Dear Andrew Messick and the IRONMAN marketing team,
We are writing to you as loyal fans of IRONMAN events. We love participating in them, are appreciative of the history, and give you kudos for helping to spread the popularity of triathlon. You are doing a great job organizing top notch events that provide fantastic experiences to the athletes.
We also understand that you want to bring new people to the sport and create extra revenue sources, such as MDOT branded merchandise. While conceptually this is a good idea, we need to talk about what you are doing. We are very concerned with the lack of care and deliberation with which you are treating your brand. Maybe you are blinded by past successes, or so focused on growth that you no longer see this. In that case, treat this as a friendly reminder of what makes you great.
IRONMAN is rooted in the race on the Big Island, swimming in the ocean, biking and running through lava fields. It was started to see who is the toughest, it was not meant to be easy. This is what made it compelling, and a challenge that attracted many participants. To this day, joining the ranks of proud ironmen is an endeavor that requires extraordinary toughness and commitment.
To this day, joining the ranks of proud ironmen is an endeavor that requires extraordinary toughness and commitment.
This is what makes the IRONMAN brand so powerful. To keep it strong, requires the maintenance of the mystique and the “having to earn it” feel.
You no doubt have investor pressure to grow. However, some things are just not the right things to do for the long-term health of your business. You cannot ignore your early adopters and faithful regulars. They have been loyal to the brand, and like us, feel that the IRONMAN tradition and “badass” character, are starting to slip away. We invite you to look back at the old IRONMAN videos. They are inspiring and make you want to push the boundaries. They give you goose bumps!
Now take a stroll through the IRONMAN merchandise section on your website or at any event. What were you thinking, when you were producing an oven mitt with an MDOT symbol? What about a wooden cutting board for vegetables with a massive IRONMAN symbol? Who buys a 14K gold ring for $2,355? Please, buy yourself a good power meter instead.
Even if you sold one of these, that’s not the point. You just shouldn’t do it. You are the brand stewards. You shape and protect what the brand stands for. It is an aspiration to be like the past great ironmen, Mark Allen, Dave Scott, and many others. The connection with them should be through hard training and finishing the race. It should not be about thinking whether to put the M-DOT wine stopper in a bottle of red or white.
Please stop and reconsider where you are going. Sometimes in life, you just have to say “OK – we kind of got it wrong there and we need to stop”. We suggest you do this with the merchandise business. You should instead re-focus on your core and what you do best – organizing great endurance events. We recommend that you cultivate the character of these events. You should go back to your roots and to the style that you had in the past. Get inspiration from other brands that protect their identities: Apple, Lego and Rolex. They are coherent and seek to evoke consistent emotions. They talk to a specific audience, with a specific voice, and offer products to this audience.
We remain your fans. However, you need to get back your focus. Brands can stretch, but go too far and they may never spring back to their original shape. Even worse, at some point they will snap.
Brands can stretch, but go too far and they may never spring back to their original shape. Even worse, at some point they will snap.