My very good friend, and sometimes “boss”, Patrick Brady has recently penned a pair of posts at his wonderful website, Red Kite Prayer. He’s a smart guy, with an incredible talent for finding words that get to the heart of the topic, and in the case of the two pieces recently, they are uncomfortable topics within the broad scope of the cycling “industry.” I say “industry” because these issues impact manufacturers, media, consumers, athletes … every aspect of the business, sport, and activity of cycling.
Patrick calls out the fact that bringing these topics up is akin to touching the third rail of the subway, and he’s right. But it needs to be done. Again and again. One of my favorite musicians is Colin Newman, front man of 70/80’s punk/techno band Wire. In 1986, he released a solo album called Commercial Suicide. It’s one of my favorites. Maybe I’m playing with professional suicide (again), but it’s worth the effort to save us from ourselves.
It’s a very uncomfortable truth that sexism is alive and well in our “industry.” We’re no different than any other industry, agreed. Sexism is still rampant throughout every facet of our culture and society. Humanity has a problem with sexism. That said, that does not mean we should continue to institutionalize it or not fight against it within our little world. It’s also true that the overwhelmingly white, and male demographic of the “industry” is not unique to us. And it’s also true that as you migrate down price range, the demographic is much more diverse. But, the marketing of the sport/ lifestyle, the demographic of the industry itself, and the leadership of the sport is largely white, male, and getting older.
Let’s say we bring in new and diverse consumers to cycling. Many join our party all on their own, not because our marketing or outreach was effective. A hispanic woman buys a bike at Target, or even Wal Mart. She rides and decides she likes cycling. She then visits an IBD to see what her next step up might be. The IBD world is largely male- regardless of skin color. Maybe she picks up a magazine in the shop, and thumbs through the pages. As a woman, especially a woman of color, she is very unlikely to see anybody who resembles her. Let’s swap “hispanic female” for “black male” and the story is nearly identical. There are a few excellent examples of black men in the sport and business, but they don’t exactly make it into print ads that might help to paint a more diverse image. These examples are grossly oversimplified, but they’re still real.
We have a problem. “We”, meaning the cycling business (and especially in North America), have made a (bad) habit for decades of mostly trying to sell more bikes to an existing consumer base, especially at the upper end where nearly all of our marketing dollars are spent. The obvious problem is that those consumers are getting older, their garages are getting full, and their numbers are dwindling. If we simply look at sustainability and commercial viability- profit- it makes lots and lots of sense to do a better job of trying to grow that consumer base, while at the same time working harder to retain the ones who wander in on their own. Target and Wal Mart, as examples, get badmouthed by the IBD for many reasons (some of them accurate), but we should really be thanking them for creating new consumer opportunities for the rest of us. They are helping those of us who work in/ with the IBD network. And, you can also spread that to online retail as well. Many consumers who do not prefer IBD shopping, still wander in with boxes of parts and questions. We need to embrace each of them because they represent potential and hope.
I don’t pretend to have all the answers. If I did, I’d be making lots more money. I am passionate about cycling, at all levels. I love this “industry” to my very bones. And I feel blessed to have been a part of it for so many years, and to have made the innumerable friends that I have. All of us are lucky.
We can do better. We can be better. We can be more creative. Selfishly, we have to … or “we” will be more irrelevant than we are already in danger of becoming. A less sexist, more diverse cycling world is good for us all.
Chief Kool-Aid Dispenser
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.
(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.
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.
- 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.
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.”
- Product push
- Special sales
- Special promotions
- Special events
- Explain how a product can be of benefit to a consumer, etc.
- Directly correlated increased sales
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.
- 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.
- Increased posting of queries for help
- Public thanks or praise of brand
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.
- 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)
- Follower number, retweet rate and @mentions are increasing.
- You’re engaging in ongoing conversation with followers.
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.
- 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.
- Follower number, retweet rate and @mentions are increasing.
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.
- 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.
- 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:
- Potential customers
- Other divisions within your organization
- Your boss
- Partnering companies/organizations/brands
- Other brand champions
- Competing brands/organizations/companies
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.