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How Vacation Races Uses Email Marketing to Give Its Audience Unique Adventures

When runners register with Vacation Races, they’re not just signing up to run—they’re signing up for a full experience.

Since 2012, Vacation Races has brought together a passion for travel, beautiful scenery, and, most of all, running for thousands of avid racers all over the world. The company currently offers 4 different series of races—US national park half marathons; global, week-long running adventures; 100-mile-or-less ultramarathons; and most recently, cycling races.

Vacation Racers also have an opportunity to get to know the places they’re traveling to more holistically through the company’s exclusive Explorer Club. Rather than just showing up and running through a destination, the Explorer Club invites racers to get more acquainted with the people, history, and geography of a race site.

These types of experiences set Vacation Races apart from other race organizers, and they're all carefully curated by Content Manager Lauren Korus—with an assist from Mailchimp's email marketing tools, like Customer Journey Builder. Since joining the company, Lauren has refined Vacation Races' email content strategy to better educate runners about the company's unique racing experiences, help audiences discover their next running adventure—and find community along the way.

We chatted with Lauren to learn more about Vacation Races, the brand's marketing strategy, and how Mailchimp has helped them establish a stronger connection with their growing community.

How do you use Customer Journey Builder in Mailchimp, and what impact has it had on your business?

One of the ways we use customer journeys is for group management. We have people signing up on different forms saying that they are interested in getting more information about a particular location where we have a race. So we use that info to funnel them into specific groups.

Many of our customer journeys also involve working with exported customer data from our previous email service provider and making it more usable for us in Mailchimp. So we're using our journeys for the sheer practicality of organizing content and the direct use of segmenting folks from the website into different audiences.

Why is it important for you to organize your audience and send personalized emails?

Because we offer different experiences within Vacation Races, we segment our audience based on what they’re interested in or signed up for. We send targeted information about our half marathon series, ultramarathons, cycling adventures at national parks, and our global adventure series, which are weeklong, all-inclusive running adventures in different countries around the world. With each of those 4 audiences, the demographics and audience needs vary just a little bit. Like with our ultra marathon events, for example, we have 3 ultra marathons and within each of those ultras there are various distances. It's helpful to be able to set specific dynamic content for each specific event and even subsets within those events—people who are running a 50K race obviously don't need to get the same detailed information that the 100 miler runners are getting.

What kind of content do you send to the Explorer Club and how does that help build your brand?

The point of the Explorer Club is really to just encourage folks to get to know the area where a race is hosted in a more holistic way. By getting to know the people, Explorer Club members learn about history and geography. We like to highlight that in our lead nurturing email sequence, so when folks sign up online, content about the club is included in one of the emails they receive. It just helps us tell our story as a brand, reiterating that this is about respecting the native community, exploring nature, and building relationships and friendships.

What metrics do you use to measure the ROI of your emails?

We look at our open rate and what folks are clicking on within the email, but then we also compare those numbers to our website. For example, say an email has 2 options for someone to choose from: learn more about our trip to Costa Rica or learn more about our trip to Iceland. We compare those clicks to our web page visits, and then we track what email capture we can get from our website back into Mailchimp. A lot of folks may be on our broad newsletter, but they haven't signed up to be part of a specific audience to know when the Costa Rica event is opening for registration. That relationship between email and website data is the most useful for us to know that something is working well.

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As you're hosting events around the world, have you noticed a sense of community grow among your runners?

We definitely do see organic connections form between our runners. We've had people start as customers in our half marathon series, and then become global adventure participants. We've even had a few people who have started as global adventure participants, and then become half marathoners with us. But there are a lot of people—we like to call them our VIPs—who will do one event, and then try to do all of them. And the sense of community seems to be even stronger on the global adventure trips as well, because the runners spend multiple days together. We've had several repeat customers on those trips already.

Are you also facilitating communication and connection between your community as part of your marketing?

We haven't specifically done anything to connect runners and facilitate communication from a marketing perspective, but it's been cool to watch it happen. We have a sizable Facebook group called "Friends of Vacation Races" and the group is just runners asking questions, commenting on things, and sharing their race photos. It's helpful for us from a customer service perspective because we can kind of see where we have gaps in our communications.

How do you decide what kind of content to share with your audience via email?

We try to be educational with a lot of the content that we decide to share. So we go to our customer service team weekly and ask what questions they’re getting a lot of, even if they’re about information we've already answered on our website or in our race guide.

But also how we operate as a race company is very different from many others, so we try to pick apart what those differences are and specifically call them out in our prerace emails. In one of our lead emails, we talked about the national parks, and outlined our goals around conservation, keeping the sites beautiful, and giving people the opportunity to access the outdoors. We're not about getting a personal record and running super fast. If that's what you want to do, by all means, there's still a space for you here, but it's really about connecting with nature, enjoying the scenery around you, and being with friends.

One last question—a bit of a light one. What brings you the most joy about your job?

It's honestly the people that I work with—getting together with them over a race weekend and seeing them in person. We are a remote team, so most of us don't see each other in person throughout the year. And I like visiting new places, but I don't actually like traveling. I love the routine that I have on a day-to-day basis, and I don't like that travel disrupts that. But getting to go to these beautiful places and being with people that I love makes that disruption okay.

I also love meeting the runners. I love hearing the reasons why they’re out there running—maybe it's just for themselves, or maybe they're recovering from an injury. We also have a ton of people who are running in memory of a loved one that they’ve lost. And we do occasionally highlight their stories on our social media and blog, which is something I'm excited to do more of because it’s one of my favorite parts of the job.

Published: August 3, 2023

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