Sunday, January 27, 2013

What Differentiates one 21Km Stretch from Another?

Its been exactly a week since the Mumbai Half Marathon and it is still fresh in my mind. After finishing my personal best (24 minutes faster than the Delhi Half in September!), I dragged my achy but happy self back home reflecting on the highlights for the rest of the week.There are many reasons why I think I performed significantly better in Mumbai vs. Delhi despite less training. I'm going to skip the usual suspects like more experience, better weather, earlier start time etc. Marketeers, read on because I draw an analogy and lesson here for our function.

One big difference between Delhi and Mumbai was the awesome support the runners got from the crowd throughout the race, especially when you started "hitting the wall" around the 16km. That's when you are going uphill on Peddar Road and your knees are shot and the sun is up. It made me smile to see one aunty stand there with fresh, hot jalebis! Now a good sugar boost is good at this point of the race for sure and usually a banana, orange or even a piece of dark chocolate will suffice but jalebis! Even if you didn't indulge, just the smell kept you going! Also, a special shout out to the 2 aunties who were diligently spraying us our sore muscles and joints with relaxants. My knees and ankles thank you! Now that's South Mumbai hospitality!

By contrast, there were hardly any cheering crowds in Delhi throughout the route. There were a few bored onlookers stood around (maybe they were paid?) and a few curious uncles out for their morning walk. One guy had a whole stack of bananas but wasn't handing them out to any of the runners, rather, there were some monkeys from a nearby temple who he was feeding them to (did the organizers just hand him a stack but forget to tell him what they were for?) I guess that was more intuitive to him than giving it to someone who was running going off the confused reaction he gave me when I asked him for one!

Back to the Mumbai experience. During the last 3 km on Marine Drive, you are so distracted by the live music and dancers you feel like you are running through a party and, before you knew it, you had crossed the finish line. This is so important because you don't have much left in you to give by the 18Km so you have to let your attitude and mind keep you going. An energetic crowd and lots of buzz really helped!

Delhi was different. The party started after you got your bottle of water (much needed because they ran out in the second half of the race on many stations), biscuits and medal ie. when the race was over. There was a DJ playing Bhangra music and lots of people dancing. It was more like a victory dance (mostly supporters who came to receive their friends and family who were running, and also to enjoy the "ronak mela"). Not quite useful to actual runners especially in 29 degree Delhi weather.  For those of us who finished (there were many who couldn't), we were cowering in the shady spots trying to rehydrate and wondering where these cheerleaders were while we were running and needed a little boost!

2 marathons. Same distance. Same country. Completely different experiences and reactions. After the Delhi Marathon, I didn't run for weeks and told myself this was the first and last one I would do. After Mumbai, I signed up for my next one within days and have already started training again. 

Think about 2 companies who market the same thing. What differentiates them enough to make you go back? I propose that its when marketing doesn't feel like an interruption, but feels like a "service" (A notion that Yu Chun Lee, the founder of Unica, often talks about).  Marketing that "feels like a service" makes you want to go back for more, makes you more willing to offer your time and information to the brand because you know that the brand will use these to improve your client experience. Its a brand that executes the 3 imperatives of Smarter marketing:
  • Understands you as an individual (offering you a jalebi at the point that you need it)
  • Creates a system of engagement to create value at every touch point (like the cheerleaders and pacers that keep you going throughout the race) 
  • Where every employee/brand ambassador you interact with gives you a consistent and authentic brand experience (whether it be a Mumbai Marathon volunteer who offered you water or a South Mumbai aunty ready for you with muscle spray - they all represent the Mumbai Marathon brand to me)
As marketeers, we know the cost of acquiring vs. retaining a customer. Yet, in a growing market like India, many marketeers are still focused on acquisition campaigns without really thinking through the client experience they have to deliver to retain those clients and derive lifetime customer value.

If you have examples of exceptional client experience by delivering marketing as a service? Please share!


  1. I like to connect patterns & the way you've connected both Marathons to marketing as a 'service' experience is simply fab!

  2. great narrative. look forward to more. cheers!

  3. Enjoyed reading the concept of "Marketing as a service". At the end of the day it boils down to how well you understand your customer

  4. Interesting that you used the word interruptive & then smarter marketing. I would like to put out my neck here and say that keeping that in mind "native advertising" is the future. Infact, I'm in the process of writing a post about it, will share when through.

  5. Your description of the marathon (especially the one in Delhi) was very entertaining coupled with the way you have brought out the analogy makes it a very enjoyable read.

    From my personal experience, client experience is the one of the most important factors that allows a brand/company to triumph over, say someone who plays on the price (I also rate the 'ease of availability' factor highly). There will be multiple instances in our everyday life where we go to certain shops, restaurants etc. even though they are not the best priced just for the experience.