Startup Branding Lessons From Run Clubs

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The run club revolution is undeniable. Whether you’ve laced up your sneakers or admired from a distance, their growth sends a clear message – they’re doing something people want to be a part of. 

Soso’s Run Club (Soso’s), for example, has created a community that hundreds of Brisbane locals are jumping to join. Founded by Sofie Spelta and Sophie Rindfleish in 2023, Soso’s brings together hundreds of people in south Brisbane every Saturday morning. The group embarks on a five kilometre run, or walk, before catching up over a coffee and a snack from a local cafe. 

Ms Spelta and Ms Rindfleish didn’t originally intend for Soso’s to transform into the thriving community it is today. However, the beginnings of the club feel similar to those of many startup branding success stories. Their founders were doing something they genuinely cared about and found a way to share it with other people who care about it too. 

Soso’s Run Club at a Brisbane meetup. Image: Soso’s Run Club

“We never intended to actually start a run club. We would always go for runs together, and we would always post about it on social media, which we still do. Along the way, people would always message and say, ‘Can I come for a run?‘ ”, said Ms Spelta.

“One day, we just said, ‘Okay, everyone meet here at this time.’ And we had maybe 10 to 15 people show up — just our friends and people we worked with.”

Just over a year later, it seems Soso’s is a growing community shaking up Brisbane pavements with their enthusiasm. 

“What it looks like now is completely different. Our biggest runs have been just under five hundred people. Every week we get probably three to four hundred people, depending on what we have on and the different events that we organise. Along the way, we’ve had the opportunity to work with a lot of different brands and run some really cool events as well,” said Ms Rindfleish.

From a branding perspective, the growth of run clubs like Soso’s is incredible. People could run by themselves if they wanted to. They’ve probably done it before. Plus, there would be nobody to hold them accountable if they snooze through the morning. Instead, they choose to actively seek out Soso’s, face the first-run nerves and keep coming back for more. 

Run clubs like Soso’s are brimming with branding lessons for startups. We sat down with Soso’s founders to dive into how they foster growth, authenticity and positive experiences for their members. Their insights shine a light on how startup brands can build a community and drive meaningful action within it. 

Soso’s Run Club’s merch is proudly worn by members Image: Soso’s Run Club

Join the movement

How does a new brand get people to (literally) show up for them for the first time? If we track the growth journey of Soso’s, we learn that meaningful action is driven by the promise of feeling good. 

The significant spike in members during Soso’s early days isn’t as simple as over a hundred people just wanting to run. For most of us, the mid-run experience doesn’t give us more than burning legs and mirages of the maple-syrup-drenched pancakes we’re going to devour later.

According to Ms Spelta and Ms Rindfleish, what empowers the Soso’s community to wake up early and warm up their legs is the feeling they get out of it. 

“What [Soso’s] comes down to is connection. Meeting people and making new friends or finding a partner as an adult is actually really hard. It’s hard finding people who are like minded outside of the workplace,” said Ms Rindfleish.

Luckily for startup brands, there are only a handful of strong positive emotions that drive people’s behaviours and attitudes. Find the feeling connected to your brand by considering the people you want to reach. What feeling do they desire when they seek out the offerings of your business or industry competitors? 

The feeling you identify may not be feeling, like Soso’s members love so much. However, it may be close to one of these:

  • Belonging 
  • Accomplishment
  • Excitement
  • Connection
  • Peacefulness

After pinpointing the feeling benefit of your startup, leverage it to inspire key groups to show up for your brand in a meaningful way. For example, Sosos’ leverages their feel-good benefits through branding elements like their logo. The quirky illustration features a takeaway coffee cup working up a sweat. This taps into the rewards at the end of the run while clearly communicating the brand’s offerings. 

Branding elements like your key messages, tone of voice and USPs are all opportunities to make deeper connections with potential clients and investors. By tapping into audiences’ emotional needs and articulating how you meet them, you’re one step closer to creating a movement of your own. 

Soso’s Run Club Co-founder, Sophie Rindfleish, on a morning run. Image: Soso’s Run Club

Walk the walk

If run club founders run the run, then startup founders need to walk the walk. Build a community that shows up for your brand more than once by showing up for them too. 

Ms Spelta and Ms Rindfleish show up for the Soso’s community by being the energising presence at every run. Everytime a member swings by at 6am, the pair are waiting to welcome them. This authenticity is amplified by the personal brand of Ms Rindfleish. As a dietitian with a ‘non diet’ philosophy, her relatable content is centred on helping people break free from restrictive eating and embrace healthy habits. 

Soso’s brand presence is equally inclusive. This connects the club with Ms Rindfleish’s existing audience in an authentic way. At every opportunity, Soso’s founders support their brand messaging. It’s a consistency that helped the club hit the ground running.

“We didn’t create Soso’s Run Club because we saw other people doing it and thought we could make lots of money, or we could turn it into a brand… We built it based on something that we love doing together, and I think that shows every Saturday morning,” said Ms Spelta.

