Imagine the scene…
A group of business executives and product developers sat around a table.
“So, what have you got for us then?”, says the highest ranking member of the team.
The product developer shifts nervously in their seat and then proceeds to pop a pot of viscous brown sludge on to the table.
The rest of the executives look at each other, baffled.
“What the bloody hell is that?” asks the boss.
“It’s an extract of yeast that can be used as a spread or added to cooking for flavour”, responds the developer.
“It looks vile!”
“But wait until you taste it.”
Nervously, each person round the table has a taste.
“I love it!” exclaims the first.
“That is disgusting!” says the next, spitting it into a handkerchief.
And so on and so forth. And thus, in my head anyway, Marmite was born. A product that divides opinion so strongly that the clever wizards in their marketing team have run whole campaigns centred around ‘You either love it or you hate it’.
So, why am I waffling on about Marmite?
The above occurred to me when I sat back to reflect on the first two years of our Sunrise City 5K series. A 5K run/walk at 5.30am on a Friday morning through city centres across the UK.
I remember when I first came across the concept, which had been delivered very successfully in Europe. My thought straight away was, would the English go for this?
For the most part, events take place at a weekend when people have more time and they certainly take place at a more civil time of the day. But could something different work?
I sounded out a few well placed colleagues who were involved in getting people moving in some form or another. As per the imagined Marmite conversation above, the initial responses were as follows:
“What a shit idea! That sounds awful. Why would anyone do that when they could just do a ParkRun the next day for free?”
“I can’t see that taking off, but if you manage to get some support I’ll do my best to help.”
“I really like that idea. It’s not something you’d normally expect to see and I can see people doing it before going to work.”
“Love it. When can I sign up!”
None of the above responses have been altered for effect. Four people asked, four very different responses, two on each side of the fence. You love it or you hate it.
Being a natural optimist, with the support of the rest of the team at Perfect Motion, we launched it in Nottingham for the first time. And we were blown away by the response.
As we approach 2019, we will be visiting 8 different cities (Nottingham, Derby, Leicester, Bristol, Birmingham, Peterborough, Sheffield, Coventry) over nine dates. We’re expecting in the region of 7000 people to join us at these events.
Even now though, with all of the stats and evidence in hand, going into a new city leads to the Marmite conversation. I recently confirmed Coventry as the final city for 2019 and so I met with the council there. Their event team really got the concept and were very supportive. At the end of the meeting they asked one of their colleagues, a keen runner, if she would take part. Her response – “That sounds horrendous!”.
We’ve had our own crises of confidence whilst developing the series. The first year numbers in some cities have made them almost not worth doing. But we have stuck with them and are seeing the fruits of our labour. Once people have experienced the joy of the event, they tell other people about it and that word of mouth endorsement has seen entries double year on year in every city.
We are appealing to a very different audience. It’s a non-competitive event and everyone wears the same shirt to run in. We have an 85% female participation and most wouldn’t be considered your ‘normal’ runners. We have all ages, abilities and shapes and sizes taking part and having a great time while doing it.
They have done an event before most people are even awake and still have the rest of their Friday and their weekend to do other things.
We’re thrilled with how it is going and we will continue to slay the naysayers and put our own version of Marmite in front of as many people as we can.
Afterall, you could hate it, but there’s an equal chance that you’ll love it!
*Other yeast extract based products are available.
**The above Marmite development conversation is imagined by me and may well not have happened like that. Although, I hope it did!
*** Personally, I love Marmite!