Ironman Kona and Analytics

  |  October 20, 2009   |  Comments

Three things that online marketers can learn from this grueling competition.

Last week I was lucky enough to be able to be in Kona, Hawaii, to cheer my brother on in the Ironman World Championship. These amazing athletes swim 2.4 miles, cycle 112 miles, and then run 26.2 miles all in heat and wind above 95 degrees the entire time. While I was on vacation I'm still always looking for a deeper understand of things by understanding the numbers behind them. A few interesting things jumped out at me that we can all consider in the marketing world -- even if none of us would attempt an Ironman triathlon (or any one of the three parts of the competition).

Know Yourself

These elite athletes know what it takes to push their body. They know exactly how much they need to do for each event, amount of time, heart rate, etc., to get to where they need to be to be in race shape. In the days leading up to the event they know how many miles to run four days before the race. On race day they know their exact calorie intake for every hour based on what they are going to burn. Most of them train and compete with combination heart rate monitors and GPS units so they know the speed they are going, how much further they need to go, and how hard their body is working -- they continually strive to balance the challenge of pushing hard enough to get a good time, but not so hard that they run out of gas too early. Online marketers face a similar balancing act as they weigh issues such as: What are your product/companies strengths? What do you need to do to increase your market share? How can you increase your success in SEO (define) to improve your overall performance?

Set Goals

Everyone from the winner to the person who finished the race 12 seconds before the 17-hour cutoff had goals and expectations for how they wanted to do in each of the race's three legs. They trained based on those goals, but also knew that there were outside conditions that could potentially throw them off. In a triathlon it can be heat, wind, flat tire, dehydration, etc. In the marketing world it might be financial conditions, competitive factors, bad reviews, etc. You must set goals and aim for what you want to do while at the same time be ready to react when things don't go well. A number of athletes got flat tires and had to change them and try to catch up. A number of them really struggled with high winds they weren't expecting on the bike route. Just like on the Web some will deal well with adversity and tune their strategy to be successful; others will ignore what is happening and just try to keep going -- in the business world and in the ironman competition this often doesn't end in an optimal fashion.

Understand the Importance of Relativity

This refers to understanding your performance against others. I touched on this here where I discussed the importance of looking at competitive data. For instance, you might be thrilled to see that site traffic has been increasing 10 percent per quarter for the last three quarters and your conversion rate is staying the same. But when you look at your top five competitors' online performance, you find that they have been attracting visitors at a faster rate than your site. Now you went from feeling great about your growth to realizing that you're missing out on a significant growth opportunity. In the Ironman race this is very evident. In the days leading up to the event Craig Alexander, defending champion, was overheard saying that as long as he was within 15 minutes of the leader going into the marathon (the third leg of the race), he felt he had a good shot at winning. He had speed and time targets, but also knew that elements (wind, sun, etc.) would impact each athlete's time. Some years are easier and some years are harder for the entire field. Just like some holiday seasons are better for sales for the retail industry and others are really tough. Sure enough coming off of the bike Alexander trailed the leader Chris Lieto by 12 minutes, 30 seconds. Alexander caught Lieto with a few miles to go and ended up winning the race with a margin of about 2 minutes, 30 seconds of Lieto. There is the 15 minutes that he forecasted that he knew he could make up to be successful. In corporate America we all want to strive to do the best that we can, but it is also important to understand our competition and what we need to do to be in place to win. By keeping an eye on your competitors, understanding their strengths, weaknesses, etc., you can determine a strategy to maximize your success.

The Finish Line

It was truly amazing to witness the incredible accomplishment that each and every one of the 1,800 finishers conquered that day. None of them would have been there without setting goals, working toward those goals, and tuning things as challenges came up. Know yourself, know your competition, measure your progress, and you can accomplish things you never thought possible. On a personal note, I am very proud that my little brother was able to qualify, compete, and finish one of the toughest events (physically and mentally) and our family was there to congratulate him at the finish line! Great job Aaron Burby!

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jason Burby

As President of the Americas at POSSIBLE, Jason is responsible for leading the long-term stability and growth of the region. With more than 20 years experience in digital strategy, he is a long-time advocate of using data to inform digital strategies to help clients attract, convert, and retain customers. Jason supports POSSIBLE's clients and employees in driving new engagements and delivering great work that works. He is the co-author of Actionable Web Analytics: Using Data to Make Smart Business Decisions.

Follow him on Twitter @JasonBurby.

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