How to create a female following… and why you should care (with permission from Bicycle Retailer and Industry News)

My good friend, and contributor here- Sarai Snyder- recently wrote an excellent Guest Editorial in Bicycle Retailer and Industry News (BRaIN) in the February 1st issue. I liked it so much, and felt it valuable enough, that I reached out to both Sarai and BRaIN for permission to run the full editorial here. There are many great points in the piece, many things I have felt and said for years, but I lack the genuine credibility on the topic that Sarai has.

We, the cycling industry, have done so little to really grow and support women in cycling- historically speaking. It IS getting better, and more women are holding important roles within the industry (which is a long overdue trend), but there is so much more to be done… and Sarai’s piece does a lot to help explain how easy some of those steps can be. It’s not just about the products, which we’ve done a reasonably good job of creating. There’s more to it, as Sarai points out.

With the industry in desperate need of growth and “new” consumers, women are an important part of our collective futures… so if you didn’t read the editorial in BRaIN, please give it a read now.

***

How to create a female following… and why you should care. 

Women are the fastest-growing segment in the cycling market. More and more are hopping on bikes everyday, but retailers sometimes find it difficult to connect with female customers. By creating a comfortable environment for women to shop, learn and advance as cyclists, your business can become a natural hub for women who ride bikes. Surprisingly, that might not be as hard as you think.

Here are a few tips on how to create, develop and maintain a loyal female following:

1. Get to know the female cyclist. Much more than just another rider, women are a huge asset in building a strong cycling community. Women are more socially and locally aware. As natural communicators, we like to build communities focused around our passions in personal networks and online, sharing stories and empowering one another toward our greatest goals. For these reasons, female cyclists are rarely created individually, but in groups of two or more. One new female customer can mean several, making us an extremely valuable market to reach. Women are motivated to have a positive community impact and therefore likely to get involved in local events and advocacy—another great reason to encourage more female ridership.

2. Make a connection. A good relationship with a female customer starts by making a connection. Recognize that women are not the opposite of men. As cyclists, we want the same things: great bikes, gear, places to ride and people to ride with. Women who ride bikes are just as diverse as their male counterparts in bike needs and interests. Finding that commonality is the first opportunity to turn a casual female shopper into a loyal customer. It starts with having a conversation and asking questions. As with each person that walks in the door, getting to know what sort of rider they are, their goals and challenges, you can meet them where they are and take them where they want to go.

3. Build community. Since women are socially motivated, having a healthy community in and around your shop is essential. Women’s nights have been hugely successful at many shops. These events provide an exclusive opportunity to get women in the door, introduce products and provide education. Lessons on flat repair and drivetrain cleaning are basic, necessary skills that all cyclists need to know. Many women have had less exposure to tools and often are not expected to be as mechanically adept as men. So offering education in a non-threatening environment is highly productive. Once women learn some basic skills they will feel more comfortable at more inclusive cycling events and rides. Women’s nights also provide the opportunity to meet and find riding partners. Following it up with a regular group ride is an excellent way to keep the momentum going, making your shop a gathering place for female cyclists. As friendships develop, so will your community.

4. Have at least one female on staff. Seeing another female in the shop will make a woman more at ease the moment she walks in the door. A female employee is also invaluable in bringing balance and diversity to your business. Additionally, her observations can lead to candid conversations on improving shop etiquette, especially when dealing with female customers. If you find it challenging to hire a female employee, consider searching out a woman to be your ambassador in the community, assist with events, lead group rides and be a sounding board for effectively reaching out locally. These women are usually thrilled to assist in making purchasing decisions for women’s-specific gear and bikes.

5. Lastly, have women’s gear on the sales floor. For many shops this is a chicken or egg scenario. Which comes first, stocking women’s gear or having more women ready to buy? This can be a fine balancing act, but taking care to grow the community and the gear offerings equally over time is a winning combination. Loyal customers who feel well supported and respected are often willing to wait for special orders. Reaching female customers is only marginally related to the products you carry.

As mothers, teachers and caregivers, women have the greatest influence on future generations. Attracting and developing more female riders is our opportunity to push cycling into the mainstream, thus leading to safer, stronger cycling communities. Improving the bicycle retail experience for women is essential for causing this shift and ensuring the sustainability of the industry we all know and love.

Sarai Snyder is editor in chief of women’s cycling website Girl Bike Love. She’s also the co-founder of CycloFemme, a global women’s ride, and a former retailer.

Online versus traditional brick and mortar IBD… again/ still/ some more…

The cycling industry, like nearly every other industry known to man, struggles to come to terms with the growth of online retail and how to adapt to it/ with it. The cycling industry- especially at the retail level- has been fighting to survive the battle against online retailers ever since the earlier catalog mail order days. The vast majority of retail IBDs have been unable or unwilling to compete with the buying power and discount pricing of many online retailers. For several years nows, the manufacturers in the industry have also struggled to come to terms with the growth of online retail. Many brands have tried to cultivate twin distribution channels, attempting to remain strong in both IBD and online worlds. For some brands and product categories, it has worked with relatively few issues. The main category, but certainly not the only one, to receive the greatest amount if scrutiny and angst has been bikes- complete or framesets.