As all startup founders know, building brand trust is crucial to raising capital and laying the foundations for future expansions. You can’t have growth without change. By prioritising a trusted brand reputation from day one, you’re creating a community that will remain engaged through the transformations ahead. 

Building trust as a new brand doesn’t mean exaggerating your startup’s capabilities to make it seem bigger or more funded than it actually is. Trust happens when you make promises you can deliver on, then deliver on them well. For Soso’s, this looks like upholding inclusivity and reliability both online and in person. For your startup’s brand, this could look like:

  • Creating content that’s consistent in both look and feel (e.g. colour palette)
  • Determining which platforms align with your brand identity and using them to interact with your audience (e.g. commenting on an industry-related Instagram post)
  • Outlining the action your startup takes to uphold its brand values today and stronger actions to be taken in the future 
Soso’s Run Club members catch up before a run. Image: Soso’s Run Club

Bring a friend

Your branding helps to say anything you want about your startup… to people that are already listening. That’s why what other people say about your brand is essential for increasing brand awareness and accelerating growth. 

Soso’s Co-founders say the club’s growth is largely attributed to their members bringing along their friends.

“The way people find out about us is through social media, whether it’s through the [Soso’s] social channel or the ones that we run personally. The people that come along post about it too… Being able to create that environment where people want to share only helps us grow… If people don’t find out about us through social media, it’s through word of mouth,” said Ms Rindfleish.

Whether it’s over coffee catch-ups or Instagram DMs, Soso’s members are asking their friends to join. Here’s three major reasons why the response is usually, “I’m in”: 

  1. People trust their friend’s recommendation 
  2. It always feels good to be invited  
  3. Trying something new feels easier when other people are already doing it 

For startup founders, the lesson here is simple — word of mouth is timeless. Let’s retrace our steps and consider what might inspire a run club member to spread the word about Soso’s to their network. 

It naturally comes up in conversation

 

When a Soso’s member gets asked what they did on the weekend, their Saturday morning run gets a very favourable mention. Attaching your brand to an existing, relevant conversation will not only have people spreading the word, but doing it because they want to.

The existing and new member are both rewarded

 

When a Soso’s member brings a friend, they get to enjoy running with them and bonding over their shared hobby. This shows us that successful referral programs should be as beneficial for their referrer as they are for the referred. 

People are proud to be a part of it

 

The impact of positive feelings come into play with word of mouth. Soso’s content is brimming with empowerment. It’s an energy felt by their members, who have fun sharing post-run selfies and sunrise shots with their followers. Sculpt your startup’s branding to champion how you help your community become the people they strive to be.

Soso’s Run Club Co-founders Sophie Rindfleish (left) and Sofie Spelta (right). Image: Soso’s Run Club

All levels welcome

A major aspect of run clubs’ accelerated growth is convenience. You don’t need any prior experience or equipment. All you need is to register, show up and get moving. This sense of ease can also be felt across Soso’s online touch points. This includes their Instagram bio, which clearly defines when, where and how people can join in. 

“You don’t have to pay to come along to run clubs. You don’t really need a membership for anything. You don’t need a lot of equipment. You don’t need weights or stuff like that. [Running] is probably one of the most easily accessible sports you can do. The barrier to entry is not very high,” said Ms Spelta.

Soso’s paired the existing accessibility of running with a friendly and inclusive brand identity. The name Soso’s, as explained on their website, is more than solely a combination of ‘Sophie’ and ‘Sofie’. It’s also inspired by ‘so so’, as in ‘neither very good, nor very bad’. When coupled with relatable and informative content, their brand captures the welcoming nature of the Soso’s experience.  

“We wanted to make an environment where you could have never run before in your life and come along and have a good time… We try to make it inclusive for everyone, and share that across our socials,” said Ms Spelta.

While this approach worked brilliantly for Soso’s, the takeaway here isn’t that your startup needs to aim to connect with everyone, everywhere. For efficient resource use in the early stages, it’s essential that startups carve out their niche and create branding that aligns with their unique purpose. 

Instead, the success of Soso’s accessibility reinforces the power of a simple customer journey. Every element of your branding should make it easier to connect with your startup’s purpose. This simplicity is especially important when pitching to busy investors or creating branding for startups with a complex offering. 

Keep your eyes on the finish line

Soso’s is driven by purpose over profit. As they grow, they continue to make choices that uphold their commitment to connection, authenticity and inclusivity. By remaining aligned with their mission at every opportunity, they have paved the way for ongoing growth, exciting partnerships and many more kilometres. 

Connect with branding that performs

As a full-service creative studio, we’ve amplified the launch and growth of a diverse portfolio of startups. We tailor content, strategy and branding to connect with target audiences and create a brand experience that’s uniquely yours. 

Dive deeper into our process by booking a free 15-minute discovery call today. 

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