Wednesday, December 05, 2018

Products I Would Like To See - The Strava GOAT Program

Preface – As part of a continuing series called “Products I Would Like To See”, this article suggests a new program for Strava, a social network for endurance athletes. This is an open exploration of marketing, product, and consumer theory shared simply for comment and conversation, submitted with respect. I welcome all comments! 

 “The quality of a persons life is in direct proportion 
to their commitment to excellence, 
regardless of their chosen field of endeavor.” 
– Vince Lombardi 

 How dedicated are you to your craft? That passion you devote to daily, willingly putting in the hard work, and sharing with a like-minded community? If so, what do you believe separates the “dabblers” of your craft from the truly committed?

 And if you are a creator of products and services, do you know who your most passionate customers are? Are you acknowledging and empowering them to help grow your business organically? Or are you just putting your logos on swag and hoping for the best?

 I have the privilege of getting to ask these questions regularly as a marketer and product manager. No matter what the product is – GPS watches, luxury apparel, smart home systems, beauty products, sporting events, cloud storage, frozen yogurt, trail running shoes - the secret to creating a thriving business is to deeply understand the core of customer passion, create features and services that make it easy to build communities around that energy, and listen closely.

 I thought it would be fun to explore “commitment to your craft” for a brand that already helps me connect daily with my community of passionate warriors – Strava. Through an open exploration, perhaps we can better understand ourselves as athletes, and get some tips on how marketers/product managers can organically expand their communities by tapping into passion. Athlete or marketer (or both), I would love your feedback!

 “Finding Your Cheeseheads” – How Membership, Loyalty Programs, and Swag Help Identify Your Most Passionate Customers 

 So how do you identify your most passionate customers? They are likely the ones that use your product the most, but more importantly, are the ones who blatantly show their pride while doing so. They are your “cheeseheads” - a term many marketers use, referring to the great fans of the Green Bay Packers. If you’ve ever seen a Packers game at Lambeau Field, you’ve seen the waves of fans with hats shaped like giant triangular shapes of cheese, cheering loud and proud from kick off to final score. They are the living definition of pride and passion.

(Long live the cheeseheads!)
 Finding your “cheeseheads” is as much art as science, and takes more insight than simply looking at usage patterns or purchases. For example:

  • They may not buy the most, but they will refer to their purchase many times in the months after. Luxury brands like Louis Vuitton count on this aspirational quality – most social mentions are about the one coveted LV bag, not from their wealthy customers with a closet full of goodies (who most certainly are driving 70%+ of profits). Mission-driven brands do well here too, with products receiving many mentions long after purchase.
  • They contact customer support to offer suggestions rather than complaining. Customer support call/email records/reviews are one of my favorite places to find passionate customers. You simply have to look beyond the numbers and into the actual content. 
  • They are first to give your company praise. With every new feature or product improvement announcement, passionate customers are the first ones to give your company praise, often acknowledging they “knew they made the right choice” by backing you in the early days. These are your most loyal fans. 
  • They propagate your brand just by using it. How did Lime and Bird grow their scooter businesses to billions in market cap in less than a year? Everyone sees those scooters getting used (with customers generally having fun doing so). Yelp stickers in the windows of restaurants attract more business, and in turn, more reviews. Elite frequent flyers get their own special line to board the plane. Fitbits, Teslas, branded apparel – whether conscious or not, passionate customers do a lot for you just by being them. And most of them are more than happy to talk about it. 
 Once you find your most passionate customers, how do you encourage them to do even more? This is the $64 billion question. There are many potential answers – loyalty programs, membership programs, branded swag, kickbacks (aka, affiliate programs), etc. – but it is just as easy to mess it up as it is to get it right. For example, there are luxury “elite” member programs that offer discounts as a perk for multiple purchases…exactly the wrong thing for a price-insensitive community that prefers personal service and early access to products. I’m sure many of you have used an app that annoyingly asks you to “give us a rating in the App Store/Google Play store” every ten minutes, and find yourself giving a lower amount of stars each time. It is important that you know your audience, and are incenting the behavior that NATURALLY builds your business over the long term.

