What can brands learn from the parkrun phenomenon?

For those of you that know me, you’d be aware that I’ve been a keen runner for many years. Long have I forgone a weekend sleep in to instead get out and pound the pavement for 15k’s or so.

For the past few years, I’ve also been a dedicated devotee of the whole parkrun phenomenon. Ok, I’ll admit it up front that this article does come with a certain degree of personal bias.

So, what is parkrun to the uninitiated? It is a free, timed 5km run/jog/walk held at 8.00 each Saturday morning at various locations, run entirely by volunteers. It is a pretty simple concept. Yet, so much of the success around parkrun lies in this simplicity.

It all began back in 2004 when 13 runners gathered at a chilly London park for a 5 km run. Fast forward 14 years and just check out these latest stats.

  • Number of countries: 22
  • Number of worldwide events: 213,979
  • Number of runners: 2,912,609
  • Number of locations: 1,451
  • Number of runs: 34,259,260
  • Total Distance: 166,738,961 km
  • Total Run Time: 1,959yrs 83days 0hrs 39mins 29secs
  • Biggest attendance at one run: 2,526

Source: Wikipedia

In Australia alone, there are now 289 different parkruns held each and every Saturday morning. My local parkrun began 3 years ago with 46 participants. Now, around 300 turn up every week to run or walk in a motivating and social environment. After each event, social media goes crazy with positive stories, connections, photos, etc, etc. That kind of brand advocacy is tough to beat.

As I sit back and take my runners hat off (it’s a bit sweaty after all) and put my marketers hat on, I’ve started to look at some key lessons that brand managers may be able to learn from the whole parkrun phenomenon.

  1. Know your market

At the end of the day, nothing beats really knowing your customers, and focusing your entire business plan and brand strategy around them. In the case of parkrun, the head honchos are all keen runners and passionate about encouraging more people to discover the joys of running.

  1. Support those at the coal face.

Supporting the people out on the front line that are delivering your brand messages (i.e. the human face of the brand) is vital when it comes to building and maintaining brand equity.

One thing parkrun HQ does very well is provide fantastic support to the local volunteer run directors. Whether it’s setting up a new event, dealing with legal concerns, obtaining signage or providing IT support, help is never far away.

  1. Keep it simple

I’ve always been a fan of simplicity in brand messages, as I believe that it only serves to strengthen the brand.

From day one, parkrun has been free, timed, 5km and held every Saturday morning, run entirely by volunteers. I know that I can turn up at any parkrun on the planet and know exactly what to expect. While many businesses going through a growth phase are tempted to diversify into all kinds of different areas (and many rightly so), the central core of parkrun has remained the same and remains consistently simple.

  1. User friendly interface

It doesn’t matter how sophisticated your IT systems are, if they’re not delivering what your users want in an easy to use and reliable way, then you’re missing the mark.

I’m no techy, so I won’t begin to understand how the parkrun IT system works behind the scenes, although I do know how simple and informative it is for the user. I simply bring my personalised barcode to parkrun, have it scanned and within a couple of hours (while I’m still on my parkrun high) I know that I’ll receive an email with my time and position with a link through to see all the stats for myself and other runners. From a users perspective, it’s simple and works well.

I’m sure there are plenty more lessons that a brand manager can learn from parkrun. These are just a few that I’ve been pondering. If you have any other thoughts, ideas, disagreements, etc, please comment below.

So, if you’re ever stuck for something to do on a Saturday morning, I whole heartedly encourage you to register at parkrun.com.au, find your local event and then come on down to experience what all the fuss is about. I may just see you out on the track one of these days.

P.S – the lower case ‘p’ in parkrun is correct. It’s not a typo 🙂


Author: Cameron McIver

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