There are many arguments why a brand would want to partner with online retailers, the biggest and most obvious being the sheer number of consumers doing their research about brands/ products online, and then hunting for that ever popular and hated “buy now” button. For traditional IBDs, there are plenty of reasons to fear online retailers- many online retailers offer prices that can be cheaper than what an IBD can buy a similar product for, thanks to their massive buying power and lower overhead. Online retailers, often referred to as  evildoers attempting to undermine the health of the industry and put shops out of business, are far from The Evil Empire®. Is it fair to paint all online retailers as being ruthless bloodsuckers for simply being often more efficient and existing in the space where so many consumers spend vast amounts of time?

For brands, especially for smaller bike brands fighting for dollars in an increasingly competitive market with dominant incumbents increasing their control over retailers in the traditional IBD world, choosing to ignore online distribution- either through consumer-direct sales or with an online retailer- could spell death. With retailers often seeking to streamline their businesses, to keep things easier in a tough market or because of pressure from their major brands, smaller/ newer brands are left with very few options if they want to survive. Ignoring online distribution means saying “no” to consumers interested in their products. In my previous role as Brand Manager at Masi Bicycles, I had to frequently tell a consumer that I couldn’t directly sell them a bike, and that there were no online retailers who could sell them a bike… I had to say “no” to a sale. And I did it a lot. Masi had very large geographic areas without any retailers, and consumers in those areas who wanted to buy bikes… but we had to say no to selling direct and there were no retailers who could help them out. And things haven’t changed much in the industry in the few years since I was at Masi. It’s not entirely about small/ new brands either, because there are plenty of consumers who can’t get easy access to established brands too- or they simply choose not to deal with the local IBDs available to them. What are brands to do? Continue to say “no” and allow the brands who say “yes” to steal their sales?

For the IBD, there are numerous issues at play. If they attempt to compete on price, they may end up selling products- just to capture the sale- for less than they paid for the product, or at such a small profit that it becomes hardly worth stocking the product. Many retailers have had the experience of being “shopped” by consumers who use the retailer and their expertise to determine the proper product/ size/ fit that they need, only to have the consumer go home and buy online (or even within the store on their smart phones). Sometimes, it isn’t enough to explain the added value of personal service, good relationships, and proper product knowledge that the consumer misses by shopping online. Many consumers are addicted to the thrill of getting the ultimate “deal”, even if the shipping and/ or labor to install/ set up the new widget brings the IBD and online source to pricing parity. There is an increasing number of consumers who just flat-out prefer to shop online, for everything they purchase. This coming Christmas season is expected to be another record-breaking year for online sales. In fact, just this past week, UPS shares went up significantly in value based on reports by the company of the anticipated increase in business due to online sales. Even if an IBD is able to entice consumers into their shop, there is always the chance that they will not have the item in stock and need to order it themselves, increasing the desire of the consumer to go home and order it… and possibly get free freight, unlike the IBD!

Online retailers, have struggled for years to develop a better buying experience than walking into the local trusted retailer. Sometimes it’s easy, and other times it’s not. Online retailers without knowledgable staff, or with high turnaround, can struggle to survive as well. It takes a lot of volume of low margin closeouts to keep the lights on and the computer server humming. Having the right mix of product and inventory is an equal challenge for online as well. There has to be a balance of closeout inventory pulling in the low-price consumer, as well as new and currently hot products (at full margin) to keep “the geeks” coming back. Logistics is its own nightmare too, especially for larger companies doing their own private label products.

With brands, the answer will likely settle into a hybrid model of traditional IBD retailers and some sort of online presence. Either consumer-direct sales or some version of a “buy now/ buy local” option on brand websites, even if it directs the consumer to a nearby retailer- similar to Shopatron. For the retailer, the answer is likely going to require developing both an online presence, and learning how to offer a buying experience that trumps the convenience of buying online and potentially saving tons of money. And online retailers are increasingly attempting to develop IBD footprints, as well as learning how to increase profitability without just selling an increased volume of closeout products at low margins.

Overall, the answer is going to be uncomfortable at times, and is going to require a lot of dialog between all parties. There are many more pieces to the puzzle, and nobody seems to have the lid to the box so we can all look at the picture and figure it out. Consumers are online. A lot. They’re comfortable buying everything from watches to clothing to food to cars… and bikes. Brands need to reach more consumers- the industry has not had enough growth beyond its regular customers in over 10 years. Retailers have to make money and reach consumers- whether online or off the sidewalk. With the market’s hyper-competitive environment, the answer is likely going to get muddier before it gets much clearer.

 

Tim Jackson

Chief Kool-Aid Dispenser

Introducing Sarai Snyder; The Revolution will not be televised… and it’s here NOW.

I love my “job” here as the Chief Kool-Aid Dispenser! I get to “work” with some of my favorite people on the planet, some of the sharpest minds I know, and just genuinely good people. A perfect example of that is our newest contributor, who happens to also be a good friend of mine (though she can be a troublemaker- “she started it”)- Sarai Snyder. Sarai is one of the most genuinely passionate advocates I have ever encountered in cycling, but when it comes to women in cycling, I don’t think I’ve ever met anybody more passionate, or knowledgeable. That’s high praise indeed, given the exemplary women I know in this world of cycling. And, I’d be willing to bet that all the other women I know, would agree with my assessment.

