Tough Mudder, the company behind those military-style obstacle-course events that raise money for wounded veterans, tapped Jerome Hiquet as CMO in October 2014. Two years later, the marketing vet has shown to be every bit as tough as the company he works for.
For example, Hiquet has increased the company’s global marketing presence, helped in the launch of the Urban Mudder and Tough Mudder Half events, and developed campaigns attracting company-record numbers on social media.
As an executive member of the company, Hiquet participates in key decisions about the organization’s future in terms of new brands, new products, and international expansion.
Hiquet took some time to talk with CMO.com about his vision.
CMO.com: You have an impressive background, building an expertise around CRM, e-commerce, and data. Take me through your professional journey.
Hiquet: I started my career around customer marketing overall. I was project manager for loyalty programs at Accor Group in Paris, including partnership development with Visa, American Airlines, and American Express. I then worked on the e-commerce side, leading CRM efforts at Voyages-sncf.com, the No. 1 e-commerce company in France, with one of the largest customer databases in Europe.
The second stage in my career was when I was able to build more brand experience. I joined first Club Med and then Tough Mudder–these two brands helped me to discover and refine my marketing skills around what it means to work for a brand that really has a story to tell. At Club Med, it was a story about happiness, vacation; Tough Mudder is about a unique experience. These two companies also helped me to build my vision of marketing around experience, because vacation is an experience, and to me Tough Mudder is an experience.
So my professional journey was first about building a skill set, then understanding the broader scope of what it means to have a brand, and then an experiential marketing perspective behind that.
CMO.com: What was it about joining Tough Mudder that intrigued you?
Hiquet: I think “intrigued” is the right word. Before joining Tough Mudder, my experience was always in big corporations. Club Med was a 60-year-old global corporation; Accord was the same. At that point in my career, what was very important for me was that I wanted to be part of the story. Tough Mudder is creating a story. It’s a 6-year-old company that’s been able to get 2 million people to do something they’ve never done before. To be able to be part of that story at a very early stage was very important to me.
CMO.com: How so?
Hiquet: I thought I could help bring my skill set and my learning from a bigger corporation and take the company to the next step. [I could] think more internationally, more in terms of different skills, in terms of expertise in customer service, in terms of product innovation. Also, I was thinking at that time that a CMO in the 21st century should be able to be quite agile, quite nimble. For that, having experience in both big corporations and young startup corporations was a big plus.
CMO.com: Upon taking the position, what were some of your first priorities?
Hiquet: One of my primary objectives was clearly to build out what I call the brand architecture. First we had Tough Mudder, now we have Tough Mudder Half, and we have World’s Toughest Mudder and Mini Mudder. So making the ecosystem and the brand path very strong is my first priority. On top of that, if we want to remain a quite innovative company, we have to always think about the future, so the second part of my objectives is about thinking about what could be the future.
CMO.com: How is your company unique when it comes to marketing?
Hiquet: We have been born and raised in the 21st century. I think we have first and foremost what I call a 21st century tribe. We are a community before a brand. We’ve had to take into consideration from a very early stage the digital component that’s part of our strategy.
From a communications and marketing standpoint, we are thinking a lot around two components: to have more rituals and ideation processes. Rituals for us are very important. After an event, people on Mondays on social media can share their headband photos with what we call “Headband Mondays.” We have built a loyalty program with what we call the Legionnaires [repeat customers] around an emotional aspect before introducing a transactional component. We are building a lot of identity through that term. We are able to engage the customer beyond the event that we are organizing, and with each touch point it’s possible for us to create an opportunity to engage the community.
CMO.com: Tell me about a recent marketing campaign and the success you have seen from it so far.
Hiquet: We knew that the content from our events could be a very strong and powerful tool that we should leverage much more, not only by using it for PR stories in traditional media, but also by leveraging the events as an opportunity to engage our database and our customers. So we decided to live-stream our event through multiple platforms—Facebook Live, the website, and Periscope. During our second event of the year in the U.S., we saw huge reach and engagement. In two days, we reached more than 7 million people. We had more than 1.5 million video views. We had more than 300,000 engagements through social media. It’s clearly a way to maintain engagement within the community but also reach new people who don’t necessarily know Tough Mudder or could be scared about doing a Tough Mudder, and show them what you experience and the values behind that.
