Marketing and Bullshit: Part 3 The Importance of Being Relevant

So fuck, haven’t we just infected poor little Sarah with the marketing bug? She’s been writing all sorts of shit about advertising sport, cycling and cycling clothing to women. I’d encourage you to catch up on her excellent series of posts about the Adidas #mygirls campaign, marketing to women and cycling clothing for women before we go any further down the rabbit hole. After all, it pays to know what you’re getting yourself into.

In the meantime, here’s a little something to welcome Sarah officially to the dark side:

It’s funny because it’s true. Now come on over for another stroll through the wonders and delights of all the power the dark side has to offer as we explore fragmented markets and the importance of being relevant.

In the broadest sense there are a couple of basic kinds of marketing that most campaigns or ads can be grouped into. Keeping it as simple as possible, let’s call these Generic Branding and Outcome Specific.

Generic Branding

Ok, so this is the sort of exercise you would most commonly undertake when you’re new and just want to get the name of your business or product out there, so that people hear about it. The objective of such a campaign is frequently referred to as that annoyingly nebulous goal of “raising awareness”. A great example of a generic branding exercise that was mostly about getting the name out there and “raising awareness” would arguably one Lance Armstrong’s efforts on behalf of Livestrong. (My mum also tells me that I’m very cynical… in between bouts of weeping at how cynical I am). The other way in which this sort of campaign is often used is in a tightly competitive market, to make sure you keep hearing about “our brand” as opposed to the “competitor’s brand”.

Outcome Specific

Now this sort of campaign can cover any number of options, but the key point is that it’s designed from start to finish to achieve a specific (normally very measurable) outcome. This can be from pushing out a coupon code for people to use in the online store, through to a custom competition that people collect tokens for and send in, through to driving sales in a particular product category with a campaign focused on the appropriate demographic.

Neither type of campaign is “better” or “more right”. Like any set of tools, they’re suited to different needs and when correctly deployed can both be highly effective.

One of the main distinctions between the two is the relative cost. In short a serious Generic Branding campaign to a large audience segment costs a metric shit-tonne of money or more, depending on the level of “fuck off, we’ve got this market nailed down” brand awareness you want to achieve. It’s also hard to measure in terms of tangible benefit, and (brace yourselves, this one’s kind of important) in recent years marketers have discovered that people are not all the same.

I cannot stress enough how terrible that news is. All you weird people with your different ages, life experiences, locations, needs, genders, body temperatures, opinions and other shit that makes you special and unique. Fuck that makes branding hard (and by extension, expensive).

This is where the advantages of Outcome Specific campaigns can really come to the fore. By their nature these sort of campaigns tend to be smaller, more targeted and focused on more specific goals. This can be in the form of a product or product range that’s aimed at a particular sub-set of the overall market (a product specific restriction), or it can be in the form of a campaign that specifically targets a sub-set of the market (a campaign focus restriction). So these campaigns tend to be cheaper, smaller, easier to set up, much more targeted in their approach, more defined in their goals, easier to measure and to demonstrate success or failure. It’s not hard to see why they’re popular.

It’s also important because that problem I mentioned above about you all being beautiful, unique snowflakes? That’s a really big fucking problem. Especially when you take a niche industry like cycling, and make no mistake, cycling is a niche industry.

It’s my belief that one of the big problems for cycling in terms of marketing is the pervasive sense of homogeneity. That is, the tendency of society to think of all cyclists as “cyclists” with no distinction for purpose of use, style, aesthetics and even philosophical differences. It’s an easy trap to fall into and even those of us who spend a lot of time following cycling and riding bikes tend to make this mistake. Society certainly does fail to recognise the depths of heterogeneity in the broader cycling community. It’s actually not that surprising that marketing for cycling would also fall into this trap.

But we all know what happens when you try to put Roadies; Fixie Hipsters; Bike Messengers; Commuters; Mountain Bikers; Cyclo-Tourers; Shoppers and the rest together in one place.

Shit gets messy.

It’s a real problem from both ends, because no longer can you easily implement a large-scale campaign and reasonably expect it to be effective at reaching a broad audience. The more niche your total market, the more important it is to address the internal sub-cultures separately.

At the other end of the equation, this can require the marketer to manage multiple and ongoing campaigns of increased specificity and it’s a big workload to take on, requiring careful budgeting and tight cost control. But then again if marketing was easy, they’d let anyone do it, right? (NOTE: They let me do it, so…)

In any case, in my view this is exactly why Sarah is so right in her series of posts regarding marketing sports and cycling to women. It’s fundamentally an issue of brands understanding who their target audience is, for specific product ranges. It’s about identifying the audience segment you’re targeting, understanding their needs and desires and then being relevant to them. One of my favourite examples of how to do this well comes via Sarah’s introduction to Collyn Ahart and her work with Rapha. This video is beautiful to my shrivelled marketer’s heart because it’s so powerful and clear, without saying a word, and without needing to resort to stupid and infantile cliches.

At the end of the day, the cycling industry is struggling to catch up. All this shit can seem very overwhelming, especially when you’re working in sub-cultures within a niche industry. The great advantage that new movers like Vulpine, Rapha, Ana Nichoola and so on have is that small campaigns double as great tests. For a comparatively small investment, it’s possible to make contact with your market, show them something, get their feedback and continue to learn, adapt, grow and change. Social media is a great facilitator of this sort of methodology too.

The best part about this approach is that you ultimately wind up building a passionate and engaged community, and we all know how much marketers love engaged communities, don’t we?


4 thoughts on “Marketing and Bullshit: Part 3 The Importance of Being Relevant

    • You would definitely have the highest hat of all, but you do love to bop. This is a tough one. Quick, to the focus groups!

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