Friday, 28 September 2012

Rapha and Team Sky - a challenge for rapha branding?

The news that Rapha is teaming up with Team Sky became a well known fact to everyone on the 30th of August. Exciting news in many ways, as Team Sky is well-known for its high demands when it comes to quality and "marginal gains", while Rapha has managed to picture itself somewhere between the high-end manufacture line and lux. The downfall, at least for Rapha's part is considerable, as any supplier to one of Britain's top performance brands. At the same time, remember Rapha is not new to the racing stage, they have supported Rapha Condor Sharp (RCS) a pro-continental team for several years benefiting from experiences in tech drawn from there.

Much can be said and written about branding. Worldwide consultants paid by the hour compete telling us as consumers and corporations how necessary it is to be visibly out there. So what is branding? Branding is linked to many aspects; sales, marketing, strategy, storytelling, identity etc. The American Marketing Association (AMA) defines a brand as

name, term, sign, symbol or design, or a combination of them intended to identify the goods and services of one seller or group of sellers and to differentiate them from those of other sellers.   
Therefore, it is logical to link psychology to branding, to get consumers to believe that a product/brand is the only one that can meet the standards or solve my "problem."

Upwards, downwards or sideways
It didn't take long before both Team Sky boss Brailsford and Rapha CEO Simon Mottram released the usual carefully written statements surely approved at multiple levels in both organisations. Usually I'm not that interested in them, as many tend to be "attributed quotes" as the eminent Inner Ring has written about earlier.

How will the deal between Sky and Rapha affect consumers?

Yesterday I tweeted exactly that, mentioning that I look forward seeing what will happen to the brand. I must admit I like the brand. The way they have build their brand along the years, particularly the stories and pictures. I also have some clothing, very happy with some of it, not so with every piece of clothing.

When a manufacture sponsor a team, there surely (as well as hopefully) there will be an increase in sales. That's the point in the first place, right? Rapha has managed to link itself somewhere near the lux-scale in clothing today, upscale pricing isn't, of course, in itself a sign of quality, but Rapha has managed to brand itself to that too. Based on activity on twitter when Rapha is being mentioned, it seems people either like it or hate it, not so much in between. Much of the criticism have been regarding pricing. Today, a number of Rapha products are being made in China by KTC, albeit designed in the UK. As volume increases, will we see lower prices? Claims have been made that some manufacturers have operated with one clothing-line for pros and one for the others. Of course, pros might have made to measure jerseys, as they tend to have slightly less arms than most, but if the fabrics are two very different, some people might react. My opinion is that you get what you pay for and perhaps is this the way it will and needs to be. Alex Murray called this "diffusion line" earlier today, "slightly cheaper materials/manufacture, but same look."  

What I surely think Mottram didn't expect when he co-founded the brand in 2004 is the possibility to find a replica jersey in a mobile trailer sales-out at the foot of Alpes d'Huez. Another way of viewing this is that you actually succeeded in building a great brand since people are copying your products.

What will come out of the Sky-Rapha deal will be exciting. The people behind Rapha have been very consistent and thoughtful in their branding up to now, so there is nothing indicating this will not go the way they have planned. If they are able to meet the formidable focus Sky have on R&D, details and "marginal gains". A chance like this for a manufacture is a once in a lifetime shot so why not grab it with both hands?

To us consumers? Hopefully a lower price on their products, as the volume most likely will increase. If Rapha want to differentiate between the highest end of products and the products for recreational riders, please do so. After all, as Alex Murray wrote, one can still earn lots of money on cheap(er) things:

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Reinstate the jerseys

(click picture to enlarge)

Take a good look at the picture from the Vuelta homepage. By the looks of things, it might be the battle for KOM but it is not. It could be the fight for GC, but Degenkolb doesn't quite add to the equation, does he?

Yes, of course it is the point classification, or "sprinters' jersey."

Make the competition a competition
Traditionally, everyone got a feeling for the jerseys, they are brilliant in themselves, not only a thing to aspire to for the riders, but an easy way for beginners of the sport to get an understanding of what is going on. Say "yellow jersey" and most people on the planet will relate that to the leader of the Tour de France. What a  fantastic brand.
Jerseys in cycling are sort of iconic and need to mean something to everyone, its bounderies and framework clear cut to avoid confusion. If riders, sponsors and fans miss out the sense-making, where would that lead us?

At the same time it is easy to forget that the green jersey is not a sprinter's jersey, it is the points classification. Two different things. Does the GC winner need an extra one or is it possible to turn it into a sprinter's jersey? Perhaps will the result be that several more sprinters would show up for the entire vuelta, instead of leaving early as we have witnessed before.

Edward Pickering from Cyclingsport magazine wrote an excellent comment on the competition for the polka dot jersey a compelling one, I'd expect the ASO to learn from this. The fight for jerseys should be special to all the different categories of riders, hence the increasing specialization in cycling today. Mark Cavendish fought very well for the red point jersey in the giro, only to loose for Rodriguez by one small point at the very last possible stage (yes, there are points in the last TT too, but not likely Cav or Rodriguez would grab one). Battles like these are amazing to witness, for everyone. For the organisers, fans and motivational for the riders to be a part of themselves.

So ASO, please do us all a favour and reinstate the jerseys. Bring them back into the spotlight and make the competition for each a good one.