 If your program is aligned correctly with your passionate customers, it can do far more than just spread the word. Brand recognition increases, customer acquisition and activation gets easier, there is a foundation for re-activating past customers, revenue per customer climbs, and of course, there is tons more data to better understand your customers. It is a powerful tool!

 Products I Would Like To See – The Strava GOAT Program (Now With Limited Edition Swag) 

 For those unfamiliar with Strava, it is a social media application for athletes (runners and cyclists in particular) to share their daily adventures. The name Strava comes from the Swedish word for “strive”, defined as “to make great efforts to achieve or obtain”. Their mission is to search for new ways to inspire athletes to elevate the community, which now boasts over 36 million members in 195 countries. Strava’s primary revenue source is from “Summit” members – those who pay a ~$60 annual fee to tap into advanced tracking, analytics, and safety features.

 It’s a tough challenge to incent passionate customers among an already passionate customer base, but given Strava's built in “loyalty” points (miles, etc.) and membership program (Summit), there is some opportunity. The perfect new program for Strava should do the following:

  • Align with the mission of the company, and help expand Strava’s product offering 
  • Recognize the most passionate of Strava users in a way they can easily share with others (aspirational membership and referral) 
  • Propogate the brand of Strava as a community of passionate athletes to people new to the brand (increase brand awareness, customer acquisition) 
  • Encourage existing Strava users to upgrade to premium (increase activation and revenue) 
  • Be cost effective 

Here’s what we came up with – the Strava GOAT program (now with limited edition swag!). This program takes advantage of a rarely highlighted feature of Strava that tracks lifetime usage, and uses it to identify the Greatest Of All Time (GOAT) users of Strava. These are the top 5%, 1%, and 0.01% of Strava athletes in terms of lifetime miles or vertical feet. Lifetime miles/vertical feet is a great metric for tracking the most dedicated athletes out there – you don’t have to be the fastest, you don’t have to be a pro/elite, but you do have to be committed to your craft.

(All-Time tracker from my Strava profile)

 To identify the loyalty levels, I built a crawler to collect some data on ~2,000 Strava profiles with the goal of determining some aspirational (but achievable) tiers. I also checked on some individuals I know to be the GOAT’s out there. I then rounded them into these “brag worthy” achievement levels:

  • Runners (Mileage) – Bronze (10,000 miles), Silver (20,000 miles), Gold (50,000 miles) 
  • Cyclists (Mileage) – Bronze (30,000 miles), Silver (60,000 miles), Gold (100,000 miles) 
  • Runners/Cyclists (Vertical Feet) – Bronze (1 million), Silver (10 million), Gold (20 million) 
 Technically, this is taking an existing membership program (Summit) and extending it with tiered loyalty levels. These tiers are achievable, but only through hundreds (if not thousands) of workouts. The program identify the committed, the multi-year Strava members who stick with their craft.

 So what does one get when a level is attained? Certainly a digital badge, similar to other Strava achievements, but having only a badge might belittle being a GOAT. The real opportunity here is to give GOAT’s limited access to swag and bike stickers. Take a look at the draft design of a GOAT cycling jersey, and the branding opportunity becomes clearer.

When you see a jersey that says “100,000 miles, one rider”, it sounds completely off the charts. Those unfamiliar with Strava will certainly ask about it, and by doing so, learn that Strava is for the most passionate riders. For those that do know the GOAT program, the stripes on the sleeve indicate your level (borrowed from the cycling practice of marking sleeves for former national and world champions) so you can see from a distance. It is swag specifically designed to prompt the right questions about Strava. 

