Protect your business, build your brand

Nick Barthram, founder and strategy partner at brand consultancy Firehaus, explores how you can future-proof your business

This piece first appeared in the July edition of BikeBiz magazine – get your free subscription here

The pandemic has been a mixed blessing for cycling businesses – unprecedented demand but serious supply-side issues. Things are starting to look like they’re returning to normal but, as with other things skewed by the crazy last two years, there’s a chance that this spike is just the acceleration of things which would have happened anyway, and we might be facing a dip on the horizon.

So, what’s a business to do? The short-term solution is to focus on fulfilling the demand you’ve got now and rely on tactics like discounting to ride out any future lulls. But the long-term play is clear – there has never been a better time to build your brand in cycling. Why now? Well, there’s a couple of reasons.

First off, most cycling businesses I’ve spoken to have reaped the rewards of the uptake in interest over the last few years and therefore have solid commercial foundations to invest for growth. Secondly, if there is anything the last few years have taught us, it’s that the future is uncertain and shoring up your defences (of which brand is a critical one) in a time of plenty makes sense. And thirdly, even with the best will in the world, brand-building activity takes time to pay back – at least six months by most counts – so it makes sense to get going before you need it.

“Fair enough,” you might say, “but why should I invest in my brand at all?” Good question, and fortunately one for which there are two very good answers. The evidence for investing in building your brand is inarguable. Strong brands have been proven to generate around three times the sales volume of weaker brands, according to analysis by global research agency Kantar Millward Brown.

Stronger brands have been repeatedly shown to improve price elasticity (i.e. they can charge more) by studies of the IPA Databank. And Ebiquity have shown that more than half of the power of advertising and comms comes from the long-term – for which brand messaging, rather than short-term ‘Buy now!’ messages, are key.

So, what can you do to build your brand? It’s not complicated, but it is hard. There are three core elements:
– A clear position in the market that means you come to mind when riders think of particular needs
– A clear idea that makes you distinct in their minds and easy to remember
– And consistent behaviour that means whenever someone interacts with your business, they get a fantastic experience that delivers everything you’ve promised

These things have to be authentic and rooted in the business you already are, but there’s also a requirement for creativity and courage, being willing to take something truly distinctive and shouting it from the rooftops, because the brands that do are going to be the strongest in the interesting years ahead.

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