How Ironman Creates Value with Promotional Products
When was the last time someone tattooed your logo onto her calf? Or have you ever seen your logo printed on home decor? Or blazoned on a luxury purse brand? These are unusual ways to extend your brand with logos on promotional products, (and humans), but then what would you expect from a company that makes hundreds of millions of dollars just from legend?
Ironman. It’s a brand known around the world. (Hint: We’re not talking about the Marvel Comics character.)
Operated by the World Triathlon Corporation (WTC) and owned by a hedge fund, the Ironman Triathlon is an ultradistance triathlon that includes a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike and a marathon. Though once an obscure sufferfest done by hard core sports enthusiasts, the sport has hit pop culture thanks to a little television exposure.
In the 1980s, ABC Wide World of Sports put the race on the mainstream map (See the Julie Moss crawl.) and now each year NBC televises a glitzed up, fast-track version of the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii for millions of viewers. And with partnerships with some of the world’s top brands including Timex, Dooney and Bourke, K-Swiss and even WR Mattress Gallery, the Ironman brand enjoys a global status. Not bad for a company with less than 30 full-time employees.
Thousands annually compete in Ironman, but hundreds of thousands own its products. Though WTC is privately held, it’s estimated the Ironman product licensing generates as much as $500 million a year. (It recently secured $240 million in financing.) Ironman is a marketer’s dream case study with loads of promotional product wisdom packed into its marketing efforts. In this post we pluck out some usable tips from Ironman to help you better use your promotional products to create brand loyalty.
Limit Your SWAG (well some of it)
Though “SWAG” stands for Stuff We All Get, it’s a smart move to offer limited edition promotional products to your customers and clients. Ironman’s M-dot logo can be seen on almost every product (including people’s calves), but there are certain limited edition products that are exclusive to events. This drums up demand.
By offering certain promotional products such as the Racing Sunglasses or the Getaway Duffel Bag solely at certain events, conferences and tradeshows you’re tapping into a classic principle of economics and psychology that is guaranteed to work: The scarcity heuristic.
Engineering scarcity creates value for your brand. The less something is available the more people want it. The science and psychology behind this can be found in this study, but basically scarcity affects how people value products. If they know there’s less of it they’re willing to pay more for it.
Even if you’re giving away promotional products, limit them. This scarcity can create a tangible bond with clients and customers and gets them to have a higher affinity for your brand. Let’s face it, we like free stuff, but we love having something that other people can’t have.
Make your SWAG rewarding
Ironman’s “Finishers”-only gear also makes people want to “earn” the SWAG. Be it via a photo contest, blog post award or Facebook “Vote for Me,” promotion, brands are rewarding customer participation with SWAG to build a stronger emotional tie.
At the Q&A social network Quora, only the most prolific posters or people who attend their meetups get its “Top Writers” T-shirt SWAG.
It’s the Tiffany approach to SWAG rather than the Wal-Mart one.
By doling out SWAG as rewards to fanboys, evangelists and customers who like your Facebook page etc., you align your customers with your business goals. Fans see the value in earned promotional products and not only identify with you but market for you. “I earned one…you can too!” Plus it makes the promotional product rat race seem less like NASCAR with logos everywhere and more like elections where customers vote with their behavior loyalty.
Add FUNction to your SWAG
One of the most coveted promotional products Ironman has is its vintage Ironman gear bags. Emblazoned with the name and year of specific Ironman races, these gear bags are instantly exclusive (only so many people race each year) and functional. Years after racers have completed Ironman, they hold on to these gear bags. Racers use them to tote all their triathlon gear at other races, which in turn solicits comments from other racers about the bags and, of course, spreads the Ironman brand legend around.
As Bloomberg writer and Harvard Phd Alexandra Samuel said in The Science of Swag, SWAG that is useful, be it research white papers or mobile chargers (who doesn’t need one of those?), is SWAG that goes home with conference attendees. SWAG that isn’t functional–generic logo buttons, badge holders with no context–get left in the hotel room. So make your SWAG useful by:
- Thinking about your audience. What do they need? Find that product and make it promotional.
- Favoring context and quality. Add context to giveaways to make them more endearing. Conference in Seattle? Try umbrellas. Trade show in Miami? Try flip flops or sunglasses. You get the picture.
- Focusing on the fun factor. When it doubt, fun wins out. Toys, games, cards, whatever, slap your logo on a fun distraction and watch your marketing ploy work wonders for you.
Strategize Your SWAG
The World Triathlon Corporation, a company with less than 30 full-time employees, has made the Ironman brand a household name. (Well, in certain households anyway.) You can too by following its lead; by engineering scarcity and adding context to your SWAG you can popularize your promotional products and create lasting value. And who knows, someday NBC may want to check out your product’s version of Ironman. Well, maybe not. 🙂