Tough Mudder, the company behind the international series of grueling obstacle courses, has enrolled more than a million challengers in its events. While the teamwork-oriented series has an immediate appeal to many demographics, the social media and internet marketing presence the business has built has driven its popularity to extraordinary heights.
With the emergence of competitors like the Warrior Dash and Spartan Race, as well as the original Tough Guy competition, the endurance race market has seen a rapid buildup of competition since 2010. But through a combination of brilliant content marketing, necessary exclusivity, philanthropy, and established internet business processes, Tough Mudder remains a formidable presence.
Tough Mudder is built on the enthusiasm, and perhaps masochism, of its participants. These people are willing to dive into ice baths and freezing ponds, crawl through drainage pipes and trenches, and suffer electric shocks, and strangest of all, willing to pay for it. But this enthusiasm has also contributed to a massive social media presence, which Tough Mudder has brilliantly built out. The result is a Facebook page with over 4 million followers. Perhaps most tellingly, the page is categorized as a community rather than as an event or business.
This massive following has not been dormant, either. Early on in its online presence, Tough Mudder social media prompts resulted in a slew of user-contributed videos for training regimens. Now those videos have developed into staff-produced highlight reels and challenges, as well as co-branded sponsorships like this one with Under Armour. The production value of these clips is very impressive, a far cry from the original user-generated content.
Another fantastic marketing move is the tremendous number of participant photos Tough Mudder publishes in its albums. There’s nothing like seeing professional-grade photos of yourself slogging through an athletic event, and each Facebook user who tags his or herself and shares the image in kind extends Tough Mudder’s social reach. Benign narcissism is a powerful tool on social media.
The written content on the Tough Mudder blog is also a force to be reckoned with. A recent post, Six Real-Life Badasses That Make Chuck Norris Look Like Shirley Temple, is just the right combination of a BuzzFeed post, a Cracked.com article, and Badass of the Week. With a demographics that appear to skew 70% male and an average age of 29, Tough Mudder has found the right angle for its content. Other posts include similar click-inducing material as well as obstacle reveals and course updates.
There’s a salesmanship aspect to the blog too. A good example is a recent post featuring a Q&A with a Garmin employee; the company’s products are featured for sale on the Tough Mudder site. It’s a great two-pronged approached to both boost Garmin’s profile and increase product sales through the Mudder store.
Many sites prompt visitors with pop-ups containing email signups and other offers. Others, and this is more prevalent in the software as a service industry, provide white papers or other research-laden PDFs and presentations in exchange. Tough Mudder has adopted both of these models. Exiting pages leads to beautiful graphic-heavy pop-ups powered by Bounce Exchange, and the blog promotes a banner across the bottom of the page with a pre-Mudder training guide. The language is on point too, challenging those without the courage to continue. These graphic elements are both proven tactics for accumulating email addresses, and in tandem with its social media presence, Tough Mudder covers a lot of ground.
While the Tough Mudder is a money making endeavor, it is also a tremendous supporter of the Wounded Warrior Project, an organization that aids wounded military veterans. It’s a great way to support veterans, and the military obstacle course nature of the Tough Mudder makes it a good fit for a the cause. It also helps broaden the scope of the Mudder even further, lending exposure to military families and similar causes, all in support of a worthy endeavor.
Exclusivity has always played a role in the Tough Mudder. It is, after all, an event where the only goal is to finish. Upon completion the participants receive a trademark orange headband, which is the only real trophy (along with bragging rights, a t-shirt, and often a free beer). Those who complete the event are therefore already a special group. But signing up for the Tough Mudder can also be a challenge; with thousands of participants and a constantly-moving tour, space is limited for each event. The fees are significant too, typically well over $100. But the Tough Mudder team has added another level of participant in the form of the Mudder Legion. Legionnaires are those competitors who have finished at least two Mudder events, and the title itself is great incentive to become a repeat customer. Legionnaires even have their own section on the Tough Mudder website.
On top of all the aforementioned offerings, Tough Mudder has built sponsorships with brands like Wheaties, Dos Equis, and even the U.S. Army. In addition to the Garmin products, it operates a store full of Tough Mudder paraphernalia and even training gear. Corporate teams are also encouraged. The team at Tough Mudder has left no stone unturned in building out its business, melding all the best features of a business with a strong internet marketing presence and a community dedicated to challenging itself again and again.