Inside The Marketing Genius That Is Cotopaxi’s Questival
There I was, scaling up the side of a mountain at 5:30 in the morning. It was a chilly 24-degree morning in October, and I was wearing woefully inadequate shoes. Along with two of my best friends, I was participating in Cotopaxi’s annual Questival―a 24-hour adventure race that dares teams as large as six to complete as many challenges as possible, in an effort to earn points and compete with other teams across the state of Utah.
I had first heard of Questival when an ad popped up on my Instagram feed during the summer of last year. The promotion showed a group of friends ecstatically smiling while posing with a “Do Good” flag in the streets of downtown Salt Lake City. I had recognized Cotopaxi’s logo on the flag—my favorite hiking socks are made by the company — and I was instantly intrigued. When I learned that the event was referred to as a “scavenger hunt like no other,” I didn’t even think twice about registering. Soon, I also had two good friends along for the ride.
Building A Customer Base
In the months leading up to the race, I was put in touch with Flip Chavez, the director of event marketing at Cotopaxi. I was full of questions regarding the event, and through conversation, Mr. Chavez told me that the first Questival race took place in Salt Lake City and acted as the company launch for the outdoor retailer in 2014.
Back then, registration for the event was a mere $10―as opposed to the $35 fee for registration this year―and included the same Cotopaxi-branded daypack that I received for participating. Event planners at Cotopaxi even promised an epic concert and a blinged-out finishers medal after their first-ever 24-hour race had come to a close. “The first Questival was in April of 2014,” says Mr. Chavez “this was about eight months before my time with the company. The team wanted to create an experience with challenges that embodied who we are as a company.”
And they’ve beautifully managed to do just that. While some companies struggle to create marketing campaigns or themes that truly symbolize the culture of their company, Cotopaxi nails it right on the head. And as a participant, I felt it immediately. With race day totems required for participation emblazoned in Cotopaxi’s logo and “Do Good” slogan as well as event challenges that inspire participants to explore their state while giving back to the community, Cotopaxi makes every part of this event an incredible representation of their company as a whole while marketing their products in a fun, enjoyable, and interactive way, something that truly speaks to their target market.
“Being a [Salt Lake City-based] company, it was the obvious choice for us to hold the first event here,” Mr. Chavez tells me. “Utah is the perfect venue for Questival, with so many opportunities to get into nature within close proximity to the city.” With hundreds of thrilling challenges and a state where citizens are all too willing to get out and explore the great outdoors, it’s no surprise that the first Questival in Salt Lake City was considered to be a success. And Cotopaxi founder and CEO, Davis Smith, saw that firsthand.
Creating A Lifestyle
“I went to the checkpoint for the first Questival and there was a line like two blocks long,” Mr. Smith said in a Deseret News article. “Standing in line were people with Cotopaxi shirts and hats that they’d made themselves. And there was even a guy who painted our llama logo on his Jeep. It was unbelievable.”
After the success of the first Salt Lake City event, the team at Cotopaxi decided to try a second Questival in San Francisco, California later that same year. The San Francisco event proved to be just as successful, and thus, the adventure race series was born, expanding to cities across the country like Chicago, Las Vegas, and Boston, to name a few.
“Cotopaxi puts on an unbelievable event,” says Bre Marrder, a Salt Lake City Questival participant and the divisional VP of operations and client success at PrincePerelson. “On top of their phenomenal branding and marketing initiatives, the challenges are just plain fun. They involve helping people in your local neighborhood, making an impact on your community, and supporting small businesses. ”
With each event, Cotopaxi hopes to inspire race-goers around the country to explore new spaces that they hadn’t previously while, of course, doing good. So when I received the challenge list just 24 hours before the event was scheduled to begin (that’s really all the time you have to prepare) I set about choosing the challenges that would take my team somewhere new and ones that would inspire us to do a little good wherever we could along the way.
Another 24 hours after I received the challenge list, I headed to the Gallivan Center in downtown Salt Lake City for the kickoff of the event. I was surrounded by my small team and thousands of other adventure enthusiasts who were all determined to “Do Good” with Cotopaxi as they explored Utah. I even met a young boy, named Logan who was participating in his first Questival with his father. When asked what they were most excited to experience together, they told me that it was about “getting off the couch” and exploring things together that they hadn’t previously.
But they weren’t the only unlikely team I saw. Over the course of the event, I met a group of mothers who were reunited at Questival after being college roommates, a group of siblings who traveled cross-country to compete with one another, and a group of fabulous older women who were just looking to have fun together. It seemed that there was something about Questival that attracted all, a truly rare feat.
