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What Elite Marketers Can Learn From Tough Mudder

I’ve completed more difficult events than Tough Mudder, a 10-12 mile military-style obstacle course race, but I’ve never participated in an event that was more social or fun.

Don’t misunderstand me, though. After finishing the Ohio/Michigan Tough Mudder this past Sunday, I’m certainly sore, bruised, and battered but feel a refreshing sense of accomplishment.  I still, however, count the completion of the Ironman 70.3 as a crowning athletic achievement (at least in the middle-aged, chubby guy phase of  life I’m currently in now).

When I finished my Ironman, people were perfunctorily impressed but didn’t ask  many questions about the training or finishing requirements.  They cared but they didn’t care.  After Tough Mudder, friends and family alike were genuinely congratulatory and sought to learn the details and challenges of the various obstacles. A steady stream of newspaper articles and Facebook photos fueled their interest. After all, running through fire and and being shocked is a lot more fun to talk about than pedaling a bike for over 50 miles.

Therein lies the genius of Tough Mudder. Tough Mudder is doing for endurance races what Facebook has done for the Internet – making them social, engaging, and even viral. In a sense, Tough Mudder has operationalized the shareable and friendly aspects of social media into real life. Ironman = alone, while Tough Mudder = social. In today’s increasingly shareable, transparent world – Tough Mudder wins.

Let’s face it, there’s something a bit solitary and even selfish about an Ironman – swimming, biking and running long distances on your own. Not being allowed to receive help or support from any other participants and being penalized for not finishing segments within strict time limits adds to event’s individual nature. It’s an achievement designed to be enjoyed singularly.

Tough Mudder takes the classic endurance race experience and flips it on it’s head. You must help others and share challenges and exhibit camaraderie. Tough Mudder puts socialness, strength, and spirit into the endurance sport category while Ironman narrowly highlights individual competition and complete self reliance.

If you’re an elite marketer, is your product or service a Tough Mudder or an Ironman? Is your offering encouraging people to socialize and build your brand in real life and then voluntarily and happily bring it online to social networks?  Or does it encourage stratification and unnecessary individuality?

Imagine letting your product or service build your brand. Offer something so good and so shareable that your customers will do the sharing for you. Rather than marketers proctoring conversations in social media, build your social presence through earned media and through customers’ organic conversations on social networks – that’s what Tough Mudder is doing.

How can you incorporate the Tough Mudder notion of real life shareability and socialness into your offering? Do you have something so amazing and so well executed that it allows your customers to organically and intrinsically build your brand? Or do you feel your product will always need guidance and direction in its shareability?