Sarai is genuinely one of my favorite people in the world of cycling, and on that same precious list outside of the context of cycling. She’s kinda the ginger-haired, freckled little sister I never had. And if she doesn’t stop touching my stuff and get out of my room, I’m gonna yank her pigtails!

As is the tradition here, I’ll let Sarai cover her own intro… if for no other reason than the fact I absolutely LOVE making all of my contributors talk about themselves in the third person voice.

Sarai Headshot
Sarai Snyder – Founder Girl Bike Love/CycloFemme

Growing up in the hills of Kentucky, rolling around on bicycles meant riding on anything other than paved roads and cement sidewalks.  At the age of 10, with her younger sister Tamar by her side, Sarai would bomb down steep hillsides and launch off  homemade jumps.

Several years later, on her new-to-her Barracuda, she found that mountain biking was what she was born to do.  Some say, in 1994, when she went out for her first mountain bike ride, she never really came back.

In 2005, Sarai became intimately involved with one of her local bike shops and soon took on the role of manager.  The shop noticed an immediate shift.  The number of women showing up for group rides and making purchases grew substantially.

Seeing the importance of community involvement in building the local cycling culture, Sarai started working with local advocacy organizations and later co-founded Queen City Bike, now Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky’s non-profit cycling advocacy organization.  With an education in fine art, Sarai felt she had finally found a practical application for her creative skills, bringing a fresh perspective to actively encouraging more cyclists.

Taking the knowledge and experience she gained in Kentucky, Sarai moved to Boulder, Colorado where she founded Girl Bike Love.  Recognizing the need for a larger women’s cycling community, the mission of Girl Bike Love is “to educate and empower women in cycling”.  With such a simple mission, the online community has grown beautifully, connecting women all around the world.

With the support of this passionate group of followers, in the spring of 2012, CycloFemme – A Global Women’s Cycling Day was launched.  In just 9 short weeks, 163 rides were registered in 14 countries. In 2013 those numbers grew to 229 rides in 31 countries.

Sarai loves every aspect of cycling and is constantly challenged to decide which discipline she loves most.  Outside of running Girl Bike Love and CycloFemme, Sarai spends most of her time consulting for cycling companies, writing, and riding.

 

Perfect! Third person… I love it.

 

Now it’s time to prove just how damn smart she is.

We, as an industry, need to read these words and really chew on them and digest them. There IS a Revolution, and it IS here now; how are WE going to be a part of it? If you’re on the outside looking in and trying to “figure this out”, you could learn a lot by getting involved and listening. LISTENING. Small word, big concept.

***

While most of the cycling industry spent their time at Interbike ogling fresh lines and paint schemes, fumbling new gadgets, trading stories with old friends, searching out the next best happy hour, and hand counting the number of consumers they personally witnessed on day three, a notable revolution was taking place in a cozy little corner of the showroom floor with comfy couches, pillows, velvet stools and gasp – WOMEN.

Throughout the three day show the Women’s Lounge hosted by the Outdoor Industry Women’s Coalition (OIWC) was abuzz with momentum.

Women from all over the industry came together in quiet little game changing meetings while most others quietly strolled on by.

As the cycling industry continues it’s pursuit of “What Women Want” they largely fail to ask, listen, watch and learn from the very demographic they are trying to reach.  Most will read this article, snicker and point fingers.

We all know it’s true. Many will say “We are being innovative, we listen, we like women, look here, we have an entire line of amazing women’s products”.

And while amazing products are much appreciated, this is exactly when it becomes clear who is missing the boat.

The answer to attracting the female consumer is only marginally related to product.  Women are not the opposite of men.  Women are riders, cyclists, mountain bikers, roadies, commuters, huckers, bmxers, fixies, pros, messengers, bike tourers, and track racers just as men are.  Our gender does not change the fact that as such we want bikes and gear that fit well, function flawlessly, look good and make us feel even better.  We want great places to ride, great bike shops and mechanics to care for our bikes, and great events and races to participate in.

Above all, as women, we want to be supported and acknowledged as equals, not physically the same, but as riders, racers, consumers and leaders.  In turn, we use our buying power and our social influence to vote for the companies that are doing just that.

There is an emerging core of women in cycling that are creating strong partnerships, with great ethics, professionalism and powerful leadership.  We are being innovative in our relationships, aligning with non endemic partners.  We are working together to actively, strategically, and effectively attract more women to cycling.

So why does this matter to you, to your brand, to the cycling industry as a whole?

Because we have the women’s cycling market at our fingertips.  And contrary to traditional marketing set forth in the industrial or marketing economies of the past, as Seth Godin suggests, “we are living in a connection economy”.  Today, branding and marketing strategy hinges on the emotional connection.

By proudly supporting and investing in women’s cycling organizations, initiatives, and individuals that are directly cultivating the women’s cycling community there is a special opportunity to create lasting, authentic, emotional connections with female consumers.