 For runners and riders, it’s not always about mileage, so I would suggest that Strava also track lifetime vertical feet (note this is a new feature request). It gives the mountain lovers a different way to achieve their goal, and also happens to fit the icon of the goat nicely. Probably best that this program also only be available to Summit users too, and have a Hall of Fame list that can be referred to. If you’re a total bad ass, you might go Double GOAT!

 Should Strava give the swag away for free? Stickers for your bike, yes, but not the swag. GOAT’s are putting plenty of time into their craft, and likely would be happy to purchase a unique, high quality shirt or jersey. It’s also a good opportunity to partner with a high-end apparel maker who could also assist with the logistics of shipping to 195 countries, and would also like their apparel brand to be associated with GOAT’s.

 How does Strava benefit from the GOAT program?
  • A brag-worthy (ie, social media ready) program to highlight their most passionate customers. Not only would GOAT’s do it, but likely many vocal customers connected to them. In many ways, Strava would be doing celebrity endorsement at a microinfluencer level. The fact that it is fun to say GOAT makes it that much better, and I think the term is far less divisive than “elite” or “premium”. 
  • Swag that uniquely aligns with the Strava mission, and propagates the brand in new ways. The GOAT’s are out on the road/trail more than any athlete already, so why not use that? 
  • Increased upgrades to premium services (activation). From what I can tell in the data, Summit members tend to follow Summit members, so a program for this community should increase this community. But Summit membership is also required to get the GOAT recognition. Both of these help create a community community worthy of belonging, rather than a club that is too easy to join. 
  • More reasons to communicate with the community. Re-activation, rewards, recognition, user stories…there’s a large foundation here. 
 And what does the passionate consumer get? Cool stuff! More importantly, an authentic recognition of our commitment to the craft. We don’t “need” this recognition, honestly, but it is a great excuse to take a moment and acknowledge our passion. I would happily kudo any fellow Strava member for achieving one of these levels. It becomes one more point of inspiration, which in turn reinvigorates our passion even more.

 So what do you think? Do you know somebody who is a Strava GOAT? If you are a GOAT, would you buy/wear the jersey? I’m pretty sure I would. Let me know your thoughts!


  1. Until I read this, I didn't even know All-Time miles were tracked in Strava. It looks like I'm still a few years away from being a GOAT!

    What ever happened to the Strava kits that used to be for sale? I don't see them anymore.

    - Terry

    1. From what I understand, Strava stopped selling their kits/shirts a few years back due to logistics issues for shipping to 195 countries. If you search on Google for "strava shirt", you'll see some inventive and funny designs from third parties.

  2. Does Strava track all-time vertical feet? I haven't seen this feature before. (I suppose an individual could go back and add up each year.)

    I like the idea of a GOAT program, but it would seem as large of an incentive to longtime members who are equally runners and cyclists, and divide up their mileage proportionally.

    1. Strava doesn't currently publish all-time vertical feet...that was a new feature request on my behalf. They certainly have the data though, and a place to put it on the site!

      Jill, you would be a gold level vertical GOAT for sure!!!

    2. While I don't disagree with Strava putting a lifetime tracker on their website, there are a number of third party apps they promote that do these types of things. They can be found on website under "Explore > Apps" at top of webpage. A lot of these third party apps dive much deeper than strava would want to show to the average user. (e.g. the average user doesn't need or understand hardcore statistics that an elite or "very serious" athlete needs). The average user for the most part is content with the top-level data ("I ran X miles since Y date"). To throw out one third party app I've used and been content with is Jonathon O'Keefe's Strava Summary ( It does the standard yearly summary but also has a career summary by activity and charts progress across years. If you know regular expressions, you can also use the filter function to find specific data.

  3. I just checked my profile after reading this & I'm 62 miles from the bronze level. I would love to wear a shirt celebrating this & would happily purchase one. I think you have a great idea and I hope Strava gets on board!

  4. I'm over one million vertical feet! Thanks, Scott. I had never realized that. It took me a little over four years.


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