Looking to add a real-world component to its “What if Everybody Ran” campaign that celebrates running’s ability to inspire positive change, Mizuno in 2014 created a cause platform around which it donated one dollar for every mile run by consumers who downloaded a mobile “baton” app.

Consumers passed the baton through social media to build a virtual relay in support of Back on My Feet, a nonprofit that helps the homeless get back on track.

In his presentation “Using Social Media to Connect Consumers to Brand Purpose” at IEG 2015, Ahmet Abaci, Mizuno USA vice president of brand marketing and management, discusses the thinking behind the program and its success.

Below are edited excerpts from his presentation.

On Building On “What if Everybody Ran?”
“What if Everybody Ran?” was the first part of our campaign. The second part was the ‘walk the talk’ part of it. Call it story-doing instead of storytelling. We couldn’t just put the question out there and leave it to the rest of the world to figure out. That’s where the idea for the app came from.

We knew from the beginning we needed a cause marketing partner to bring credibility to what we wanted to accomplish. We had a few criteria. The first was fit with brand purpose. The organization had to make a real impact on using running to make a change for the better.

The partner also had to appeal to running specialty channels. We do a lot of grassroots activation with one-on-one interaction, and we needed specialty running channels to work with us.  

The partner also had to appeal to our most loyal runners. We don’t have a huge media budget. Word of mouth recommendations work best for us. That’s the number one driver in our category, whether its golf clubs or running shoes.

And finally, employee engagement. We are a passion brand. Most people work for Mizuno not because we are a big brand but because we do some meaningful things. We look for ways to drive employee engagement with everything that we do.

The Thinking Behind Back On My Feet
Back on My Feet is a charity that helps homeless people through running. They have 12 chapters and work with shelters to find individuals who show an inclination to do something better.

Back on My Feet puts people into running training programs. They run four times a week at five o’clock in the morning. The ritual starts with hugs and prayers and all of that. This goes on for a few weeks, and after they start to show discipline and commitment, they give them help with financial planning and their job search.

Nearly half of the people they touch go on to live an independent life. That’s a great result.

We knew Back on My Feet would be appealing to our most loyal customers. The previous year we ran a promotion offering a trip to the Amsterdam Marathon. To enter the contest consumers had to tell us their most memorable running story. The winning entry was about Back on My Feet.

That story alone told us Back on My Feet would be appealing to our loyal consumers and get them talking.

We also knew it would be appealing to our specialty running customers, because many of them are already involved with local Back on My Feet chapters.

How Mizuno Activated Back On My Feet
So what did Mizuno do to activate the relationship? We created an app that users could use for one week. They could run as many miles as possible with the app, and we donated $1 to Back on My Feet for each mile they logged.

Consumers were given options on how they could share the baton. We wanted to make it easy for them via social, email and text. At the end of the week they were given the option to virtually pass the baton to someone in their network. They received a thank-you note from Back on My Feet when they were done.

We used a microsite to show the number of miles and dollars accumulated, all in real-time. We also had a leaderboard by individual and by state. We had a gallery of pictures that made it real for consumers.

Sharing was one of the biggest contributors to the program’s success. We ran digital ads that explained how running has changed your life and how it can change someone else’s life. It spoke to people who already knew this concept.

We had quite a bit of PR coverage by the media and influential bloggers. We had our largest-ever daily website traffic the day we launched the campaign.

We executed locally with runs with our specialty retail partners. We customized point-of-sale material for each retailer because they’re so involved with running in their communities. The branding was minimal, but we received media coverage we don’t normally get because of the way that we approached the campaign.

On The Results Of The Campaign
Results were amazing. Our runners ran 87,000 miles with the app, and we donated $87,000 to Back on My Feet. That is a significant amount for a small charity.

There were 15,000 app downloads and 5,000 runners. One-third of the app downloads were used—that was tremendous. We also had 21,000 runs and 15,000 images on our photo gallery.

But we achieved even better social goals. One of our goals was to increase our fan base on Facebook. We’re very careful about just increasing our fan base. We want to be an authentic brand and don’t want a lot of people who are not engaged following us. We track engagement more seriously than anyone else, and we want to make sure our engagement rates stay above our competitors.  

We were able to drive our fan base by 60 percent without a significant spend. That exceeded our expectations—we wanted a 50 percent increase.  

Our challenge going into the campaign was our low spend and low awareness. It’s difficult when you talk about purchase funnel metrics—moving those metrics takes time and money. This campaign ran for six months, and we were able to move the needle on our purchase funnel metrics. That’s because of the word of mouth element and the purpose and meaning built into the campaign.

Brand familiarity and consideration both grew 10 percent.

Our employees are still very much engaged with Back on My Feet. They made friends with volunteers and members, and they continue to support and raise funds for the organization.