The question is no longer “how do we attract more women to cycling?” but “how do we support those who are?”

Next time the opportunity arises to engage with the leaders of the women’s cycling revolution, take the time to create that emotional connection, to listen, to ask how you can show your support, and above all to say ‘thank you’.

The revolution is not about quicker shifting, cleaner cable routing, lighter, stronger, faster bikes, wheels, shoes or helmets.  The revolution is not a product, the revolution is women in cycling.

Sarai Snyder

***

Short and sweet… a lot like Sarai herself.

Are YOU… are WE… a part of the Revolution, or watching on the sidelines worrying about the restless masses? As you evaluate your marketing dollars (as I look at my own), consider the possibility that you might effect actual sales of your products/ services by supporting a growing customer base that is clamoring for your simple acknowledgement of their existence.

Interbike 2013; the Sorta Move®/ Sorta Change™

The hot, sweaty, dust of Interbike 2013 has now mostly settled… in a sticky mess of spilled, over-priced, “free” beer and delusional dreams. The show’s much anticipated and over-hyped move from the Sands Convention Center at the Venetian, to the Mandalay Bay and it’s convention center, was the biggest topic of discussion… followed closely by the questions, concerns, and curiosity surrounding the “Interbike by Invitation” pseudo consumer day. And, well, as is tradition, the yearly bitch session about “why the hell are we in Vegas AGAIN?”

Interbike, for all its warts and itchy rashes, is still THE North American cycling trade event of the year. The original premise and purpose of the show was to connect brands to retailers, so the brands could sell products/ services to retailers. Over the years, thanks to the ever-shifting product model year and earlier shows like Eurobike, Interbike has morphed into something else… though nobody is quite sure what it IS now… or they’re just not willing to admit what it isn’t. With numerous brands, well, nearly all, asking retailers to commit to “preseason” orders as early as July, September has become a nearly useless date on the calendar for a “sales” event. Don’t get me wrong, there are still some folks still doing business during Interbike, but it’s not at all like it was in years past. Not even close. The days of driving/ flying back from Vegas with a large stack of orders handwritten on paper order forms, then hurriedly entered into the “order system” at the office, with special care given to protect order priority, are LONG dead. Still, Interbike serves a purpose as a sales show, especially for smaller brands that are looking for new retailers. There’s no greater chance within North America to meet and talk with so many potential retailers. Interbike is still, king of the castle in that one regard… but is that enough to justify the incredibly huge expense? There are many CFOs who would emphatically suggest NO. And, with Interbike moving ahead another week earlier in September next year, it will be less than two weeks after Eurobike, meaning some brands will have to make some very hard choices about which of the two shows they will attend.

The opening salvo of Interbike, the OutDoor Demo, is perhaps one of the few things that really matters anymore- in many ways. For smaller brands, again, it proves to be the very best opportunity to showcase your product’s worth. If a retailer has the chance to ride your bike/ test your product and is impressed, it could be “the thing” that changes their minds and opens their wallets. Many brands over the past 5 years have either shrunk their indoor presence, or eliminated it altogether, in favor of larger and better OutDoor Demo presences. Bootleg Canyon, in Henderson, provides some great trails- though potentially very dangerous and challenging (I didn’t see the medevac chopper once this year though)- for evaluating MTB models, and the nearby roads and fantastic bike path network around Lake Mead provide ample road bike (or e-bike) testing options. The desert is hot, dry, and miserably windy sometimes in September, so it’s not the friendliest place to test a bike. But it’s pretty functional. BUT… would somewhere less hot, dry, windy, and dangerous be better and create even more excitement?

The new footprint at Mandalay Bay was equally crappy/ challenging/ wonderful for most brands. Some of the smaller brands with smaller booths got completely hosed by the incredibly crappy overall situation with columns all over the show floor and in booth spaces. Interbike graciously offered a discount (though pennies on the dollar) or other advertising “trades” to compensate for the columns… but for some brands, the columns simply destroyed their booths. Luckily for me and the company I work for, we already had a tower built into our booth design. It provides storage for our sales materials and other booth supplies, so we were able to build the tower around the column… losing nearly all of our booth storage in the process. But we were able to greatly minimize the visual impact on the display… thankfully. Had we not had such an element already built into our design… it is entirely possible my limp body might have been found dangling above the show floor… if I could’ve afforded the GES fees for the crane and harness.

With the move, nobody knew what to expect and the floorplan was almost as anticipated as a new iPhone release. When we first saw our booth placement, we were pretty excited because the map showed us near the front entrance. Only later we learned we were in the back end of Hall D, once Interbike realized that what they thought was the front door was actually the back door. We got lucky again, as we were just a few feet away from the Paddock outdoor demo/ booth/ food/ music stage area. The paddock did seem to create a bit of traffic flow, thanks to the increasing curiosity around e-bikes. With an e-bike test track in the melt-the-soles-of-your-shoes heat of the asphalt paddock area, there was a shocking amount of people venturing outside of the air-conditioned show area. Thanks to the heat, I’m sure Mandalay Bay sold more $6.00 bottles of water than they might have otherwise. Ah, the refreshing taste of Capitalism!

