Cycling for me is a combination of exploring the nature, endurance training and creative thinking. It is also about constantly pushing my physical and mental limits.
It started as casual riding on a hybrid bike. Then it turned into a regular exercise. It soon progressed into commuting, century and group rides, cyclocross and climbs. I have ridden over 2,000 miles and climbed 35,000 feet so far this year.
My cycling obsession got me actively working on myself and my bikes. It is amazing how much the Web and social media can tell about brands. Combine that with brick and mortar presence, and it is fairly easy to put together a realistic brand image.
Below are 5 key elements of telling a brand story online, engaging the target audience and growing the customer base with examples from my latest experiences with bike companies.
1. Product Info On The Web. In this day and age it is common for almost all companies to have at least a generic web site. Majority of bike brands are no exception -- they seem to have decent web sites and product pages describing bike details and specifications. At the surface, however, most of these bikes can look similar. Same frame materials (carbon, aluminum, steel and titanium) and same components (Shimano, SRAM and Campi).
This said, some brands find ways to differentiate themselves by telling a unique story behind a brand or a product. Video is a great media for that. For example, the following video from #Specialized tells an informative and credible story:
This story accomplishes a lot. First, it comes from a product person that has a very similar profile with a target buyer. He appears very straight forward, honest and passionate. Second, the story covers everyday usage, feature descriptions and championship pedigree. It is very down to earth and believable.
2. Brand Story Over Social Media: Social Media is a great way to tell a brand or a model story. For example, people that "like" a brand on Facebook are usually very interested in following the brand and finding out what's new on an ongoing basis. One can't get a much more captive audience for telling a great story that Facebook page followers. But there has to be a story to be told and it has to be interesting.
On the contrary, one of the worst things to do in that case is to post generic, quick sale-oriented, useless posts with images like this one from #RaleighUSA:
The problem with this post is that there is no story. It is a blank and a lazy statement.
Raleigh makes decent bikes. I own one and I like it a lot (photo on the left). I am confident there are plenty of stories out there that can really connect with people that follow this brand.
For example, why not break down the post above into a series of 5-10 real life stories about interesting people in these races, their achievements, their struggles, along with some engaging images?
Why not take a page from #Bianchi's book?
They posted a fun photo (on the left) that grabs attention, inspires re-posts and drives people to the brand.
It doesn't scream "buy me", it looks really cool and invites people to explore and experience new and cool things.
Here is another good post on Bianchi's Facebook page that tells a story:
3. Social Media Posting Frequency and Timing. It is important to find the right frequency of social media posts to avoid fatiguing the audience with too many of them or getting forgotten with too few.
Timing of the posts is critical as well. There is only a small window of opportunity for the target audience to notice an entry and get engaged. You can have the best content at the wrong time and it will be ineffective and may go unnoticed.
A/B testing is really useful in identifying days of the week and times of the day when the message is viewed most and when the audience is really engaged.
4. Support Via Social Media. This is a big one. Once a brand has a social media channel that is open for anyone to post, it is important for the company behind that brand to stay on top of it. Timely response and useful help is critical. It can influence a buying decision, elevate or damage the brand.
For example, Specialized does a fantastic job supporting its community. Here is a screenshot captured by CanProve tool.
If you read the comments, you can see what an excellent job Specialized did responding to this thread. BTW, they handled a problem I had with one of my bikes the same way. This type of response instills confidence that the company stands behind its products and its customers.
Contrast that with a response from Cannondale. Here is a link and a screenshot from their FB page:
The math is simple here. If Cannondale loses 1 customer per day due to their Facebook screw-ups, with an average bike price of $1,000, their loss is over $350K per year!!! That number can grow into millions if you factor in the negative word of mouth this creates.
5. Content Strategy & Company DNA
Like in many other industries, it is critical for bike brands to have a solid content strategy and content / social media manager that oversees online communities and serves as a customer ambassador.
It is a relatively easy task when the company DNA supports it.
However, it is almost an impossible task in a large corporation with many brands, yet no particular passion towards any single one of them, and a focus on revenue and margins only.
Most of people I know want to deal with brands that share their passion for bikes, companies that employ cyclists and are in sync with their customers. Specialized is a great example of such a company. Their products, employees and online communications tell a consistent story of excellence and great customer care.
With all this in mind, when the time comes for getting my next bike, Specialized (Roubaix SL4) is definitely going to be my choice: