Ambitious Brands: Clipper Race

Katharine Schäfli, global head of brand at Clipper Race, tells us how ambition continues to play a pivotal role in the brand’s success.

This year we’re hosting a series of intimate supper clubs curated to inspire brand leaders and marketers, entitled Building a Beautiful Business.

Our first evening on Thursday May 17th will explore the power and purpose of Ambition in building a beautiful brand. We’ll be joined by Julia Fry, head of global communications at Clipper Race, who’ll be sharing her insights into the extraordinarily ambitious global challenge.

With Julia currently in Seattle for the race stopover, we caught up with Katharine Schäfli, Clipper Race’s global head of brand to learn more about the round the world adventure.

Tell us about the excitement of the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race. What is unique about the race and how has it grown and evolved since it began over 20 years ago?

At its core I believe the Clipper Race is about the need for us – as humans – to push boundaries, be curious, explore and go beyond the discomfort of a comfort zone. I think this is a human condition and believe strongly that courage is contagious. It is the same inspiration that put us on the moon fifty years ago or, closer to home, energises us to swap the daily commute for a life-changing adventure.

The brainchild of Sir Robin Knox-Johnston (the first person to circumnavigate solo around the world without stopping five decades ago), the Clipper Race has given an opportunity to thousands of people from all walks of life and regardless of any sailing experience to train and transform into an ocean racer. The idea was to make circumnavigating the globe accessible to everyone. Back in 1995, a single advert in a newspaper returned thousands of enquiries and the business was born.

Would you describe the Clipper Race as an ambitious brand?

An ambitious attitude is what sets us apart.

We are not afraid to compete and push boundaries. From its earliest moments the Clipper Race has always been a powerful blend of intense competition mixed with human endeavour.

Not every business or brand can legitimately claim ambition as a core value – core to the brand idea itself. It is impossible to tell the story of the Clipper Race without ambition being central to the plot. It really is a part of our DNA. It guides our thinking and decisions and it’s a quality which informs our choices and the brand’s style, positioning us as bold and decisive.

As leaders of one of the biggest adventures of the natural world today, how much value does Clipper Race place on brand aesthetics?

The Clipper Race values brand aesthetics very highly indeed. We have a strong visual identity to project the right image, and we work hard to communicate the passion, commitment, endeavours and remarkable achievements of the crew – which in-turn inspires their communities to live life with courage.

While the photographic and video imagery of our brand story is extraordinary, it is only a small part of the brand. We don’t forget the way stepping onto an ocean racing yacht makes you feel, or the sound of water and wind when you are closer to the International Space Station than to land, or the feeling of salt engrained on your skin.

This is an extraordinary adventure so we put enormous effort into how the story of our Race Crew is told editorially.

Ambition plays a pivotal role in each race, particularly for the race crews and skippers themselves. But what role has Ambition had in building Clipper Race as a media brand?

At the heart of a strong brand is a big idea – an idea that gets under our skin and into our minds. And Clipper Race is a brand that punches way above its weight because of that.

Do you think ambition is an essential quality within every business and brand?

No. Not in the same way that ambition is embraced by us. It’s great to have goals, but perhaps rather controversially, I don’t think that every brand should have ambition at its core. I believe a brand should stay true to its values and if ambition isn’t one of them, then don’t pretend it is. Core values need to hold true and be sustainable and supported by reasons to believe. Customers and audiences are smart and can see an imposter a mile off. Sure, make bold marketing decisions, but embrace ambition as a value because it is core to your brand idea, not because it’s ‘the thing’ to do.

What other brand values make Clipper Race an aspirational brand?

Ambition makes us bold and decisive, but passion is at the heart of the race and of our crew. Passion knows no boundaries, has no age limit, and crosses cultures and professions. Passion is what drives the Race Crew to endure thousands of gruelling nautical miles and is what drove Sir Robin Knox-Johnston to be the first person to sail the world solo non-stop. It is the same passion that will always guide us to achieve our goals.

We are also human. We are not unapproachable or elite – the Clipper Race is about people. It is a potent mix of personal stories of extraordinary achievement and extreme adventure set in the most challenging of environments. A great number of Race Crew join the race having spoken with a friend who recommends it. It is their stories of courage that are contagious and unstoppable.

With over 20 years of racing in the history books, how will ambition help carve the future of the Clipper Race brand?

The foundations of the Clipper Race story are strong but we are just at the beginning and we have a world of opportunity ahead. Not many people realise that we run the world’s two largest fleets of matched ocean racing yachts, manage the world’s longest ocean race, or have supported more people to achieve their ambition to circumnavigate the globe than have ever summitted Mount Everest.

In the current edition of the race we have more Chinese crew than ever before and this is set to grow, as will interest from the US and across Europe. Ocean racing is what we do now but who knows what will be possible fifty years hence?

Register your interest

For the chance to hear from Julia Fry and meet like-minded brand and marketing leaders at our exclusive supper club, register your interest now.

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