Over the course of the three days, I heard plenty of grumbling about how confusing the show layout was. And it was very confusing. However, before we sharpen our pitchforks further, it would’ve been nearly impossible for Interbike to make any significant changes without grumbling… because we’re lazy creatures of habit and don’t like change. The layout was truly confusing for many, regardless, and I heard numerous apologies for being late to appointments because “I was lost/ couldn’t figure out where to go.” Maybe it’ll prove to just be a first year hiccup… maybe it won’t. But we’ll be there again next year, like it or not.

Then, there was the much anticipated and even greater feared Consumer Day, aka Interbike by Invite. The premise was that retailers would have the ability to invite their best consumers to the show, as the official, invited guests on the final day of the show. In years past, the last day of the show has been pretty dead and most brands began tearing down their booths early to get out of the show as fast as possible. With a Consumer Day, one of the hopes was that there would be a reason for exhibitors to stick around until the end of the day. The passes to the show sold for $50, for a chance to squeeze saddles and sniff spokes… a Bike Nerd’s dream! BUT… turns out that $50 to sniff spokes on Friday, skipping work, didn’t have the appeal some thought. And even less appeal for retail consumers from out of town. One of the many rumors circulating was that only 72 passes pre-sold before the show began. The weekend Gran Fondo riders were given free passes to Interbike.  Additionally, passes were given to anybody who attended Wednesday night’s CrossVegas CX races. Another popular rumor was that Interbike allowed passes to be given away at a local 5k running event… just to get some bodies. In the end, the post-show numbers stated that about 750 consumers attended. Less than 1000 consumers to the largest cycling product event in North America. Personally, I saw anywhere from 8- 12 of the special golden name badges. Of those, only a couple of the people appeared to be actual cycling enthusiasts. The others were clearly there either on a bet or out of morbid curiosity- “what do you mean that bikes costs $8,000?” So, it seems pretty safe to assume (for me), that Interbike by Invitation was an underwhelming flop. More than a few of the retail buyers I spoke to on Wednesday and Thursday said they were not going to be at the show on Friday, just to avoid the possible circus of a consumer day. In the end, that particular circus did not arrive and the retail buyers were gone, so it was sadly the quietest final day of the show that I have ever seen. The good news is, for me anyway, none of our products were stolen in a tidal wave of consumers- as many folks had expressed fears of.

Then there’s the venue; Las Vegas. I hate going to Vegas for the show. I’ve been doing it for too many years now and I simply don’t think it’s the right place- the casino environment, not the actual city and people- to showcase our industry. On a lot of levels, Vegas is perfect; cheap hotels (sorta), cheap flights and international access, myriad food options (sorta, and if you’re willing to wait many times), and enough floorspace to have the entire industry under one enormous roof. We, as a North American industry, bitch endlessly about the potential inconvenience of having the show elsewhere. Yet we’ll gleefully hop on a plane, fly to Germany, get a hotel an hour (or more) away from the show venue, and walk from show hall to show hall to show hall to Zeppelin hangar at Eurobike. Kinda begs an enormous WTF? I’d be thrilled to see the show move to Salt Lake City, Boulder/ Denver, Seattle, Minneapolis… anywhere. Sure, I’m willing to accept a few inconveniences, like having to walk a little farther from one hall to the next, or even drive- instead of walk- from my hotel to the show. There just needs to be a much more significant change in venue for Interbike- more than simply moving slightly down the strip in Vegas. One of the amazing ironies is that every year we collectively complain about returning to Vegas for the show, yet when options are offered, Vegas remains the favorite. Again… WTF? In my ever so humble opinion, if this industry is to break out of its flat growth conundrum, we need to grow up, drop the party-boy “WOOHOO VEGAS” mentality and put on our Big Boy Pants© and grow up. The casino world, with the overt sexism and overly abundant booze, helps to hold the industry back from increasing its value and potential. Slowly, but surely, we’re getting more and more very strong women in the industry- which has been LONG overdue- and we’re getting more professional business people exploring the industry. Showing up to the show and seeing an expansive sea of red-eyed, hungover faces, and hearing tales of strip clubs in the booths is just preventing real growth, and overdue change.

So, where do we go from here? How do we “fix Interbike?” Where should we move the show to? What city has the magical unicorn-pegasus-leprechaun ingredients of airport, hotels, restaurants, show space, and demo venue? Will people be willing to step outside of what they have known for several years? How do we add a tangible consumer day? Do we make the show straddle the weekend to attract more consumers? How do we meet the needs of the greatest percentage of the industry without completely alienating the rest of the people? When do we have the show? What IS Interbike now? Is the cost too high for too little return? How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie-Roll© Tootsie-Pop©?

I don’t think I have all the answers, but there are a lot of smart people in this industry, surprisingly, and we should be able to come up with an answer if we’re honest. Something needs to change, or Interbike slips further down the rabbit hole of obscurity and irrelevance. And this is coming from somebody who actually believes in and supports Interbike. I don’t want to see it die… but I don’t want to be a part of it limping and lurching ahead the way it seems to be now.

