We’ve come a long way, baby. Did you know that the first female competitor wasn’t allowed in the Boston Marathon until 1971, seventy-four years after the event was born? Now, women account for 57% of running event fields nationwide (including 44% of all marathon finishers and 60% of half marathon finishers). Likewise, women’s participation in triathlon, cycling, and ultra-endurance events continues to grow.
As a race director, are you doing everything you can to market to women? If not, it’s time to up your game. Because not only do women make up half (or more) of your field, they’re also in charge of the majority of spending. In the U.S., women are responsible for an astounding 85% of all consumer purchases. You need to connect with these women, STAT!
But how do you do this successfully? What’s different about marketing to a female audience? In Part I of our series, we shared data that illustrates women’s participation in sports and their purchasing and social media behaviors. Here, we’ll share tips for putting that information to use and reaching women in ways that matter to them.
Who are women today? Consider the massive crowds at recent women’s marches. Think of the women—from little girls to grandmothers—that filled screenings of Wonder Woman. The 2014 #likeagirl ad campaign from Always understood exactly who women are. Doing something “like a girl” means being strong, capable, and empowered. Be sure to lead with respect in your marketing to women, and avoid gender stereotypes. If you question the messaging and imagery in your ads and social posts, test them out on a “female filter” focus group of women friends and family members.
What women wear.
We’re way past “pink it and shrink it.” Sure, plenty of women love pink. Plenty of others love blue, green, red, black, and gray. What women do not love is being expected to wear a size small men’s shirt, slathered in pink to pretty it up. Women care about feeling and looking good in what they wear. If half your field is female, don’t insult them by giving them a men’s or unisex (i.e. also men’s) finisher tee as a reward for all their hard work. The same goes for the women’s apparel sold at your expo and online. If you want it to sell and be worn, make it appealing to the intended audience. Need some inspiration for looks that women will love? Check out women’s-specific endurance sports apparel companies like SOAS Racing, Smash, and Betty Designs.
When it comes to household spending, she wears the pants.
Women control the majority of household spending and financial decisions in American families. Besides marketing to women to ensure their participation in your event, you need to market to them to attract their husbands, boyfriends, and sons, too. If you have a variety of race distances (let’s say a 5K, half marathon, and kids’ fun run), or if you want to attract families versus solo registrants, your job is to convince mom that this is the best event for the family to enjoy. The same goes for the guys’ apparel at your expo. Even though the end user will be male, make sure the apparel is woman-approved, because she’s the one that will pull out the credit card.
Not all women are alike. But take the time to focus on your core audience, and you’ll gain an understanding of what the majority of your women participants relate to. Hone in on the 25-54 age range, which accounts for 72% of female running race participants (a similar percentage is likely reflected in other endurance sports). You learned valuable information about their spending preferences and social media behaviors in Part I of our series. Now, expand your knowledge by gathering a focus group of women who raced your event in the past. Ask what they liked and didn’t like. What was missing? What would inspire more of their friends to do your race, too? Remember, 91% of women say that advertisers don’t understand them. Be the exception and take the time to get to know this vital segment of your event field.
Build relationships with women.
In addition to understanding what the women at your race want, it’s important to create lasting bonds with them. Women tend to form emotional connections with brands. They make buying decisions based on the value of their experiences (whereas research shows that brand recognition or status-based purchases are frequently favored by men). Do the work to make sure that your brand is one that women will want to connect with, and that their experiences at your event are best-in-class. Reach out to local women’s running clubs. Host a women’s night at your local bike shop, with a welcoming, non-intimidating environment. Create and support women’s training groups for your race. Get your sponsors involved, so women can connect with their brands, too. The more community you can build around your event, the more women will respond.
She’s social; you should be, too.
Three fourths of American women internet users are active on social media. Of these, 82% use Facebook—by far the most popular social media platform. If your event lacks a Facebook page, the time to create one is now. But simply having a page is not enough. You need to engage with your audience. Nearly all women interact with brands on social media, and they do so through showing support and taking advantage of special offers. Ask your past female participants to review your race. Offer special deals or family packages through your Facebook page. Make sure your female athletes are aware of any referral promotions; they’re the ones most likely to share and encourage others to join your event. And above all else, respond to comments and questions on your social media pages. No one likes a one-sided conversation. And even if something goes wrong at your event and a woman is initially put off by the experience, she’s likely to give you a second chance to make it right.
Capitalize on the crowd.
If you’re a running race director, women probably already comprise half or more of your participants. Consider offering a women’s-only event to honor your community of female runners. Create a fun, safe, non-intimidating race where women can fully own the field. A half marathon is your best bet, based on the fact that a whopping 60% of half marathon runners are female. But other event distances and disciplines work well, too. Examples of women’s-specific events with significant followings include the Mermaid Series, the Dirty Girl Mud Run, the Skirt Sports 13er, the Zooma Women’s Race Series, and Muderella.
Think big picture.
Think beyond your own start line and stand up as an advocate for women in sport. Share, support, and engage with women’s-specific initiatives such as Women for Tri, or podcasts and media outlets that promote women’s involvement in sport (Endurance Ladies and the Ironwomen Podcast are great examples). Women support other women, and likewise, women support brands that support women’s initiatives.
Feel ready to market to the female masses? Again, connection and community are what matter most. So if you’re respectful, authentic, engaging, and willing to listen, chances are you’ll get it right.