Specialized Tops Tour De France, But U.S. Is Tough Hill

Riders on Specialized brand bikes won 10 stages out of 21 stages of the Tour de France last month. That includes rider Vincenzo Nibali winning the yellow jersey for overall winner, and Tinkoff-Saxo’s Rafal Majka getting the polka-dot jersey for the top climber. The wins gave the spotlight to Specialized’s new Tarmac performance bikes, and its S Works top line machines. That’s all good, but the U.S. market for bikes is all kinds of steep, and a real climb for the business. Marketing Daily talks to Specialized CMO Ben Capron about the Tour, and how it could help Specialized win some jerseys in the domestic market. 

Q: What’s special about Specialized’s performance in this year’s Tour?

A: We have won the tour before, but no bike brand has won as many stages, so it's the best any brand has done. And it helps our purpose to inspire, innovate, and improve riders' lives. The value proposition is that when people ride bikes, the quality of life is higher. The brand statement is we "inspire and innovate to improve riders' lives." So the same engineers developing those bikes are developing the other products, even for entry-level riders. So there's DNA from that effort that finds its way throughout our products. 

Q: Is Tarmac the highest-level product in the Specialized lineup?

A: Tarmac is the complete race bike, the best combination of attributes for someone competition-oriented, whether they are competing or not. But the highest-end bikes are “S Works.” That's where price is no consideration, and we just pursue maximum performance. So there's an S Works Tarmac, for instance. 

Q: How important from a brand equity perspective is the Tour? 

A: It is the second most-viewed sporting event in the world, and in part that's because it goes for three weeks, and is global. So in terms of impressions, it's huge. Through that many people are inspired to ride, but it also says something about the brand to be participating at that level. If lots and lots of people are seeing athletes riding on Specialized bikes, and shoes and helmets, it's fantastic for the brand. It creates position; it creates brand; and enables us to tell stories that are hopefully interesting and relevant to those folks who are engaged. 

Q: What do you do in terms of digital to build consumer awareness of Specialized around the Tour? 

A: We have been doing a better and better job digitally, so on our home page we have multiple stories linking to [the Tour] and going to deeper levels about riders and technology. And there's a constant conversation on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to rally the digital side with #itsmytour. And we engage people with #togetherwewin, something we use to invite others to join with celebration of success by letting them host images of their success -- be it in cycling or, say, the birth of a child. We want to create community around winning together. 

Q: Isn't there a big gap in Tour and brand interest between aficionados and everyone else? 

A: Well, it is one of the few events that the general population has awareness of. And we can reach people who are already riders through endemic media, and once people get to that level from a business standpoint we are trying to gain market share from that audience. But, yes, the real opportunity is for people not in that group, and for us as brand our job is to invite more people into the sport. That's one of biggest challenges for us a business. Our business is growing but largely it's market share, so for the health of cycling we have to bring more people in. 

Q: How?

A:  We are making strides on women and younger riders but we are seeing increased diversity in our population but we aren't keeping pace: the numbers of Hispanic and African-Americans who are riding is embarrassingly low.

Q: How are you bringing younger people into the sport?

A: We learned there hasn't been an organized avenue for kids to stay engaged in cycling. We were founding national sponsor of NICA, National interscholastic Cycling Association, which is focused on mountain biking. This is coast to coast; by 2020 there will be 11 leagues, and 70% — or 20 million —  students will have access to a league.

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