The Year of the Endurance Woman
2019 is the year of the endurance woman. Women are outnumbering men in the big city marathons, and starting to win ultra events outright. And as more women embrace endurance, we predict great changes for everyone. It’s time for brands to take notice. Fiona Bugler reports.
Earlier this month, breastfeeding mum, Jasmin Paris 35, won the 268-mile Spine Race, beating her male rivals by 15 hours and the course record by over 12 hours. In February, Marianne Heading, 47, completed the Montane Yukon Arctic Ultra in Canada in about 173 hours over several days, winning the race. And yesterday, at the Armagh International Road Races, 2.30 marathoner, Steph Twell, won the 3K event in 8.59 leading a further 49 women running under 10 minutes.
At the first London Marathon back in 1981, fewer than 300 of the 6,300 finishers were women. More than 154,000 women from the UK have applied to run in 2019 and, for the second successive year, there are more female than male first-time marathon runners from the UK (50.2% v 49.8%). This trend is reflected across the board in mass participation endurance events, for example, London’s Winter Run, held in February 2019 say 60 per cent of the 23,000 entrants were women.
Ordinary Women Being Extraordinary
Last year I interviewed 24 ordinary women who were being extraordinary. These women took part in marathons, triathlons, cycling events, swimming challenges. They each had personal stories to share. It was in doing these interviews that I learnt how amazing we are, and how far we’ve come. Read the stories here. #ordinaryextraordinary
2019 is the year of the Endurance Women. Join the movement. #EnduranceWomen2019 #WomenRunEndurance #YearofEndurance
Marketeers take note
It’s clearly time marketers in sport paid attention to women. Women are the driving force when it comes to household spending. If a woman enters an event, it’s likely the family will follow. Women are powerful and the biggest growth market when it comes to consumer spending, too, as reported in this Bloomberg article. Sandra Peat, from the marketing agency, We Are Superhuman, points out, it that it makes complete business sense to target women. ‘It’s really simple, 85 per cent of purchase decisions are made by women, or influenced by women, so they have huge power of the global spend,’ she says.
Research has shown that brands with a conscience and social awareness are more likely to engage customers. And it’s good to see that some are taking a position where women are concerned, for example, in the US in 2018 Clif Bar offered a 20 percent discount on all LUNA Bars sold on the Luna website (http://www.clifbar.com/hub/luna-epd-2018) and promised to match the discount amount with a donation to American Association of University Women (AAUW), up to $100,000. The money raised will help fund salary negotiation resources for women. They’ve combined ‘women’s issues’ with the trend for millennials to expect brands they like to back a cause.[i]
Don’t forget older women
In the broader health, fitness, wellness story, ‘women are passionate about looking after themselves,’ says Peat. ‘Older women have a disposable income — and are interested in investing in this passion.’ In their survey The Invisible Middle, which questioned women over 40, 78 per cent said that they feel they have a strong appetite to explore and have new experiences. And this is reflected in the growth of older women participating in big challenges and ultra races.
Talking to Women
Storytelling is key, and women want to hear about real women doing sport, they want to be able to relate to the product and the brand. Women in sport support each other and work together to find solutions to problems and advertising needs to reflect that.
Sport England’s research, (Go Where Women Are has found that 13 million women say they want to take part in sport, but over six million are inactive. They’ve identified barriers that include over-use of the word ‘sport’ which is associated with aggression, competitiveness and seen as unfeminine. Brands like Under Armour saw that focussing on the traditional alpha female and her spending habits meant they were not capturing and making the most of reaching out to the women sports apparel market, said to be worth $14 billion in the US. They responded with hugely successful ad campaigns, such as I Will What I Want (2014) and Unlike Any which told stories and tapped into emotions about overcoming adversity and empowered women, regardless of race or other barriers.
Solutions to real life problems
‘If you really want to engage women, find a shared problem, and try to solve it,’ says Peat. ‘This Girl Can recognised that women had a fear of being judged and they needed flexibility and encouragement. And many women find that the basics are ignored. For example, sports clothing isn’t designed with them in mind and ignores the need to fit different breast sizes and bums.’
Forward-thinking brands such as Athleta (bought by Gap), are a leading sports brand for women in the US who have gone a long way to find and test clothes that work for women of all shapes and sizes. They are also talking to women in a way that gets results as the brand continues to thrive in a challenging market. Campaigns have included the ‘Power of She’ which is all about inclusion and empowerment of women, as well as the worthy-sounding, ‘Permission to Pause’ and ‘Grateful for’. And of course, they support a cause, Personal Advancement and Career Enhancement (PACE) ‘a programme that provides the women who make our clothes education that helps them build the skills, knowledge and confidence to advance.’
Triathlon needs to catch up
Ironically, triathlon, which in so many ways is a forward-looking sport needs to catch up when it comes to attracting women to take part. Ironman events are more popular than ever before, but numbers of women finishers are still staggeringly low when compared to other endurance events. At the beginning of the year Ironman UK had to re-brand it’s Iron Girl Events after a backlash and anger from women on social media. And as a participant of my first Ironman event in Barcelona last year, I can report back that we women were clearly in a minority — but it did add an element of extra mutual respect in the changing room at the end of the event.
As an older runner who chose to turn to triathlon as my running was slowing down and I wanted a new challenge, I see opportunities for brands. We endurance women are a new pioneering, enthusiastic group of women, engage with us. Get to know all their female customers, and understand their individual needs, and their stories. With every passing year, more women are taking part in sport, being empowered by sport and spending money on sport. It’s time to talk to them.
If you want help in reach women, please contact me. I run a boutique content and communications agency in Brighton in the UK, working with endurance, health and fitness bands who want to reach women. And of course to find out what’s happening in the Endurance Women community join us online at https://endurancewomen.com.