CMO.com: Millennials must be a large target audience for Tough Mudder. How do you appeal to this generation?
Hiquet: It’s clearly the largest generation by far in our community, and it’s very important for us for a few reasons. The first one is because we are a company where revenue is not just coming from ticket sales but also from partners—Merrell, Microsoft Band, Old Spice—big players in the world. Because we have a strong ecosystem to reach this new generation, we know that a lot of companies are trying to reach them.
We try to be appealing to this generation first by way of thinking about the media composition. We are clearly more digitally focused. We are pushing our content in a very specific way by using all the new channels—Facebook, Snapchat, Periscope, Twitter—and we have a very different approach depending on the channel.
The second point is that we serve and promote the types of community-oriented content that our customers want to see; they expect to be engaged in terms of motivation, in terms of being proud. And what we are providing to them is to be part of the tribe. What they have in terms of experience is very unique—it’s teamwork-oriented—so we are building a lot of tribe components, which is very appealing for Millennials.
CMO.com: You mentioned a few social media channels. What sort of digital presence does the company have?
Hiquet: We have been born and raised around the digital component. It’s not necessarily something we’re looking at as, “Now we have to think in a digital way.” Media-wise, we have seen a strong ability to measure everything, to track everything, to be able to refine everything, so for our success this is critical.
The second element is, we’ve had the attitude from the very beginning that in terms of content creation, we must customize the content for each platform in the digital world. What does it mean to have a video for Facebook or for another platform? There are different efficiencies that you have to consider for each one.
Digital is important to us because it’s in the core of who we are, and it’s in the core of what our target customers expect. We try to diversify a bit more by being, of course, a brand channel, but it’s also very core to our overall strategy.
CMO.com: Can you give me an example of an element of that strategy?
CMO.com: Can you elaborate?
Hiquet: From an e-commerce standpoint, over 60% of our traffic is coming from mobile. We have even changed our approach since I arrived, thinking for every user experience, every communication on our platform, thinking first about mobile and then about desktop. Everything in terms of content creation, content activation, we are really thinking of how it could be specifically relevant for people who are using mobile. Even in the customer journey, we are thinking more about how we can activate people by leveraging the mobile ecosystem. It’s not becoming important—it’s more the primary focus for us as much on an engagement standpoint, as much on a media standpoint, and even in terms of the conversion standpoint.
CMO.com: Is Tough Mudder planning to grow the brand internationally?
Hiquet: It’s very important to me to have the chance to treat marketing as global endeavor. We are becoming an even more global brand; we are currently in nine countries. This year we are going to be in Mexico, Indonesia, Ireland, China, and Dubai, and the objective is to continue to grow like that in 2017 and beyond. It’s also to maintain the existing community and to have more new customers in this community.
CMO.com: What are your goals in the year ahead?
Hiquet: The first one is engagement of this huge tribe. How do we maintain the innovation for the Legionnaires to have more touch points in the customer journey–not only during the event but around it–and to continue to prioritize content creation and content distribution, no matter if it’s live events or different types of content? But [we need to] be sure we are maintaining this relevance to the content and the right ways to reach people to engage them.
The second one is sales efficiency. We are a young brand and have to continue to grow, and for that there is some maximization of our sales platform and to develop new streams of revenue. For example, we launched last year a corporate sales department, which is huge for us—more and more companies are coming to Tough Mudder as a team-building component or as a wellness program. The ability to increase the core business but also create new streams of revenue is important.
The third bucket is product innovation. It’s clearly a point of differentiation–the ability to bring new brands or expand new brands like Tough Mudder Half, or to launch new obstacles on course because people are becoming crazy about that. It’s clearly important for us to focus on product innovation.