Online marathons have become one of the most lucrative internet business niches over the past 10 years. The online marathon market in Russia is estimated at billions of rubles. The unprecedented growth in popularity of marathons fell on the pandemic, when, in addition to ordinary bloggers, popular influencers and companies that had lost their offline customers entered the game.
First Russian online marathons
In Runet, marathons began to be held even before it became mainstream. For example, Zoya Chernakova’s online marathon “Let’s make a figurine out of a carcass” was launched back in 2004. The program was monetized simply: you could pay for participation in a paid group, you could purchase a book outlining the principles of “positive weight loss” and a collection of success stories.
Exactly the same scheme was used by Ekaterina Mirimanova, the creator of System Minus 60. Both programs are still popular – authors run paid marathons online and publish books.
The second most demanded direction among Russians is self-development. Everything falls into this category – from time management, “increasing cash flow” and “biohacking” to esoteric practices, “decluttering” and “fulfilling desires.” The first online marathons in this niche originated and developed in the same way as diet programs – paid consultations on forums and publishing books offline.
Some of the founders of self-development marathons have formed cult movements and numerous offline training centers – for example, Sviyash’s “Reasonable Way” and Zeland’s “Reality Transurfing”. The profitability of areas related to diet / fitness and money / self-development did not go unnoticed by bloggers and aspiring information businessmen.
Updated format of online marathons
Instead of forums and books, new gurus have relied on social networks, interactivity, gamification, elements of a reality show. Online marathons have seen massive cash and material prizes, and the competitive spirit of the programs has begun to attract millions of participants instead of the thousands.
The first truly profitable project of the new format was the Crazy Drying Marathon, first held in 2015. The amount of monetary remuneration in the program reached 12 million rubles, jeeps were handed out as prizes, and the organizers’ profits amounted to tens of millions of rubles for each 5-week season.
The popularity of marathons during the lockdown period
Yandex Wordstat and Google Trends registered an explosive growth in search queries in April 2020: users searched for information using the keywords “online marathon” 4 times more often than before the lockdown was announced. Demand is undoubtedly related to restrictions due to the pandemic, remote work and stay-at-home for people.
Online marathons are now most often held in closed groups of social networks, instant messengers, and sometimes on platforms for online courses (for example, GetCourse). Some programs are free, users pay for participation in most marathons – from several hundred to tens of thousands of rubles.
Free marathons with prizes are especially often held on Instagram, the purpose of such programs is to promote accounts and recruit a loyal audience.
A typical online marathon program consists of pre-prepared materials (articles, e-books, presentations, audio and video lectures, assignments, tests and instructions), and is complemented by personal consultations, video conferencing, and group interactive streams.
Mandatory components of an Instagram marathon
• interesting tasks;
• developing skills and strengthening good habits;
• posts about the marathon on the pages of the participants;
• valuable prizes.
To attract participants, the creators of marathons take care of filling their resource with useful free content in advance, and (necessarily!) Ensure the availability of positive reviews in the thematic publics of social networks, from influencers, on the popular platforms “Otzovik” and Irecommend. Testimonials and success stories are complemented by photo and video evidence of the program’s effectiveness – “before and after”.
The cost of an advertising campaign for an online marathon on Instagram consists of:
• attracting subscribers – about 6 rubles per account;
• advertising from bloggers – from 2,000 rubles per post from a microinfluencer;
• mentions in thematic public pages – from 1000 rubles per post;
• targeted advertising – 6-10 rubles per subscriber;
• guest posts – free.
Online marathon advertising budgets can be rubbery. As the money from the marathon comes in, advertising continues in order to maximize the profit from the project (until the demand falls).
Most Successful Online Marathon Projects
The phenomenal success of Frenzied Drying spawned a lot of imitators: first, ProDrying, Burger Drying appeared, and then projects on other topics – from facelift to online fulfillment of desires. There is even a marathon platform called the marafonator.
The founder of the Frenzy Drying fitness game, shortly before the pandemic, changed the format from marathon to long-term. However, other representatives of the niche continued to work as usual – and they paid off.
Success of the “Marathon of Desires”
The hyperpopular project of Elena Blinovskaya in 2020 became the basis of the film of the same name. The marathon has been operating since 2015; the number of subscribers on Instagram is 2.6 million people, almost all of the account content is rave reviews. According to the agency Didenok Team, the profit of the author of the “Marathon of Desires” exceeds 200 million rubles.
In addition to fulfilling desires, the authors offer training in financial well-being, courses in finding one’s purpose, and a relationship improvement program. Olga Kitaina, the founder of the Alter online consulting platform, considers the methods of the “Marathon of Desires” typical, non-personalized – which can be both ineffective and even dangerous.
However, the expert notes that the tremendous success of the marathon is the tendency of people to search for the simplest solutions, instead of long work with a professional psychologist.
Physical Transformation or “Burger Drying”
The project has been operating since 2017. The initial investment in Physical Transformation was about 1 million rubles – the money was spent on online advertising. Already after a year and a half, the marathon brought in 200-300 thousand rubles in revenue every month. The marathon program includes a meal plan, instructions for workouts at home and in the gym. Most of the participants (over 75%) are women, 70-75% of users reach the finish line.
Nutritionist Maria Kadrakova believes that the marathon does not take into account individual characteristics and can harm people with eating disorders. However, Drying is very successful in the current format: according to Forbes, the revenue of the authors of the program for the crisis year 2020 amounted to about 140 million rubles.
Author’s banner SMSTRETCHING
Under the motto “everything is extensible”, the gymnastic stretching studio has been working successfully (with revenues of up to 22 million rubles) since 2016. However, like all fitness clubs, SMSTRETCHING studios were left without clients in the spring of 2020. It was decided to develop online stretching courses and start promoting the marathon online.
The quarantined audience greeted the video tutorials with enthusiasm. Stretching instructions were supplemented with yoga, Pilates, meditation, nutritional advice. According to the agency Didenok Team, the revenue of the SMSTRETCHING online marathon for 2020 is 57 million rubles, the profit is about 34 million rubles.
PR Partner agency comes to marathons
The communications agency went online due to the pandemic. PR Partner’s online marathons include programs for promotion on Instagram, PR and copywriting. Four streams brought the company 1 million rubles in revenue and more than 3,000 participants. The checklist for the preparation of any marathon, according to the authors, should include:
• launch announcement in social networks;
• development of a draft version of the program and search for speakers;
• billing connection;
• active promotion and sales;
• revision of the program.
From their own experience, PR Partner experts were convinced that the final cost for participation in marathons should be set after the first trainings with a focus group: it often turns out that people are willing to pay more, especially for additional services – checking assignments and feedback.
Business prospects in online marathons
Obviously, the demand for online software will only grow for the foreseeable future. Fierce competition among organizers contributes to the improvement and complication of programs.
Trends in external and internal transformation of personality, development of skills and increased physical attractiveness (combined with an acute lack of time) have a direct impact on the growth of demand: the modern user prefers to pay for the quick results that the authors of online marathons offer.