Curating A Culture
I was astounded, both by the massive and diverse turnout for the event as well as the number of people dressed up in elaborate costumes, all sporting their Cotopaxi Luzon backpacks.. As I turned around to get a better look at the starting-line venue, I couldn’t believe what I saw: there were food trucks, a gigantic rock climbing wall, two live llamas (yes, really), and a line full of hundreds of race participants ecstatically doing the conga. A gigantic dance party had even broken out near the front of the stage, and according to Mr. Chavez, this was all part of the Questival fun.
“The event brings out such a cool group of people and at our events, we spend a lot of time getting to know people on a personal level,” says Mr. Chavez. “We hear a lot of great stories. We’ve had five on-stage wedding proposals over the years and all said yes.” As if that weren’t crazy enough, Mr. Chavez tells me there have been “at least five” Cotopaxi llama and “Do Good” tattoos that came as a result of Questival.
While a marriage proposal and a new tattoo weren’t on my list of challenges to compete for Questival, things like hiking to the “Living Room”, cleaning up local parks, walking up Park City’s Main Street, and sending a postcard to our senators all were. And just as soon as we fought through the excited crowd at the Gallivan Center for our “Do Good” totem, we were finally ready to get our adventure started.
Over the next 24 hours, my team and I crossed challenge after challenge off of our list. We had managed to complete a whopping 25 challenges around the Salt Lake Valley and the surrounding areas. I even stood shoeless in an icy river―for what felt like hours of my life― to cross off as many challenges as we possibly could.
As my team took photos with our race totem after completing each challenge, we were surrounded by other race participants all wearing their Luzon backpacks and carrying their race totems. It was then that I found my thoughts wandering to the marketing team at Cotopaxi. The fact that they had created such a successful, large-scale event impressed me, sure, but the fact that they managed to get thousands of race participants all wearing the Cotopaxi logo and truly engaging in their company culture impressed me even more. There’s no telling how many eyes saw the Cotopaxi llama logo that race weekend in October.
Marketing A Brand
Not only did the event boost Cotopaxi’s brand recognition throughout the state, but the event boosted brand recognition globally, through social media, as well. Participants loved reposting the fun of Questival to their Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat accounts, and in the first year of Questival alone, I’m told that there were a whopping 30,000 photos that were posted to social media.
“Questival is inherently shareable” says Mr. Chavez. “At nearly every event we hear stories of people who discovered the event from an out-of-state friend who posted about it to social media. Word of mouth is one of our top survey results for how people become aware of the event.” And it’s true. During Questival I saw dozens, if not hundreds of photos from the event on my Instagram and Facebook feeds, all using the company’s #DoGood hashtag, and sporting their Cotopaxi backpacks.
“The first Questival was done entirely on social media and it did a great job of getting our name out but it also took over everyone’s social feeds,” says Mr. Chavez. “After our Questival iOS and Android apps launched, the event content was all hosted within the app to keep up with social sharing without being overwhelming.” He also adds that once the event has concluded, Cotopaxi chooses the most shareable posts to display on their own social media profiles.
25 challenges and 24 hours later I found myself in the Utah State Capitol building for the epic finish-line festivities. It was a smaller crowd than the one at the start line―my team called it quits around hour 15, and it appeared others did too―but there were still hundreds of us sharing stories from the last 24 hours while dancing along to the DJ.
As I wandered around the Rotunda, I met Elizabeth Easton, a young woman who, like me, was participating in her first Questival with a small group of friends. We chatted about our favorite challenges―hers were exploring Wendover and the Salt Flats―and all of the things we had experienced before she pointed to the back of her finisher’s medal.
“I loved the back of this, it says ‘collect moments, not things’ and we totally did,” she says. “I’m here with two good friends and we have so many memories from this weekend that we are already laughing about.”
Like Ms. Easton, that phrase resonated with me, as well. After saying goodbye, I sat to collect my thoughts on a bench outside. Questival had been a crazy experience, that was for sure. But at the end of the day, I really had collected moments―25 of them to be exact. Not every moment of my experience was perfect, sure, but at the end of the day, I was left with the experience of “doing good” on an epic adventure that I truly will never forget, and that’s worth its weight in gold.
Plus, I got some pretty cool swag. Now, every time I see that llama logo, I’ll think of those 24 hours in October that I spent with my close friends. And it seems to me that was Cotopaxi’s goal the whole time.