Running hard and getting nowhere

A few years ago, I decided to run a half marathon. Although I was pretty active – three weekly trips to the gym and a mile or two of running each week – this was the first time I’d aspired toward a specific fitness challenge. I began training six weeks before my race, and figured a good first step would be to see how far I could run at my existing fitness level.

I failed miserably.                                                 

Just over two miles into that first run, I was wheezing. All of my previous activity had been good for me, and certainly got me off to a good start, but there was a chasm between that first run and where I needed to be six weeks later. I hobbled home and got to work on a plan. I researched training programs for half marathons. I built a calendar of runs designed to build endurance.  I modified my nutritional intake through the day to prepare. I even went out and bought workout clothes better suited to running.

The difference six weeks made was incredible. I’m not a patient guy – I had wanted to run 13 miles on day one (and part of me was convinced “it wasn’t really that far”). Six weeks made a transformational difference, and I needed every day of it. When I came running up to the Philadelphia Art Museum and crossed the marker for the final tenth of a mile, the effort of those six weeks made sense.

I think about this experience, and the associated feelings of impatience, frustration, and victory on a weekly basis.

Any good approach to marketing starts with envisioning the finish line. A brand wants to grow revenue and drive customer engagement – so they head out their door, and they start running.  After a few months, most look a lot like I did after that first run. They’ve expended a lot of effort, unleashed another wave of listicles upon the Internet, and flooded Facebook with dozens of Motivational Monday quotes.

The hard truth about what they’ve accomplished: they’re two plus miles away from home, sweaty and out of breath. It’s better than having done nothing, but still a long distance from the finish line.

Marketing that moves people toward any end needs to be strategic. A brand needs to understand the story they’re trying to tell, and ensure every Tweet, blog, email, and ad supports that unifying narrative. They need to understand who their audience is, and craft content in a cadence and vernacular that seems natural and inviting.

In a world that is overrun with mediocre content, a strategic approach means you can create things that are unique, insightful, and provide value to your audience. Putting weeks of planning into your campaign instead of launching directly into it is the difference between standing out – and expending a lot of effort that will never yield meaningful results.

After I ran my race, I posted a picture to social media.

My social feeds are filled with these post-race photos from people all year, and they get phenomenal engagement. Networks recognize the literal sweat and tears that went into that post, and they reward it with connectivity and community.

Most people won’t be able to wake up tomorrow and run a half marathon. And most brands won’t be able to turn on their marketing efforts and start reaping benefits immediately, either. However, in both cases six weeks of training makes the difference between the elation of the finish line or the frustration of a long, exhausting walk home.