Reimagining Triathlon: A Campaign to Reposition a Brand
2 Nov, 2020By: Jacqueline McCook
How USA Triathlon's New Initiative is Working, and What Other Events Can Learn
In late 2019, we began planning a brand repositioning campaign — not for USA Triathlon as a governing body, but for the brand of “triathlon” as a whole. Simply put, we wanted to do a better job of communicating that triathlon is for everyone: all ages, abilities, cultures, races and ethnicities, genders and sexual orientations, socioeconomic and sport backgrounds.
We knew we had to communicate that while triathlon can be challenging, it is also beginner-friendly, inclusive and accessible. We wanted to debunk the most common preconceived notions about the sport and address its challenges head-on.
The Beginnings of “The Power Within” Campaign
Many people hear the word “triathlon” and think of races that involve ridiculous distances and take all day to complete. There’s a perception that you have to have superior fitness, unlimited time and energy to train and thousands of dollars to spend on gear and equipment. There’s also a belief that if you don’t already know how to swim, you’ll never be able to finish that leg of a triathlon.
We wanted to tap into what made triathlon great and kept people involved. Extensive research and insights from our constituents revealed eight attributes (truths) for our sport:
• Achieving greatness
• Feeling alive
• Life imitating sport
• Embracing the journey
We used these as guideposts to help us streamline our messaging, and we identified “Power Within” as the unifying concept. Then we began asking our community to share how triathlon helps them access their own Power Within — from overcoming personal barriers to achieving a personal best to encouraging others to reach their untapped potential.
We mentioned earlier the misconceptions surrounding triathlon. The Power Within campaign addresses all of those misconceptions by showcasing the accessible, attainable and inclusive qualities of the sport. This includes producing and sharing beginner-friendly resources for aspiring triathletes to get involved in the sport. (We added the term “Access” to our terminology to ensure we are specifically keeping in mind athletes of all physical and mental abilities, as well as other barriers to entry related to access — social, cultural, economic, etc.)
At the same time, we share firsthand accounts from our existing USA Triathlon community — including stories about how current athletes got into the sport, why they love it and how multisport has helped them tap into their individual Power Within in unique ways.
Of course, the sport can be challenging, and it can require dedication and hard work — but it can also be about the fun and the variety of a swim, a bike and a run! Triathlon is an incredibly welcoming and beginner-friendly sport and can lead to profound personal growth beyond the physical accomplishment of mixing up your routine or completing a race. These are the elements of multisport that we wanted to highlight through our Power Within marketing and communications efforts.
The campaign serves to empower triathletes of every level to be advocates for the sport by sharing their stories — from the relatable and relevant journeys so many athletes undertake, to the exceptional accomplishments that inspire entire communities. Power Within showcases the accessible, inclusive, attainable and participatory qualities of multisport in an effort to both celebrate its current participants and encourage aspiring multisport athletes to take part.
Pushing Out the Message
A key element of the campaign is asking our community to share their #PowerWithin statements — a public declaration of triathlon’s unique contribution to their lives — by filling out a custom form at ourpowerwithin.org. We’re now in the process of sharing these statements on social media, on our website, usatriathlon.org, and in the quarterly USA Triathlon Magazine as a means to celebrate the virtues of multisport and highlight the strength of individual athletes facing unique challenges during COVID-19.
We are also encouraging members of the multisport community to participate in the Power Within Virtual Tri Across America presented by Toyota, a team-based challenge that began Oct. 15 and runs through Nov. 29. This six-week team challenge encourages athletes to share their love of the outdoors while collectively swimming seven miles, biking 2,400 miles and running 905 miles. The event is free to participate, and an optional $45 donation to the USA Triathlon Foundation will support grassroots youth multisport programming.
Those who donate will receive a finisher’s medal and a copy of “Let Them Play: A Triathlon Across America,” a documentary about former MLB star Eric Byrnes’ 2018 Triathlon Across America to raise funds and awareness for youth sports. It’s a great event for beginners to try their hand at multisport, as each team member can contribute as many miles as they wish to the total, and those miles can take the form of swimming, biking or running.
Athletes can join at any point during the six-week challenge and can create their own team or join one of many existing teams — including eight open teams captained by members of the U.S. National Team and Toyota U.S. Paratriathlon National Team.
We ask individuals to learn more and register by visiting the website, virtual-tri.com. We also encourage athletes to tune into “Power Hour,” a weekly workout held on the Zwift virtual platform every Wednesday at 4 p.m. MT led by a USA Triathlon Certified Coach.
The Impact of COVID-19
We were getting ready to launch Power Within in mid-March of 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic suddenly upended all of our lives. We took several months to reassess and think about how we could incorporate the challenges of the pandemic while retaining the original intent of the campaign.
