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Balancing the Desire for Profits and the Protection of the Brand

October 22, 2010

A few weeks ago, I posted a story about World Triathlon Corp, the company that runs the Ironman Triathlon, and its plan to create shorter triathlon races under the Ironman brand. There has been backlash to this idea from the hardcore triathletes that participate in the traditional Ironman race – 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride, 26.2 mile run. These athletes are worried about “watering down” the brand they love and seeing the Ironman stand for triathlons rather than stand for grueling, hard triathlons.

This is always the fight that a company faces when it plans on expanding their product line regardless of the industry. The early users know the brand and love the company for its initial message and product, and they are protective of what they love. Thus, a company’s goal is to protect their brand and retain the first customers that adopted their product while using that brand to attract new customers.

The Ironman triathletes are amazing for their commitment to their sport, and they take pride in being able to complete the long race. They have a passion for the Ironman. The following are ideas that Worldwide Triathlon Corp. can use to keep the Ironman brand strong while bringing in new customers.

1) Worldwide Triathlon Corp. should make sure that the triathletes competing in the traditional Ironman are considered to be the elite. These are gladiators who enjoy their spot in the sun for taking on one of the most grueling races in the world. Make them the centerpiece of marketing and promotional activities. Invite these racers to be the face of the Ironman brand as advertising and marketing expands.

2) A logo is one of the most important identifying characteristics for any entity. This is especially true for the Ironman. We know the traditional Ironman logo that is used. For the other races, perhaps a different logo should be used. Make it a different color. Make it a different shape. Keep the same ideas in the logo but make it different. People get the Ironman logo tattooed on their bodies which shows the strength of the brand for the 141-mile race. World Triathlon Corp. should make sure that their early users still want to get that tattoo because it stands for a grueling, 141-mile race.

3) More generally than just focusing on the logo, Worldwide Triathlon Corp. should focus on having two separate images. The regular folks may be intimidated by the 141-mile race and the images that come from Kona, so there should be a different image targeted at them. Advertising aimed at new triathletes and shorter racers should emphasize tackling challenging goals, pushing yourself, and training with a community. Use brighter colors and a different general theme. This will allow Ironman to have two separate images, and the brand can thrive even if everyone knows that it’s one big party. Think Toyota and Lexus. People don’t avoid a Lexus because they think that it’s associated with Toyota. They buy a Lexus because it’s a Lexus – the product is different, the images are different, and the personalities of the companies are different.

4) I have trained with triathletes who have prepared for the Ironman before, and I am no Ironman racer. Triathletes form a community and are very accepting. They like people and like to train with people. Worldwide Triathlon Corp. can promote training groups in cities across America and have the 141-mile racers lead the groups. Of course, not every long distance racer will want to lead groups, but it will make these triathletes feel that they are ambassadors of the Ironman brand and that they are ambassadors of triathlons. Allow them to have an ownership of the race and a higher status in the community of triathletes. Long distance triathletes will enjoy their roles as leaders in the community of triathletes.

– Jason Sosnovsky

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