This last weekend, thousands of runners did something crazy.

We piled into vehicles and drove to Omaha, NE, where we proceeded to run 78 miles from one city to another.

Called the “Market to Market Relay,” or M2M, this event has grown in size and popularity since it first launched 6 years ago, to be the largest day-long running relay in the world. Complete with costumes ranging from toy story to duck dynasty to hot dogs, mustard, and ketchup (there was no way we were going to let those wieners pass us), there’s a lot we can learn from the M2M Relay. In fact, I think marketers everywhere should run 78 miles to see why this race has become my favorite case study for marketing at its finest.

Why? Let me tell you.

1. They understand their target audience.

The market to market relay started as an idea, by people who love running.  Meaning….the crazy ones. If you don’t like heading out for a run in the rain, or the snow, this isn’t you.  If you get a little weather-shy when it comes to putting in the miles, you probably aren’t a “runner.”  This race takes place every fall, and it’s been graced by the presence of all types of weather, not to mention, sweaty smelly people, piled into one vehicle for more than 12 hours a day.

The fierce understanding of their target audience allows them to get their message out through key influencers.  It allows them to have a specialized focus in terms of marketing dollars.  Many companies spend their time trying to appeal to everyone. M2M demonstrates that when it comes to target audience, less is more.

2. Their sponsorship opportunities just make sense.

When you look at the list of sponsors for the market to market relay, you stop and think – “Wow, what a great sponsor.”  Example? Nebraska Orthopaedic Hospital.  As the title sponsor, their logo is on the t-shirts, the outstanding bar glasses you get at the finish, plus every single email and communication piece that is sent on behalf of the organization.  Brilliant. And good luck getting those doctors to give that opportunity so some other health group can slap their name on it.  That’s marketing gold.

So, what if your company doesn’t have a sponsorship opportunity like this? Ask around.  You might be able to get in on the ground level of something new.  If Nebraska Orthopaedic would have waited until the race grew to 500 teams, they never would have had the opportunity.

3. They know that organization trumps everything else.

When it comes to an event that involves more than two people, organizational finesse becomes the linchpin.  An outstanding customer experience is the fuel for word-of-mouth marketing and a great event experience is driven by world-class logistics.  Moving through 21 different relay exchange points, directing traffic, moving runners, dealing with health crises and weather snafus, and the general public who doesn’t understand why people are running down the road like ants looking for a picnic, takes A LOT of organization and juggling.

And though I’m sure they still receive their fair share of complaints (because you can’t please everyone), M2M continues to rank near the top of runners’ yearly race lists and bucket lists of the middle-aged and newly active. Marketing, along with sales, operations and customer service should always take a good hard look at the logistics. Lack of follow-through and poor detail management can sabotage even the best marketing plans (don’t believe me? Read about the Vegas half-marathon nightmare. I was there – it was not good!).

4. They embrace technology.

Released this year, the M2M Relay App lets you review the stages, input your time and track your estimated finish time. Though our team had some issues with the app, this was an excellent step for the race organizers.  We hope it was only our team, but even if it did have kinks, I’m sure they’ll work it out for next year.

Email communication was always very clear and timely, keeping runners and captains informed about race details. Online registration and timely reporting of information also lived up to our demand for instant gratification, where we want to know what time we finished, what place we were, how we measured up to the hot dog, ketchup and mustard guys, and whether or not that meant we should kick someone off the team and ask someone faster to join us next year (kidding…sort of).

5. They make a big deal out of everyone.

We all can’t be the runners that pull off 10 miles at a 5:30 pace.  Some of us don’t look good in short shorts and runners tanks.  Others don’t know what it means to pace themselves because this is honestly their first rodeo.  But that’s ok.  M2M planners and volunteers celebrate everyone – simply running 4.5 miles uphill with the wind in your face is worth celebrating.  The hundreds of volunteers that help with the event, from Omaha, to Platteview, to Louisville, to Eagle, to Lincoln, are a source of constant encouragement.  Many people volunteer with the event simply to be part of the race atmosphere.

Marketers should take a few minutes to observe these M2M volunteers – specifically a gal directing traffic at the exchange in Eagle, Nebraska.  She managed her volunteer role like a BOSS and teams left laughing and encouraged by her enthusiasm. If more companies would take the time to celebrate their employees for the little things they did to help the customer, the customers would have a much better experience.

As you can tell, it was a fun experience – but it has left me thinking about a myriad of things that impact the “marketing” of a brand. I know we’ve talked about this, but it’s more than email marketing, direct mail and social media.

Not sure you agree?  Well, perhaps you need to run the 78 miles next year.  Or at least 10 of them. It just might change your outlook on marketing.