome. It’s a very interesting line because, with Spartan, you have this picture of the Spartans who were all male warriors. It’s really a very fine line that you walk.
Carola Jain: One thing though, the women of Sparta were always very empowered, and when you do come to our races, it is very mixed and there’s definitely no machoism going on. I feel like men and women are very much treated equally and we do have a female pro team and women are very much on par with men in Spartan.
Drew Neisser: All right. Got it. So as we wrap up this show, what do you think are some of the biggest lessons that you’ve learned as a result of your experience now, having shifted from the brand side to the client side?
Carola Jain: I think one of the biggest learnings, as well as ongoing projects, is the fast lane and the slow lane. How do you create a fast lane where you can always tackle? I recently got advice from a mentor of mine of always having these stand-up meetings, 10-minute meetings, and you very quickly huddle. There’s only one topic that can be discussed and everybody goes away and does something that gets implemented immediately. How do you have a lot of those, but then still, that gap between your desk and your chair where you can actually think? How do you create time to think?
I feel like, in a very executional business that we’re in, it is sometimes difficult because my list of things to do for today is so long that when do I actually take a step back and think about what’s going to move the needle long term?How do I build all these different businesses that may or may not immediately impact revenue, but will long term? How am I going to position us as leader and really push the brand forward?
Drew Neisser: Interesting. I think about it this way. If it’s not on my calendar, it’s not a priority, and so if you really want to put think time into your agenda, you just have to put it on the calendar and you just have to get your team to respect it. That’s interesting. I’m wondering if you have, just as we wrap up, two do’s and a don’t for your fellow CMOs.
Carola Jain: I think my “don’t” is definitely emails. I think email people are stealing your time because they just effectively block time in your calendar because now you have the email that you have to go through. How do you optimize that, that you don’t just don’t feel obliged to have to get back to every email and I’m trying to work more in Slack with my internal team and then have an email for external partners?
The “do” is definitely that customers and employees are the most important. Nothing works without a great team and, oftentimes, you forget. Those are the people that are not necessarily in the board-level conversations and you really need to spend time and understand what makes them tick. Why are they even there? They don’t own the company, they don’t necessarily own all the shares, so how do you think about translating what makes me come to work every day to everybody in the team?
I recently just started more of these informal sessions where I’m also on the podcast, I do a lot of interesting things, how does that now gets translated and how does the same opportunity exist for everybody on my team? I’ve definitely spent more time with my team and then, secondly, it has to be customers.
I have kids, I have a family. I can’t be at every race every weekend where I obviously could also speak to racers, but, you know, making that time and always having a customer chair at every conversation that you have where you think about, “Well, what would the customer say?” So many times, we find ourselves sitting in a room and thinking about a great offer. How about testing it? How about just putting it out there and seeing what people are going to say? We have the luxury as a brand that has so many avid followers. You might get a biased view if you just talk to those that are obviously self-selecting and speaking, but it’s better than nothing. It is better than just sitting in our offices and hypothesizing.
Drew Neisser: I think this entire episode is really about “why” and its power. I know the B2B CMOs are listening right now going, “Okay, well, the Spartan, it’s racing, it’s macho, and it’s fun. It’s not macho, I’m sorry, it’s gritty,” and you’re thinking, “How does this relate to me?” Well, let’s start with the fundamental notion that you have a clear purpose. If you have a clear purpose, you have a way of motivating your employees. You have a way of building a community. You have a way of extending that so much so that other brands want to borrow that and you could actually get promoted in an organization because you adopted this purpose.
I think we could wrap everything up into the “why” and I want you to—as you leave today and continue on your drive or your workout, hopefully, you’re working and preparing for your next race—to think about what is our company “why?” How are we making a difference in the world? How are we making a difference in the lives of our employees? I think that will really ultimately be the most powerful thing a CMO can bring to the organization. And with that, thank you so much, Carola, for being on the show.
Carola Jain: Yeah. Thanks so much for having me. It was great.
Drew Neisser: For all of you listeners, thank you for sticking with us. And until next time, keep those Renegade Thinking Caps on and strong.