Welcome to the second year of our North Face 100 survey. In a change from last year, we’ve branched the survey out somewhat to give us some deeper thoughts and analysis not just about the brands you chose, but what you also think of the race and the experience.
Thanks to every one that took part in the survey, we really appreciate you taking the time to answer those 10 questions for us. In total, 125 of you put your thoughts to paper, (or rather computer screen!) to tell us what you wear, what you did, what you want to do and also, what makes the event for you too.
As part of delivering the results, we thought we’d do it in two parts. This first edition is about the brands. Who is doing it well and what you as a consumer of their products should expect from the them. In the second part we’ll delve deeper into your insights about the race and your own experiences.
As we left the option open to you to review the results as you went along, some of the results won’t be a surprise to you, but hopefully this report will provide everyone with some deeper commentary and insights. As the biggest single entrant ultra marathon race in Australia, The North Face 100 is the benchmark race where we get to see what people are up to and what gear you decide to use. We feel it gives one of the best indications as to where the trail and ultra running community with it’s purchasing, but we appreciate it’s not the definitive test either!
To start with we’ll give you a flavour of the results and benchmark them to last year, then we’ll go into some deeper analysis as to why some brands do well and others don’t.
The Results – Backpacks, Shoes and Grub
As with last year, it comes as no surprise to see Salomon leading the way in both the shoe and backpack departments. In the shoe category, Salomon took exactly one third of the vote (33%) which is up 1% on their score from 2012.
Perhaps the biggest move up this year was the rise of Inov8, claiming nearly a quarter of the vote (23%), which is a massive rise of 13% on last year’s survey where they had 10% of the vote.
Brooks came in third with 9% and then everyone’s favourite platform shoes, Hokas claiming fourth just behind with 8% of the vote. Funnily enough, Brooks and Hoka scored exactly the same as they did in 2012.
North Face has seen their share go down from 7% in 2012 to just 4% in 2013 – which is surprising as we feel that their range of shoes this year far exceeds what was on offer last year. Maybe they were launched a little too late to make an impact on this year’s race. We think we’ll see a different story for them in 2014. Likewise, Asics has dropped from 9% in 2012 down to 5% in 2013.
In the backpack world, Salomon is frankly killing it and it’s so very easy to see why when they have such a quality product. They smashed over two-thirds of the vote with 68% – a gain of 7% on last year’s vote where they had 61% of the share.
Ultimate Direction has made big moves this year coming in second with 7% from only 1% last year. While UltrAspire comes in third with 6%, doubling their share from last year. Disappointing for North Face, is that just 4% of entrants wore their packs, down from 6% in 2012.
In the food stakes, Hammer continued its dominance, smashing it in similar style to Salomon with 34% of the vote. Last year they were in single figures, with ‘real food’ taking the title as the choice of most entrants. This year, ‘real food’ scored 15% or the vote, exactly the same as last year, then Gu with 13% and Endura with 10%. Again the results of the final two are uncanny in that they bear nearly exactly the same resemblance to their scores from last year with 13% and 9% respectively in 2012.
So those are the results of the gear questions, but what does this tell us? Well this year we decided that we’d try to find out why you’d chosen your respective brands to go a little deeper. Coming out in first place was the fact that you’d bought your chosen gear based upon reading a review (35%), followed by27% for ‘other’. Judging by the comments and anecdotal feedback we’ve received, the one option we seem to have left off the menu was the fact that you chose your brand based upon the fact that it’s a brand you’ve always used in the past, which of course makes perfect sense. In third position with 22% of the vote was the fact that you were recommended your shoes or backpack by a friend.
Quite tellingly, not one person said they bought their choice of gear having seen an advert.
But let’s go a bit deeper and look at what the implications are for some of the brands. Importantly though we wanted to give you our readers an insight into what this means and what you should expect from brands who seek to get you to part with your hard-earned cash.
As we know, Salomon were really the first brand to start actively marketing to the trail and ultra community here in Australia just over two years ago. We often hear of Salomon bias in this market, but we hope that the following analysis provides you with some rationale as to why they do so well.
Firstly, they challenge the traditional methods that most marketing managers at the brands would commonly use, with social media being a prime example. They’re also dominating for another simple reason. They have deployed a local marketing team that invests in the running community and they are easy to deal with. Other brands see trail running as an opportunity to make a quick buck by appointing a distributor to shift boxes with zero effort made towards marketing to and investing into the community. They won’t be around in the long term.
