"In today's world of heightened customer involvement and immediate interaction, conversations about our industry, company and products are taking place 24/7, with or without us. So it's really important that we participate in a direct conversation with our customers and be viewed as the go-to source for hardcore cyclists seeking answers and time-sensitive information about their sport," said Janet Maurice, who heads up Cannondale's Web operations. "In taking advantage of this new social media and facilitating community, we are able to build on our brand's cult following, producing new products based upon consumer input, and, perhaps more importantly, promote cycling as a lifestyle."
To get started, Cannondale created a company blog operated by "Brad," a pseudo-employee and longtime Cannondale Headshok icon, who would comment about company developments and respond to customer questions. The company saw this as a more personal and interactive way to interface with its "hard-core" customers and provide an alternative to its current customer service department. Brad has a cartoon logo and takes on a Dear Abby-like persona, but in reality represents a group of 15 or so experts that respond to questions that go beyond the basic consumer inquiries.
"One of the key benefits that we've seen through the Brad blog is the ability to acknowledge and respond to technical, product-related questions directly and less formally, and post the answers in an open forum for others to see and comment on. It puts a face on our customer support function, allowing us to speak to our consumers as fellow bike enthusiasts, and, I believe it has had a direct impact on increasing sales," says Maurice.
Targeting slightly different market segments, Cannondale also developed a race blog that addresses its road riders and triathletes with news and topics of interest. During a recent high-profile road race, Cannondale connected to a cyclist's race data, captured it in graphical format and integrated it into one of the blogs. The biking community immediately latched onto the information and shared the link around the Web, driving traffic to Cannondale's site.
Cannondale is also using blogging technology to connect externally with its retail partners. The company has an e-commerce site where its retailers go online to order products, using iUpload's blogging platform to facilitate communications and discussion between the retailers and Cannondale's dealer service group. Retailers frequently discuss questions regarding pricing, supply chain issues, technical problems or merchandising with each other and with Cannondale.
Cannondale has several future blogging initiatives on the table, including other audience/interest-specific blogs, as well as plans for using the iUpload platform for internal communications and information sharing. The company is also looking into generating regular podcasts and enhancing video content.
Cannondale's foray into blogging has been more successful than the company first imagined, and has gone beyond the tangible benefits of improving relationships with its customers and retailers, increasing sales and improving the corporate brand.
"Blogging technology is more simplistic in its set-up and much easier to use than traditional content management," says Maurice. "This is big news for us and it's exciting for us as a global company. It's gotten to the point where, whenever I'm thinking about a new project, my first thought is, 'I can probably use blogging to accomplish it.'"