Tim Jackson- Chief Kool-Aid Dispenser

Introducing Jeff Lockwood; Branding Through Twitter.

The best thing about this blog, in some ways, is the fact I get to introduce and/ or work with some really incredible people. Like the recent introduction of Steve Parke, this new member of the Kool-Aid Krew is somebody I have a great deal of respect for, as well as consider a friend. Jeff, like myself, is a former Marketing Manager for BH Bikes and Pivot Cycles. Though Jeff is a great marketing mind and obviously great with words, he can also design and build websites/ web stores and then create the content. He’s more than just a utility player… he’s a one man team. From being a journalist, to a Marketing wanker, to being able to write html in his sleep… he’s kind of a rock star.

Lockwood

 

(Photo stolen from Facebook, via Daniel Limburg.)

Not only is he an avid cyclist, he’s also a connoisseur of the punk genre, and the occasional beer. Possibly his only flaw is the fact that he’s living my dream of living in Belgium with his family and is fully emerged in all things Belgium and cycling. The jerk.

As part of the fun, for me, I get to make the contributors write their own brief bios… forcing them to speak in 3rd person, if at all possible. With that in mind, meet Jeff Lockwod;

Jeff Lockwood was born, raised and educated in the mountains of Pennsylvania. From an early age, he started making jobs out of his hobbies. He graduated from waxing and tuning skis in grade school to becoming a ski lift attendant in high school. In college, he realized he could meet more girls as a ski instructor. Soon after college graduation, he was officially indoctrinated into the bicycle industry by taking a job with Dirt Rag magazine. With the exception of two years when he experimented with work in the general population, he’s worked in various capacities in the bike world: writer, editor, marketing director, online manager, web designer and more.  Lockwood is currently a hired gun, writing articles for various magazines and web sites, and providing marketing services and copywriting for brands within the bike industry. Jeff, his wife and their two daughters currently split their time between Antwerp, Belgium and the spare bedrooms and couches of relatives and friends in Pennsylvania.

I want to envision him in a dark room in a small belgian cottage, nice ale on his desk, wearing a sweater with leather patches on the elbows, and possibly some Descendents playing softly/ loudly in the background.

***

Jeff’s first post is an excellently written introduction to the use of Twitter in brand building. This simple set of guidelines should be read and printed out by marketing Managers/ Brand Managers at companies big and small… trust me. Give it a thorough read… I’m gonna read it a few more times and make a nice checklist to remind myself with.

Branding Through Twitter

Twitter is an extremely useful and effective tool when it comes to helping define and galvanize your brand. On its own*, Twitter allows your brand to post messages in a lightning-fast and concise manner, which makes it very easy to reach a qualified audience.

Using the “conduit” metaphor, I will explain how Twitter postings can have an impact on your brand, organization, company and products…as well as define and strengthen your message. Brief and limited examples as well as possible success metrics are listed within each Conduit in an effort to get some ideas rolling for you.

*Note: Twitter can and should be used in combination with other social media campaigns as well as on- and off-line initiatives to completely capitalize on its robust reach. For the sake of simplicity we’ll keep the focus on basic concepts for this post.

Information Conduit

At the very basic level, Twitter can be used to dispense information about your brand. Postings within the Information Conduit metaphor are “selfish” in the sense that they directly relate to, promote and come from the brand and don’t really reach from farther within than that.

Sample topics:

  • Products
  • Company news
  • Athlete/Team news, info and results
  • Photos and videos

Success Metrics: Aside from retweets, passive information such as this is difficult to quantify. However the branding impressions and informational nature are important.

Promotion Conduit

Very closely related to the Information Conduit metaphor is the Promotion Conduit. The key difference between the two is that postings within the Promotion Conduit do the hard sell rather than passive information from the Information Conduit. Think: Liberal use of “calls to action.”

Sample topics:

  • Product push
  • Special sales
  • Special promotions
  • Special events
  • Explain how a product can be of benefit to a consumer, etc.

Success Metrics:

  • Directly correlated increased sales
  • Retweets
  • @Mentions

Support Conduit

Twitter offers the general public a very direct, very public conduit to air grievances, ask questions and raise issues with your products and brand. Twitter as a Support Conduit allows your brand a two-way channel to support and resolve issues with customers.

Examples:

  • Passively offer followers opportunity to express feelings and experiences with products.
  • Promptly respond to posts describing problems or complaints to solve their problems.
  • Publicly display and promote resolutions to customer concerns. (when applicable)
  • Gain user/customer product use details to advance product development and customer service education.

Success Metrics:

  • Increased posting of queries for help
  • Public thanks or praise of brand

Engagement Conduit

In an effort the give people the opportunity to claim any sort of connection with the your brand, Twitter can be used to interact with people. Thus, people will have a higher degree of identity with the brand, as well as a personal and tangible connection.

Examples:

  • Ask questions of followers.
  • When @YourBrand is mentioned, comment on it. (when applicable)
  • Provide a certain level of commentary on discussions.
  • Create and participate in organic conversations on any variety of topics.
  • Coordinate with other social, online and offline initiatives to increase visibility and engagement across channels. (when applicable)

Success Metrics:

  • Follower number, retweet rate and @mentions are increasing.
  • You’re engaging in ongoing conversation with followers.

