Elite vs. Casual Brand Positioning

Content & Messaging
July 1, 2020
Sporting Goods & Outdoor

Key Takeaways

Messaging — A Blend of Casual & Elite: There’s a clear delineation between running brands that orient their messaging to align with casual runners vs. elite runners. However, based on our analysis, neither approach is necessarily “better” than the other, in strict terms of digital performance. 

Naturally, elite-oriented brands aren’t only trying to appeal and sell products to elite athletes. Their strategy is to align the brand with elite athletes so that the wider audience associates the brand with elite performance, and therefore purchases products as part of an aspirational customer journey.

Casual-oriented brands on the other hand, align themselves with the persona of an average person who is working to be a better version of themselves so that the wider audience associates the brand with supportiveness and inspiration, and therefore purchases products as part of a self-actualization customer journey. 

Positioning a brand at either end of this spectrum can be successful. Furthermore, there may be a whitespace for brands that fall in the middle of the spectrum and combine aspects of both Casual and Elite.

Within the running category, most brands fall under two primary categories:

Outdoor Activewear - Brand Strategy - Elite Performance vs. Casual Running

Brands that focus on elite performance tend to focus on the achievement aspect of running and striving to reach new heights.

Outdoor Activewear - Elite Performance - Nike - New Balance - Salomon

The top performing content categories for performance-focused brands are product shots and new releases, top-tier athlete achievements, and extreme/aspirational race stories. 

Outdoor Activewear - Top Performing Content Strategies
@nikerunning | @newbalancerunning | @salomonrunning


Brands focused on elite running performance most often partner with influencers in the fitness and elite running categories - such as fitness/running trainers, world-class track and distance athletes, and adventure ultra runners.

Outdoor Activewear - Elite Running Performance
@coachbennett | @dinaashersmith | @iamtrayvonbromell | @em_sisson_ | @francois_dhaene

Brands that focus on casual running & lifestyle tend to focus on the community and mental wellness aspect of running, with a more aesthetic approach to showcasing products.

Outdoor Activewear - Brand Strategy - Community and Mental Wellness

The top performing content categories for casual running and lifestyle focused brands this year have been local running community & togetherness, inclusivity & encouragement, and featuring casual, non-elite runners.

Casual Running and Lifestyle - Top Performing Content Categories
@satisfyrunning | @brooksrunning | @hokaoneone

Influencer types that brands in the casual running category most often work with tend to be local community leaders and micro-influencers focused on community building in their area, inspiration, personal growth, and achieving goals through running.

Influencer Types - Brand Strategy
@hackstao | @stretchmurphy | @samholnesstri | @mendozarunner | @fitmat6

When comparing audience demographics, the audience focused on elite performance skews much more strongly male, and is slightly younger, on average, than the casual running audience.

Elite Performance vs. Casual Running


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