It’s not about who goes the fastest. It’s about who slows down the least.

We sat on a grassy knoll on a chilly Sunday morning in Boulder, Colorado, strategically positioned to take advantage of our next opportunity to see Scott run by on his quest to complete 140.6 miles in his first full Ironman race. My brother-in-law had mapped out the course and was manning the Go-Pro to capture the day, while my sister-in-law, nephew, and Scott’s coach scanned the field of athletes. We were getting to know the group of people who were running around him. There were the twins who were perfectly synchronized in every movement, the Coast Guard guy, and the sweet southerner who happily thanked us for coming out to cheer on the crowd every time she passed.

Our group moved around a lot that day, and it’s quite possible that we too covered 140.6 miles of ground. While at the end of the day, none of us spectators became an Ironman, there were so many valuable nuggets of wisdom that we did walk away with. One of the most important things I walked away with is the title of this fine blog. As soon as Scott’s coach uttered the words, I immediately began thinking about how it applies to strategy, marketing, and quite simply, how you show up as a leader and team member every day.

Hot out of the Gate

There are scores of products that came out “hot,” with a great deal of fanfare, huge short-term marketing budgets, and media speculation about whether this brilliant invention could be the next staple in our lives until eternity (anybody remember New Coke?) They were fast, but these products never crossed the finish line.

All good brands and products are about consistency. They’ve thought about every leg of the long race, and have anticipated how they’ll appropriately handle each mile. They don’t expend all of their energy in the first minutes of competition, knowing there are still many miles ahead. Your brand can do the same:

Plan beyond launch day

I’ve been a spectator at many triathlons over the years. In the early days, I didn’t realize that the first people out of the water weren’t necessarily those who would win the race. They start strong, but for a myriad of reasons, they’re not first to cross the finish line. For some, they give it their all upfront, with not enough left to maintain that momentum.

You could say the same for the start of your brand’s journey. Making a huge splash and having thousands of people lining up to do business with you on opening day may seem like a dream come true. And if we set operational capacity aside, it could be. But what happens after day one? How will you continue to maintain the hype you’re created, and ensure your audience won’t get bored with what you have to offer?

Fuel appropriately

The right levels of nutrition and hydration can make or break a race. It’s always fascinating to watch Scott meticulously plan his food in the days leading up to a race, while counting out the number of gels, goos, and ounces of Gatorade he’ll need on race day. He knows what to consume, how much, and when. This is the fuel that keeps him going, that allows him to stay consistent in his performance and cross the finish line.

For your brand, your fuel consists of all of the resources you have available to launch and keep it going long-term. This is the money, time, resources, partners and alliances you’ve built. Do you have enough for the long haul? How will you budget out these resources to ensure you don’t fall flat after your launch? What strategy do you have in place for how you’ll use these resources, and when?

Know your strengths

The first folks out of the water in a triathlon are typically those are very strong swimmers (or, to my point above, who expended all of their energy in the first leg of the race.) That doesn’t mean they are strong cyclists or runners, and that’s OK. It’s not unusual to see someone who finished the swim near the back of the pack pass the strong swimmers on the bike or the run. They didn’t try to overdo it or prove themselves on the swim because it’s not their strength. Rather, they focused on the areas where they knew they could outperform

The same is true for your brand. Identify the areas where you are strong and focus your energies there. Develop products that play to your core strengths and brand story. Pursue a long-term marketing strategy that allows you to maximize the avenues where you have an advantage. Spend your valuable time and resources where you can make the most impact. And yes, the race still consists of “the swim,” which you’ll have to complete, but that doesn’t mean you have to agonize over perfecting it when you’re way better at the other legs of the race.

Focus on your own race

In a mainstream sport like baseball or hockey, it’s easy to see who is winning. You look at the score. In a sport like triathlon, you can’t look at the person in front of you and assume they are coming in ahead of you. Expending your energy to chase that person and get ahead is an exercise in futility. You don’t know their overall position in the race. But you know yours.

It may seem like a competitor is getting ahead of your brand. Maybe you’re seeing increased advertising, or they’ve landed a big customer you’ve always dreamed of having. It stokes your inner fire and you want to go faster. You want to beat them. Fact is, you don’t know their race, or where they stand in it. They look like they’re ahead, but maybe they’re out of fuel. Maybe they’re getting into a space that’s not their strength, and ultimately won’t be able to deliver. Avoid the temptation to expend all of your resources chasing down that competitor. They may be very far behind you and you don’t even realize it.

All of these points will help you to focus on that magic strategy: it’s not about who goes the fastest, it’s about who slows down the least. It may seem counterintuitive to not want to go fast, but over the long haul, those who are consistent win the race. We’ve been advocates of this philosophy at Kolbeco for nearly 20 years, and have seen that the most successful brands adopt this approach. Let us help you put a strategy in place that will help you feel confident, and ultimately, cross the finish line.