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I couldn’t NOT write about this. Two of the biggest passions in my life: rock climbing and advertising.

Back story: Alex Honnold is arguably the most famous rock climber on Earth right now. He’s made his name free soloing — climbing without rope, protective gear or even a partner. He is a professional climber with sponsorship deals that support his dirtbag lifestyle (climbing all the time and living in van — a nice one, but still a van).

I came across this particular sponsorship on Facebook, where I follow Honnold (but not in a creepy way.) He posted this:

screen-shot-2016-12-09-at-11-31-04-amHaving seen the original Dan Osman speed climbing video several years ago, I was intrigued. When I clicked through, I ended up at Stride Health’s site — a health insurance broker based in California. They have “partnered with Alex to keep him safe, on and off the mountain, no matter where in the world he may be.” (The campaign is also on Twitter, btw.)

Watch Alex’s remake here:

To the uninitiated, climbing may seem dangerous. So an insurance company partnering with a guy who climbs without a safety net? Crazy. Also brilliant. Stride took a chance and partnered with a rock star of the decidedly non-mainstream climbing culture in a marketing move that is  risky, crazy, bold, brilliant and definitely sets them apart.

But it’s also totally in keeping with Stride’s brand identity. From their website: “Stride is a team of engineers, designers, and healthcare experts in San Francisco. We’ve driven for Uber, we’ve freelanced as designers, and we’ve all experienced the hassle that health care was without Stride, so we’re laser-focused on making your search for coverage better, smarter, and faster than ever before.”

Stride has product spokespeople, or Ambassadors. “Stride Ambassadors represent the relentless drive that all Stride members have: to live their dreams on their own terms. We cover them so they can get back to what they do best, knowing they’ve got access to care when they need it.” Ambassadors include Honnold, an Ultraman athlete, a professional cyclist and the late Dean Potter. Ironically, Potter is still up on their site, even though he died flying in a wingsuit last year. Stride says “To honor Dean’s memory, we’ve decided to leave up the inspirational words Dean wrote as a Stride Athlete in February 2015.” Another huge, bold, ballsy move. But what Potter says makes it all make sense.

“Stride … looks beyond the superficial. Stride must have noticed that this mountain freak has a methodology for surviving unscathed for decades. Stride immediately understood that I don’t just lay it all out on a Hail Mary prayer. They actually saw I grasp the risks and take action to prevent the horrible from happening. Two seemingly opposites connect … A guy that turns dying to flying finds a friend in healthcare who doesn’t call him crazy and believes if they can find the right health insurance for the ‘lunatic maniac,’ then they can find the perfect health insurance solution for anybody!”

Wow. I think that’s bold and brilliant branding and marketing. Stride comes across as a trailblazer, an organization with actual feelings for the people it serves, someone who takes smart, calculated risks and a company that is on your side (“We’ve got your back”). It also happens to provide a terrific product.

The marketing lesson here: Be bold. Tell your story — or let someone with authority tell your story. Step outside your comfort zone. Live your brand. And if a crazy marketing idea makes your hands sweat and your breath come quick and shallow, maybe it’s not so crazy after all.

Author Thoma Thoma

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