BREAKFAST BRIEFING – SPORTING CREATIVITY
I recently went to the very brilliant YCN breakfast briefing on sporting creativity at Shoreditch House with speakers Ewan Paterson, Creative Director of BBH Sport and Jack Saunders, Art Director of UK cycling brand Rapha
I thought it would be interesting to apply our 10 golden rules of branding to Rapha and see how they fare.
1. A brand isn’t a nice to have. Hard to believe but Rapha is only ten years old. It seems to us cyclists they have been part of our agenda for a lot longer than that. I think what it did by providing authentic, fantastically designed, practical but beautiful apparel from day one, was create a significant shift in customers’ expectations and aspirations.
2. Understand the real proposition. Simon Mottram, and indeed Jack Saunders clearly understand their proposition from a cyclist’s perspective. At the beginning it made sense to create an association with Condor to share their authenticity and heritage. With their relationship with Sky they have seamlessly shifter to the cutting edge of the sport and all that stands for without diluting the brand.
3. The business structure cannot define the brand, but the brand can define the business structure. There is always going to be a clash of culture and commerciality, especially if there is private equity or external shareholders to answer to. Investing in racing teams, organising rides, allowing your workers to ride every week in company time has a tangible impact on the bottom line and an intangible impact on the culture of the business. It is sometimes difficult to justify short-term expenditure on long-term goals but, as Rapha have proved, it is essential when building truly game changing brands.
4. Branding is about winning in your own way. Although the culture is defined by “Glory through Suffering” the brand does not try to associate itself purely with winning. Instead, it celebrates the rich history of professional cycling with its customers and advocates.
5. At the heart of every great brand is a brilliant product. It is certainly true that the attention to detail like zips that don’t chafe, reflective strips that are easily seen by lorry drivers, or pockets that you can get to when you are still pushing out 250 watts, make a dramatic difference and build huge brand loyalty. Rapha have managed to develop brilliant products, (although my 2007 race jersey that I took to the Pyrenees is looking a bit worn out now) that function and look beautiful.
6. Good communication needs reciprocating confidences. What came across in Jack’s briefing was an honesty that makes it easy to be on message. He wasn’t wearing Rapha jeans because he had been told to. He was wearing them because he probably cycled to the event, wanted to look good and didn’t want to catch his trouser leg in the chain.
7. Great brands need great champions. With Team Sky on your client list you would think that you had hit the jackpot in the brand champions stakes. But the real influencers of the 30-50 year-old target audience are the thousands of other cyclists I see in the Surrey Hills every week looking sharp, coordinated and comfortable.
8. A brand can’t run too far ahead of its company. Having successfully positioned the brand as the best cycling clothing brand in the world, I would imagine there is huge pressure to role it out to bike frames, wheels, tools, nutrition and all of the other bits us cyclists spend our money on. But would I be convinced that Rapha could do better than Campagnolo, Leyzne or even Condor, I am not so sure.
9. Keep searching to find your truth. Rapha have undeniably found their truth and it drives everything they do. Working with the biggest cycling team in the world which in turn is sponsored and named after one of the biggest media businesses in the world, operating in the hardest sport in the world which historically has the most stained reputation in the world is a pretty challenging place to build your brand. It is not forgiving if you don’t keep on searching for that truth.
10. Brands are inside out. Rapha has over 100 people working in the Kings Cross HQ and offices and production facilities in America, China and Italy. Love of cycling has created an authenticity and aspiration that allows it to compete with both niche and multinational brands alike. People don’t buy what they do, they buy why they do it.