Inspiration Conduit

Through creative posting, Twitter can be used to inspire people to want to ride more, be active and trust your brand as a wise and experienced voice in cycling.

Examples:

  • Quotes on/about cycling, strength, determination, etc.
  • Stories and images of winning in or around cycling.
  • Educate customers and potential customers on how your products, company or brand can inspire confidence in performance, reliability and more.
  • Retweets of articles and postings about fitness, mechanical and nutritional tips.

Success Metrics:

  • Follower number, retweet rate and @mentions are increasing.

Entertainment Conduit

It doesn’t have to be all business…or at least appear as all business. People come to Twitter to gather information and to take a quick break from work, studying, training, etc. Lighten things up and keep it interesting.

The best bet to entertain your audience is to offer some light commentary, interesting news and wise use of wit. Keep it light, keep it honest and don’t offend. Audiences will appreciate this more informal voice of your brand.

Success Metrics:

  • Follower number, retweet rate and @mentions are increasing.

Don’t Clog the Conduit

It’s easy to get carried away with Twitter by posting too much too often. Over-posting on Twitter will result in your message and brand becoming diluted. Worse is the fact that your postings will start to annoy followers if they see too much information coming through. Exercise some moderation when it comes to posting frequency.

Success Metrics:

  • Follower number, retweet rate and @mentions are NOT decreasing.

To Whom are You Aiming the Conduit?

We’ll assume you know your audience and how to speak to them. Don’t forget that. In addition to those people, here’s who else is listening:

  • Customers
  • Potential customers
  • Fans
  • Media
  • Other divisions within your organization
  • Your boss
  • Partnering companies/organizations/brands
  • Employees
  • Retailers
  • Distributors
  • Other brand champions
  • Competing brands/organizations/companies

Jeff Lockwood

No really, we’re not dead; new post coming soon!

Ok, so, I realize that our “rebirth” hasn’t exactly been supersonic. All of us were very excited to relaunch this thing and then life, work, holidays, illness, etc stepped into the way. For me personally, this all coincided with starting a new job and developing one of the most significantly paralyzing bouts of Writer’s Block® I’ve ever endured. (I’ve been able to pride myself in working through blocks like this before- even creating entire catalogs while fighting this ailment… but not this time.)

That said, it still sucks that the excitement kinda came and went…

However, that will hopefully change very soon. I am proud to announce the first post from a new contributor has recently landed in my inbox and will be landing in this space within a day or two. I’m supremely proud to be able to introduce this contributor to this audience and the first post is a good one… so you’ll wanna come back and read it.

Stay tuned… I promise, it’ll be worth it.

Thank YOU all for your support and patience. Here’s to an incredible 2013.

Tim Jackson
Chief Kool-Aid Dispenser

Introducing Steve Parke; The Product Catalog

It is a great privilege for me to introduce the first of our newest contributors, Steve Parke. Steve’s somebody who is not only a friend, but is also somebody I have a great amount of respect for. I worked indirectly with Steve for several years when he was the Director of Sales & Marketing at Ritchey Logic, then I had the brief pleasure of working for Steve when we were both at ASI (Fuji/ Kestrel/ Breezer/ SE Racing/ Terry) and he was my “boss”. He’s more than a little smart and insightful, plus he’s funny as hell, has a great turn of phrase, and still remembers the main reason most of us got into cycling- bikes are fun to ride.

In his own words;

Started as a mechanic in the late 70’s when I was lucky enough to race on Clement – Campione del Mundos.
Worked my way into the shop management gig with 2 separate stints as GM of The Bike Gallery in Portland.
Ten years in the NW as a sales rep and later regional manager – fantastic experience in the Trek machine, fully enjoyed the Bridgestone anti-machine.
Fifteen years in management on the Brand side – Scott, Ritchey, Advanced Sports – great exposure to the global bike biz.
In this world preoccupied with virtuality, I love that we make things. (Emphasis provided by me, not Steve… but I’m sure he meant to do that anyway.)

That bio reads as humbly as the man himself. I’m honored to have Steve join us here at the Krew, and I’m really looking forward to reading his posts (and those of the other contributors).

 

Steve’s first post is an ode to the printed catalog. Having produced more than a few of them myself, there is a lot that I can relate to. Painfully so. Now that we’re all mostly out of catalog production time right now, this allows an opportunity to review the process, the product, and maybe shed a tear for the hours and hours spent hoping that you didn’t screw anything up. How we all hated getting that call or email pointing out the mistake/s that we missed during “final” review… ugh…

 

Without further delay, I’ll let Steve do the talking now…

 

 

***

 

 

In this digital age, the printed product catalog is fighting to stay relevant, under pressure to gracefully step aside and yield the annual spotlight to its more current brethren – the online product catalog.  I believe the printed version still has merit and serves a key goal in generating brand equity, specifically because of its physical nature.

