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The Boston Marathon Brand: A Case Study

It was the end of January and my mind was on the lack of snow, the sun that just couldn’t stay in the sky long enough, and my brand new iPhone 4S....

Photo by AP

It was the end of January and my mind was on the lack of snow, the sun that just couldn’t stay in the sky long enough, and my brand new iPhone 4S. Then, over an innocuous Facebook message, a friend of mine informed me that his church had an opportunity to enter someone into the Boston Marathon – the accomplishment of all accomplishments for anyone who has picked up a pair of running shoes and gone out for a jog. I was ecstatic, but nervous: with 3 months to train, not much base under my belt, and injury questions, I was hesitatnt. However, I’m also 23 and my judgment is equivalent to that of a 12 year old, so I said yes (with many more exclamation points than I care to display here).

Thus began the training (that is continuing as I write this, strained IT band and all). My goal was simple: cross the finish line before they kicked me out. Countless hours have been spent since thinking about the event – training, planning nutrition (fuel, as I call it), mapping the course, strategizing with other runners, and anything else that comes with the task of running for three and a half hours (if I’m lucky!) with thousands of onlookers cheering and screaming.

Why did I say yes? Why, if you have any sort of running background, are you sitting there thinking you would too? What makes BOSTON different than any other marathon? Why does it carry so much weight in our minds? I’ve reflected on this on my longer runs, and I’ve come up with three very simple building blocks that have helped the Boston Marathon achieve its success.

  1. FIRST. According to Wikipedia (I know, I hate when people use that phrase too), the Boston Marathon is the world’s oldest annual marathon.  That’s kind of a big deal – like, Apple iPod big deal. Yes, the Boston Marathon may not have been the first marathon (just as the iPod wasn’t the first mp3 player), but it was the first one to do it well. It was the first one to gain notoriety, the PR buzz, and establish the connection in the minds of athletes and non-athletes alike.
  2. ELITE. You want to get into the Boston Marathon nowadays? Good luck to you. For someone my age, the qualifying time is a mere Three Hours and Five Minutes. I did the math – that’s 7:03 miles…consistently…for twenty six (point two!) miles. I don’t know about you, but most people I know can’t even run ONE mile in that, let alone 26 of them! Here’s a little experiment: go to Youtube and type in “Boston Marathon.” You will find dozens and dozens of videos, both old and new, of the top athletes of all eras competing head to head. There are scandals. There are legends. It’s a big deal.
  3. COMMITMENT. I didn’t exactly understand this when I said yes, but training for a marathon is hard work and many hours of pavement time. Robert Cialdini, in his book “Influence,” notes why members of fraternities and other societies have such affinity towards their membership. He states that because they dedicated themselves to the group, went through mental and physical hardship to achieve their goal, and now belong to a group that has set themselves apart, they feel a strong connection towards their choice. The effort exerted to pledge reinforced that choice and made the reward WORTH something to the members. I believe a similar thing happens with marathon training. Time spent on the road, running, eating, sleeping, dedicating every waking moment to the regimen, creates an affinity towards the goal – the act of completing the marathon. Boston is the pinnacle of these efforts.

Whether you’re a runner or not, I’m sure you can appreciate the pull the Boston Marathon has on the nation and the world. The brand is powerful, evokes respect and affection by many, despised by some, but known by all. At the end of the day, isn’t that what every global brand strives for?

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  1. Jordan Koschei April 3, 2012 at 6:20 am #

    It’s better to be first than to be best.

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