The pandemic had a profound impact on USA Triathlon and the entire endurance sports community, and it’s difficult to tell where we would be in terms of participation right now if the racing calendar for 2020 hadn’t been so heavily impacted. In 2019, we saw an increase in multisport participation for the first time in several years. We hope to keep that positive momentum going as we begin safely returning to races this fall and especially in 2021.
Ultimately, it was a natural fit to launch Power Within in 2020, because with the majority of races canceled or postponed, avid triathletes were being challenged to think about why they swim, bike and run beyond the accomplishment of racing. Many aspiring triathletes, meanwhile, used the summer of 2020 to discover new activities such as biking and running.
One thing COVID-19 did give people was more downtime and flexibility, as the lack of options for indoor gatherings led to a surge in interest in outdoor activities. Bike sales increased nationwide and running and walking became popular distractions. Aspiring triathletes had the chance to try their hand at the sport through virtual events like the USA Duathlon Virtual Run-Bike-Run Presented by TOWER26, and the USA Triathlon Power Within Virtual Tri Across America Presented by Toyota.
The growing popularity of virtual races enabled newbies to try their hand at multisport from the comfort of their own homes and neighborhoods, on their own time. Power Within uses community-driven storytelling to highlight the physical and emotional benefits of triathlon, as well as the strength of individual athletes facing unique challenges during COVID-19.
The Response to Date
We’ve seen a great response so far, with more than 200 people submitting Power Within statements and more than 170 teams to date participating in the Power Within Virtual Tri Across America. From a bigger-picture perspective, we’ve had a lot of people across the multisport community — from beginner to advanced athletes, coaches, race directors, club leaders — reach out to us to let us know how much they appreciate and support the brand repositioning.
Every triathlete has a story about how they got started in the sport, and we hear some of the same themes repeatedly — often about feeling intimidated, afraid or embarrassed at their first race. Usually, it just takes one person to offer a smile and some words of advice, or to stay and cheer the last athletes across the finish line, and those fears and reservations fall away.
Our goal is to inspire our entire community to be supportive— so that everyone’s first triathlon experience can be welcoming and encouraging, which will result in a more positive and sustainable multisport community.
In addition to the Virtual Tri Across America, we’ll continue to share the many Power Within statements we’ve received from the multisport community over the last several months. We’re also highlighting one athlete per week on our social channels in a series called “Incredible Achievements, Every Day,” presented by Toyota. This series highlights athletes who were qualified to compete at the canceled 2020 Toyota USA Triathlon Age Group National Championships, and since they were unable to race at Nationals, have instead accomplished other meaningful feats in 2020.
The overall brand repositioning is ongoing, and we have some additional Power Within-themed pushes in the works that we’ll unveil in 2021!
The Power Within campaign is designed to reposition the sport of triathlon, to galvanize the current multisport community and to inspire new audiences to engage. We want to attract fitness enthusiasts of all kinds to our sport, from the 61 million people who work out at fitness centers each year to the 17 million people who participate in running events annually.
We want to change the perception of the sport from one that is impossible to all but an elite few, to one that is attainable by all. Right now, we want to encourage triathletes nationwide to submit their Power Within statements at ourpowerwithin.org, and we also want to continue to encourage participation in the Power Within Virtual Triathlon Across America.
The Take-Away from this Campaign for Other Events and Sports
It would serve every organization and governing body well to realize that unless a sport is positioned as attainable and accessible to all, it will fail to attract new athletes. Opportunities to reach untapped audiences will be missed, which ultimately hurts the sport’s long-term growth and sustainability at every level.
It’s important to realize that each participant in a sport or event has different goals and motivations, and the way organizations market and communicate to their audience makes a huge difference in retaining and attracting those participants. In triathlon, for example — which has a large age-group adult population as well as a strong youth and collegiate system — everyone’s starting point is different.
Every sport in the world has unique barriers to entry that will keep potential participants away if not addressed, and some sports have higher barriers than others. In triathlon, some of our most common barriers to entry are a lack of knowledge about the sport in general (especially a perception that the sport is elite and unattainable to beginners); a lack of ability to swim or fear of the swim; perception of a financial barrier; and an historic lack of diversity.
Many sports in the Olympic and Paralympic Movement also see these same barriers, especially sports that need specialized equipment and facilities to participate, and niche sports that are lesser known by the general public outside of the Olympics. Through our brand repositioning, we are putting beginner-friendly content and resources front-and-center — so that newbies can learn the basics of how and where to train; how to find a club or coach; where to access affordable gear; and what steps to take on race day to have a rewarding experience.
Creating a welcoming, sustainable brand was our goal. We look forward to pursuing this goal in 2021 and beyond. SDM