To address the subject today, one has to look back a bit at the history of the printed catalog in the bike biz; retrospect to the late 80’s, early 90’s will serve just fine.  For most of the 80’s, printed catalogs were largely the domain of the bicycle makers and generally filled with studio shots of the latest models, accompanied by specs, geometry and color options.  They traditionally opened with a page or two of company philosophy, but were otherwise a bit boring unless you were a bike geek and liked digesting the thing cover to cover over a few weeks of time as it sat idly on your coffee table or commode magazine rack. The 90’s saw us become more “sophisticated” in our catalog brand marketing, with accessory companies joining the fray, driven by a heightened competitive environment and a desire by marketers to separate themselves and their brands from the pack with bolder images, more racing shots, technical evolutions, glossy covers and heavy paper stock with sexy varnish masks.  It was the golden age of catalog based, brand-storytelling and many a marketing career was redirected up or down by virtue of the final product. In the same period, we saw the rise of the printed direct mail piece which had a long run of success at driving consumers into stores with the notion of deals to be had twinkling in their eyes, followed up lastly by the highly effective, but frowned upon by purists – mail order catalog.  Print was king and getting all those thousands of details correct before printing was the Holy Grail of execution.

Inevitably, the task of accurately coordinating all those moving pieces to complete the annual catalog and hoping the printer would hold up their end of the bargain when the presses were done, frustrated everyone who touched the process.  With few other options, marketers soldiered on and did their best to elevate the game and outdo their competitors.  The product rhetoric became more hyperbolic, and each year’s product suite was “crushingly” better than the last year, every brand attempting to outdo themselves and each other along the way.  A disingenuousness slipped in to the scene.

At the time I was a field sales rep for Bridgestone and a staunch voice in my company barking loudly for us to embrace this one-upmanship trend and give me the tools my dealers needed to be heard above the noise of all the emerging brands.  Grant Petersen was in charge of directing this effort at Bridgestone at the time (along with the product) and took a different view of the whole premise.  In 1992 Grant arguably invented the first “anti-catalog” in the bike biz.  He jettisoned many imbedded notions about what moves the brand needle on the consumer opinion dial.  I was so pissed at him the first year this concept was revealed and remember moaning to all that would listen that we had become marketing dinosaurs in one year while others where planning the next wing of the space station.  When fashioning the catalog, Grant dumped: the traditional size and paper, sponsored racer shots, sharp color bike images and meaningless, me-too brand prose only to replace it with 100% post-consumer waste paper (costly at the time), soy ink (after learning this part I felt justified in making him eat one), Daniel Reboor renderings (he did the technical product renderings for Campy for a bazillion years), and even introduced model segments done in a trading card format.  The prose was painstakingly written to explain the brand, the rationale for the models and made an appeal to sensibility as a driver in the buying decision process.  And with the benefit of hindsight, it could be argued was one of the most masterful printed catalogs done in the bike biz.  Grant used this format for three years before the sad news Bridgestone Japan had had enough of currency fluctuations and uppity Americans telling them how to do things, and pulled the plug, exiting the market for good in 1994.

I tossed those Bridgestone catalogs in a drawer and gave them little thought for years as my career evolved and I took on marketing roles that left me free to pursue my own perspectives on catalogs.  I learned a valuable lesson from that time – a catalog must make an emotional connection with the reader in order to be judged successful at creating top of mind awareness for the rider when the time comes to plunk down the money and head home with the product.  On the plus side: a printed catalog is visceral, physical, visual, dimensional, and transportable – engaging multiple senses.  On the not-so-plus side: they are heavy, costly to print-ship-distribute, wasteful of resources, and far too many end up in the recycle bin at year’s end, never having been opened.

There is an active changing of the guard of marketing folks from baby boomers to gen x’rs and y’rs in the industry today.  Since many of the new marketers grew up in the digital age, they are completely comfortable with presenting the best face of the brand via a website and an online product catalog, with more recent evolutions into the social media realm.  After all, that is how they and their peers are influenced to develop brand appreciation.  Aside from inspiring imbedded video assets, the online format is largely one dimensional and requires the viewer to fill in a lot of the multi-sensory gaps left in the online environment in order to arrive at what I call “lust to own”.

It’s widely accepted that no matter how a consumer begins their product affiliation process, at some point, they must cross over from cerebral to emotional before the purchase occurs.  Can online effectively marshal that journey for the buyer exclusive of the traditional printed format?  I would argue, No Way!  Even for those who report they never use printed catalogs to make buying decisions, they still engage in seeking out the “trusted influencer” in order to make the jump from intellectual consideration to emotional purchase – proving the point, as brand builders, we must help the buyer across the chasm of understanding what fits them best.  If we could run around the market place and make sure the 3 million influencer folks (recognized core user population) were accurate champions for our brand stories, then yes, maybe we can dispense with the hassle and expense of the annual printed catalog.  It turns out those folks are quite busy with their lives and even if self-motivated, will only remember a few key brand messages, and I will bet brands have a much broader message to share than the rule of three retained product attributes leading to brand opinion.

If you haven’t done so in a while, go seek out a printed catalog and look through it carefully.  Some group labored mightily to put it out so you could read it.  Does it inspire you and engage you at a deeper level than a cursory click-scroll of the company site?  I am betting the smell of ink on your fingers will make you a convert.

Steve Parke