Biking is one of my many active passions so I was naturally thrilled when Chris Matthews, Global Marketing Manager for Specialized Bikes decided to speak at my From Mass to Grass Conference earlier this year. Chris is a born canuck, passionate marketeer, ex-racer and all-round good guy and friend, working out of Specialized's head office in California. He acts as global ringleader for getting the S-swoosh known, bought and talked about around the serious and enthusiast biking world. A very cool gig! As a young two-wheeled exec, he was empowered with building a web 2.0 community for Specialized called the Specialized Riders clubs. This is what we talked about recently:
1) You've landed in a pretty cool role at Specialized Bikes, and led the launch of
the Specialized Riders Club, now in Europe and Canada as well. Do we all
congregate and socialize the same or quite differently across geographies? Any
There is definitely more interaction from the US community so far, but it’s got
a 2 year headstart, and could also be that people have more practice here with
social media in general, and are more comfortable leaving comments or starting
a discussion. But we’re seeing similar growth patterns if we look back to when
the USA club started, despite social media being less popular overall in
Europe. Social media there is certainly growing – the biggest challenges
to growth are always localization, usually language or geography. The key
similarity that crosses borders and cultures is that the club is built around a
fundamental activity that they already enjoyed (riding bikes). It’s
easier to get people excited about it and feel involved, even if they
don’t get involved. Changing behaviour is always difficult, but we’re
just complementing existing behaviour, so this helps us gain traction with new
members no matter where they are.
2) From a Specialized standpoint, what is the objective/goal of running your own bike community? Given its global scale, why not just run an ad/sponsor campign instead?
The objective is simple, and really honest: we want to help people ride more,
more often. The riders club can do this in a way that an ad campaign
could never do: it connects owners in a way that lets them find each other, or
the rides that they’re doing, and get out there. The most common question
a new rider has once they’ve bought their first nice bike is “Now what?”.
This is the “Now what”. We could never fit into an ad the amount of
content that our community has put into the site, and as it continues to grow,
it only gets further and further away from what we could have accomplished by
any other means.
3) Back in your June presentation at From Mass to Grass, I loved your simple formula for Brand Awesomeness, care to elaborate on this axiom?
It’s a simple concept: the amount of Brand Awesomeness that a brand has is
directly proportional to the amount of time and effort they put into doing
things that make sense to their customers. Every time a customer sees
something a brand does and has a “wtf?” reaction, the brand awesomeness goes
down in that person’s eyes. Its an intangible, sure, but it’s one that is
easy to intuit: think of brands you know that are just full of
emotionally-charged awesomeness to you: chances are it’s not because of their
share price, or their logo design – it’s based on the things they do, and how
much those things make sense to you.
And the more awesomeness a brand has, the more likely community already exists around the brand, regardless of whether or not the brand has helped to foster it directly through a club or a website.
4) Much like Harley, Vespa and Triumph have their tribal motor cycle enthusiasts, are bicyclists also tribal with their brands?
Absolutely: there are lots of riders who are total devotees to a particular
brand, but perhaps unlike motorcycles, cyclists can cross over into multiple
territories: a favorite brand of MTB might be different than a favored line of
road bikes, for reasons as disparate as athlete endorsement, color,
technologies, or history. They’re definitely tribal, but the
bloodlines don’t run as long or as deep as motorcycles do: the switching costs
simply aren’t as high, and the people you ride with will (usually) still ride
with you if you get a new brand of bike.
5) As Specialized manages this community, what tell tale signs do you look for in the success or failure of this community?
Success is not # of members, and it’s not # of comments. It’s a longer term view that doesn’t work well inside the typical framework of a sales-driven company. At any point, success is really whether or not the club is around in 5 years. In 5 years, success will still have to be a forward looking metric. You never “get there”. But this does help when making decisions about what we do today: does it help us keep a lasting, engaged community over the long term. It can help in avoiding those short-term pitfalls where you’re chasing a monthly goal at the expense of a longer-term relationship. Make no mistake, that’s hard to do.
6) There is this tension between offline/online investment - your messages and interaction may live on the web but the ultimate goal is to get large groups of bicyclists on the trails and roads, how do you reconcile?
It sounds counter intuitive, I admit, but the reality is that people ride
pretty infrequently, as compared to the time spent at work, or at a desk, or
sleeping, or even driving in gridlocked traffic in many cases. Hopefully
a little more online interaction with us will help them find a way to cut out
time from other activities and make more time for bikes. We don’t want
them to spend hours on the site, and since there’s no direct advertising on the
site, we’re not facing any motivations to increase site visit times.
Hopefully, more bike time just cuts down TV time.
7) Brand community building is still in its infancy but growing fast, what could others learn from your experience in setting up and stewarding Speclialzed hives of cyclists?
If you have a cool brand, find the community that’s already out there (because they’re out there, I promise – check Facebook, Myspace, blogs, and anywhere else that your customers hang out online), and ask them what else they’d want. Realize this isn’t for you. It’s for them. And dear gawd, when they say something: Listen.
If you don’t have a cool brand, it might be time to ask yourself what you could do to become cool. And again, that’ll probably involve some serious listening.