While we generally buy something because we think it’s a great bit of kit, secondary factors include the fact that we buy ‘into’ the brand and what we think it stands for – cue marketing investment. We want an experience and to feel part of something. This is essentially what the big red machine from France has done to give them such a dominant position here in Australia. The likes of North Face have just started out on this journey, but at a top level there are a few things that when combined will give the brands the edge in the market. Naturally there are many other factors, but they’re too boring to go into now, so to keep it easy and interesting we’ve gone for three of the big ones.
You need a great product
Sounds simple, yet there’s a lot of crap out there. One of the best ways to get a great product is to have a raft of quality athletes from around the world feed into that process so that they can use that gear and win races. Without a great product, it’s pretty hard to get anywhere in this market and this is where unfortunately some of the brands fall down in a big way. Trail and ultra running is on a boom right now, but to simply enter the market with a product that is below par and to think it will just sell, patronises the everyday man or woman looking to part with their cash.
Kilian wins races. Kilian designs gear for Salomon and wears it in races that he wins. We all have dreams of winning races like Kilian. So if we wear that gear, we’ll be better runners. Granted, we’re being a little flippant here and slightly far-fetched, but that’s the kind of aura that has been created in trail running. A winner’s mentality, through an amazing experience with high quality gear.
This is also where the likes of Hammer feature strongly. They have a great product that works. It’s really simple and much of what Hammer does and why it has such a strong showing in our survey is because of this. But it’s no use just having a great product, you need a great ambassador(s) too…
There’s a right way and a wrong way to go about this.
The right way is to bring together a collective group of talented runners that not only win races, but who also have a genuine approach to speaking to us as a community of trail runners. Hammer Nutrition has done this pretty well not just in trail running but across a number of different sports. The likes of North Face and Inov8 are making inroads as well with some quality athletes lined up in their stable here locally. But this alone won’t generate success in the long term. They might be able to take advantage of a booming market now, but those brands that want to be in it for the long term will need to invest further in the way of dedicated local teams and marketing efforts.
The wrong way to go about your brand ambassador program, is to not vet athletes properly, let them loose on social media and watch them constantly exclaim with glee how great a product is, all while people are turning off and ignoring Facebook feeds. Why? Because its not genuine or authentic. The scary thing is that brands don’t even know this is happening. They don’t know how to measure it, and whats more they don’t understand how to implement a feedback mechanism to get to grips with the negative effects it could be having.
Social media is probably the main tool that we as potential purchasers of products use to get our information and to feedback our thoughts. This is where the further investment into marketing and having a local team on the ground pays dividends for the brands that do ‘get it’, over those that simply shift boxes and aim to make a quick buck.
Embracing social media and the influence of YOU!
As our survey said, advertising has very little influence on the purchasing decision. Take a look at the survey results again – 0%. Sure, some may use it as a brand awareness thing, but the spend is probably quite disproportionate to other means of reaching us as consumers of their products.
This is quite a pertinent topic for Ultra168. We don’t accept advertising simply because we believe in a model of no outside influence. The only people we answer to are our readers. By putting the reader first, it means that we have to work with brands and companies to create genuine and interesting stories that appeal to you – now you can see why we like working with brands that invest in the local market and make the effort. It’s not rocket science. If we don’t find interesting stories, then you won’t read us anymore.
The brands using social media well are the ones having genuine conversations with us and making great content that sells an experience. Social media is not another advertising platform to shove product down our throats. It’s a chance for brands to interact and to let us think, feel and touch the product in a way that traditional marketing hasn’t done before. We all want to be able to help influence and redefine products, and the brands and companies that listen and do so in a genuine and authentic way will be the ones who win.
Social media is also about the power of YOU and what you think. Why? Take a look at what influences people must when it comes to buying a new product – they either read a review or it was recommended by a friend. Social media is the perfect platform for this and this is why Salomon have done so well over the last few years.You only have to look at the quality high-end videos they produce to understand this. They’re not about product, they’re about showing us an experience and buying into a brand. You can take it with a pinch of salt or not buy into it at all, but the effort is there.
We hope this report gives you a little more than just some plain results from the survey. We’ve delved deeper into the brand and marketing side of things because we believe it’s an important area for people to know about and to consider as the community matures. Stay tuned for part two of our report which goes into more of your thoughts about the race.
*This report was produced entirely independently of The North Face 100, The North Face brand and indeed any other brand mentioned in this write-up. The opinions and commentary are made based entirely upon the observations of Ultra168 both in our capacity as trail running commentators, but as marketing and communications specialists in our normal, working everyday lives outside of the operation of this website.