Ironman’s Brand Success…Ideas For Your Events

In November, my wife completed her fifth Ironman triathlon and I completed my third. To get it out of the way, yes, she beat me by about five minutes. I have to add that I beat her by five minutes last year.  So next year, game on girl!

Next year? Why another 2.4-mile ocean swim, 112-mile bike ride and 26.2-mile run? Because we can and we do and, yes, it’s kind of fun.

(You can read my complete race report at if you want to find out more about our Ironman journey and addiction.)

 If you follow my writing I usually write about what Ironman has done right and wrong because Ironman is such a recognizable brand.

When we wear our Ironman clothes or people see my wife’s “M-Dot” tattoo (their logo), complete strangers will come up and start a conversation about Ironman.

Here are the unusual twists I learned about the creation of Ironman. Ironman was basically created when six friends got together and were discussing whether a swimmer, cyclist or runner was the best enduring athlete. The event resulted from a friendly bet.

Following the second year of the event, organizers considered turning the race into a relay with a specialist for each event. But a Sports Illustrated writer who happened to be in the area to see the race the year before had written an article about the quirky torture fest, leading to exponential growth the following year. No relay.

Twenty-seven years later, Ironman has continued to adapt to athletes’ needs by adding the more manageable half-Ironman distance 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike, and 13.1-mile run to its arsenal. The full Ironman is a total of 140.6 miles, so Ironman has copyrighted the number “70.3” to represent the distance of the half-Ironman distance.

Ten years ago, there were about six Ironman races held throughout the year. Now, there is a 70.3 or an Ironman race virtually every weekend (sometimes two). Have they grown too fast? Perhaps.

Ironman took over a Miami 70.3 only briefly before the race date, and it was not very well organized. But organizers did offer disappointed athletes the compensation of another race entry into the first Ironman New York City last year to much hoopla. After hearing many complaints about a variety of things, organizers closed re-entry and are still considering whether it could be modified enough for an Ironman-quality event to be offered.

Ironman uses social media extraordinarily well. Facebook discussions, Twitter blasts and especially webcasts of each event keep Ironman fans and hopefuls always interested and always motivated.

Ironman also rode the Lance Armstrong roller coaster, initially allowing Armstrong the opportunity to compete and qualify for the big Ironman Hawaii World Championship, which is the Big Kahuna of Ironman and the one you see broadcast on TV. Later, organizers changed their minds and denied him participation. Triathlon fans were in a great uproar! Then the roof fell in on the Armstrong castle and the triathlon fans quieted down.

When there are downs with Ironman, organizers seem to be open to criticism, venting and critique and often try to make good on what went bad. That is something we all can learn from in organizing sports events.

Why do they have a brand that people want to have tattooed on their own skin forever? They picked a name and rode with it.

At one point, organizers wanted to begin calling female athletes “Ironwomen.” But when the women said, “No, we completed the same course with the same challenge as the men, we want to be an Ironman, too,” that idea was nixed.

In developing merchandise, Ironman acknowledges family and friends of the athletes. There are support crew T-shirts as well as gear for “Ironmates.” Think about that for your next event what kind of swag do you have for the families that make them also want to return to your event next year?

Finally, Ironman has a great respect for every participant. The party for the last competitor and even all the ones who finish within the last hour of the 17-hour allotment is incredible.

Do you make your athletes feel they have something to be proud of just by making it to your event? You could sprinkle your event with signs that say something like, “99% Of The Population Chose To Sleep In This Morning. Congratulations On Making The Commitment To Be Part Of The 1% Daring To Make Something Happen!”

So, create a fun name and logo for your event. Use social media by having your flip cam or video on your phone and get ready to post to “You Tube,” remember something goes viral every week. Why not let it be a great or funny play from your event? Tag your event in it and BOOM! Watch your it take off.

If six crazy people could turn a friendly bet into an event with the staying power of Ironman, I’ll bet you could too.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Paul, a licensed psychotherapist, competes in Ironman triathlons with his wife, Sherrie. As a former stand-up comic, Paul knows one way to get people unstuck is to get them to lighten up, laugh, and live!