The Marathon Shows Us What a Great Brand Can Do

It’s been said that you should never ask a marathoner about running. (They’ll tell you all about it.) You didn’t even ask, and here I am telling you. Don’t worry – I will spare you the stories of solo training runs before sun up or the anxiety that happens before the starting gun…or how it feels to flow toward the finish line alongside thousands of other runners through challenging and glorious miles…or the exhilaration of knowing that all of the hard work is paying off when you cross the finish line – already thinking about what you can do next.

Oh, wait. Yes I am. But not how you think.

The Boston Marathon brand

It’s marathon season and Watchword is led by a couple of gals who just got to celebrate running the iconic Boston Marathon. For us, movement is creative fuel. Hard challenges are the most meaningful. We like cake. (Also, sitting to write, design and do brand strategy all day is really hard if you have too much pent-up kinetic energy.)

Fairly early in the Boston Marathon miles, I crested a hill and looked down at a sea of bodies moving in unison. It looked like more a multi-colored wave than a collection of individual runners. And it hit me. Marathons are like great brands.

A great brand is more than an identifiable color, shape, statement, or story. It’s is an operating system, a purpose that rallies countless individuals, and a shared objective that changes people.

These runners shared a purpose. We all had put in our own version of the same hard work. We were moving at various paces but all toward the same outcome. And we were sharing an experience whose value to each of was greater because it was shared. In fact, we were gaining and making an outsized impact because we were together.

For the city of Boston and all the little towns along the route, the storied Boston Marathon is a sign of human strength, perseverance, and spirit. It’s got legacy. The millions of spectators share a purpose. They take the day off work and celebrate together. In many ways, the runners are there for the city of Boston, and the city of Boston is there for the runners. This one event – the brand of Boston – connects its audiences in a shared purpose.

This is what the greatest brands do

The greatest brands inspire people to invest in them. Sure, we mean financially – but the greater value is found at a higher level. They inspire people to invest their efforts and beliefs in them over and over again. Great brands sweep up audiences and individuals and then transcend distinctions. We connect with these brands on a higher and more fundamental human level.

Around the world, the Boston Marathon is understood – not just recognized – as a paragon of running tradition. It wasn’t the first, but it is the model of how the sport can be. Around the world, brands like Apple and Virgin Group are understood as the archetypes of their industries because they inspire entire populations to do, go, experience, and be more.

These brands are like the Boston Marathon.

How to become a Boston brand

Boston is one of five “majors” around the world. Many people try for years to apply or qualify to have the opportunity to participate. On any given weekend, you can find a race. They’re valuable, of course, and usually delightful. They likely even unite the communities in a shared higher purpose.

In the same way, the list of common organizations is a billion times longer than the list of brands that connect and shape humanity. Wouldn’t you love to be one of those brands? We have seen too many great companies disrupted because their value proposition was rooted in the tangibles. One of the ways we help these companies rise above is to examine these questions:

  1. What is powerful, true, and timeless about our company?
  2. What is distinct about our culture, and how does it fit with the times?
  3. Who is our audience, and how do we answer their needs?
  4. What makes us the best option?

With the answer to each in place, we are able to push past who, what, and even why the organization exists. The result is a promise that shapes how people interact with the brand and one another, and why people build deeply personal connections with the brand. It becomes what makes the brand untouchable.

For the Boston Marathon, we’d answer the questions something like this:

  1. The Boston Marathon is the oldest continuous marathon
  2. We celebrate athletism, tenacity, legacy, and diversity
  3. We bring together people of all cultures, ages, languages, and backgrounds
  4. The Boston Marathon is not for everyone but for those for whom it is a celebration of everything that makes the sport of running a lifelong endeavor

It becomes a statement of purpose:

Our purpose is to be a place where global diversity is united in the joy and challenge of the marathon.

If you’re a runner, wouldn’t you want to be a part of this? It’s more than fitness. More than a bib and a finish line. This is a promise of a higher human experience that pushes people to try. And that is what great brands promise.

We’re almost halfway through the year. Check in with yourself. Answer these questions. We’re doing the same thing for Watchword. And we’d love to help you too. (Helping is part of our purpose.)


Watchword produces intelligence-driven branding and content that works efficiently across many channels to help businesses articulate who they are and what they do to the people who matter most. We listen carefully, communicate thoughtfully, respond consistently, and deliver absolutely – that is our rally cry – our watchword. What’s yours? We’d love to hear your story.

Rachelle Kuramoto

Author Rachelle Kuramoto

Rachelle is Watchword Brand principal. She has worked as a brand and content strategist, writer, and market intelligence director for 20 years. She is an experienced and award-winning professional who balances creative and business acumen to support projects, primarily in the B2B sector. Her objective in every engagement is to articulate what makes the client distinctive and sustainable in their market and with the stakeholders who matter most. She'd love to hear your story. Grab some time and a listening ear at rachelle@watchwordbrand.com.

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