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How are one of the most famous brands in world cycling being guided?

We talk to Specialized Chief Brand Officer, Frank Aldorf

9Oct

The role, importance and structure behind branding. A sit down with Frank Aldorf.

Branding efforts from companies have always been important, and in the cycling space it is more important than ever with the increase in competition. Defining a brand personality is now vital.

Your brand is spread throughout the business from your CEO down to interns. The responsibility of ensuring this message is clear, concise and delivered correctly falls to people like Frank Aldorf.

Frank is the Chief Brand Officer for Specialized Bikes. Since starting as a consultant at the company in 2006, he has been striving to protect and evolve a brand that has become recognizable worldwide, moving beyond the cycling industry.

We had the opportunity to pick Frank’s brain recently on his role and the way that branding has changed in the past few years.

Your background is incredibly creative and design focused, has this helped you in your current role?

It helps me a lot in my current role as brand steward. Like Paul Rand once said, ‘design is the silent ambassador of your brand’. My understanding of design is a more holistic one. It is not just how something looks but how it functions. You can apply the basic thinking of great design really to anything, to a process, to a business strategy, to product development, your business model., etc.

Companies that embed a design driven business practice and place designers at the executive table will outpace the competition. In a survey conducted by IBM, leading global CEOs and executives identified ‘creativity’ as the most valuable leadership competence of the future. The fact is you can be creative at anything at all - anything that involves your intelligence. I was fortunate to grow up in a fast paced agency environment. It allowed me to train my creative muscle in such complex way and for so many different industries. I was able to develop a sense how great design looks like, feels like and works like. All of this helps.

What are the key points you believe to be important to any organization looking to enhance their brand?

If you want to enhance your brand start with defining your unique point of view. Define your reason for being, your why of existence - your brand purpose . What is your mission and what are your brand values. These are the building blocks to any organization. Write them down make them public, it really helps to define and clearly articulate these points. It is a very noisy world and you have to cut through and deliver a clear and focused picture to the people. Why should they care about you? It’s a new reality where people buy what you believe and not just what you sell. It is not just about a quick transaction, it is about building relationships and engagement. These three key points of vision, mission and values need to shine through everything you do or say in the name of your brand.

Specialized have become one of the biggest brands in Cycling and they are developing for both professionals and leisure cyclists. How does this effect the company’s marketing and branding efforts?

It was never the idea to become the biggest. We all ride and we want people to have the greatest and most rewarding riding experience they can have on any terrain. We want to see more people on bikes because we believe in the power of the bicycle - riding transforms lives. Specialized wants to inspire riders of all types, professionals and leisure cyclists. Our job is to find creative ways to build deeper, richer human experiences that have both positive social and commercial impact.

How important are subsidiary brands like Globe important within this plan?

Subsidiary brands are very important because they can be another way into the Specialized experience. Another way for us to build deeper and more personal relationships with riders. Take for example the concept of ‘Body Geometry’. Our way of perfectly melting man and machine to ‘be one with your bike’. All for a better and more rewarding riding experience on all levels and works with any bike. Or take our line of women’s products. We want to be even more the brand of choice for female riders and we are developing the most tailored women specific products for over 10 years now. Our women’s brand is adding real value and a true benefit to female riders. We have a strong and inviting positioning in ‘Your ride. Your rules.’. And our ambassador program is helping us to get even more women on bikes and building community.

How do Specialized differentiate themselves from other Cycling Brands and how important is it to be unique within your industry?

I like to think beyond our industry. The concept of industries is dead, the lines become more and more blurry. Specialized is ‘an innovative company that happens to make bikes’. This kind of approach will keep us more relevant in the long term. We are the brand ‘by riders for riders’. Something that differentiates us from most other companies in the field. It drives our innovation, our way of connecting with riders and especially who we hire. I am convinced people can feel the difference when they ride our bikes or wear our products.

When building a lasting brand how important is building an effective internal team?

A strong brand works from the inside out. You need an authentic company culture that lives and breath a brand’s vision, mission and values everyday. You have to believe in what you are doing first. Only if you believe others can follow and this needs to start from the inside out. Your culture needs to be an environment that creates believers and fosters talent. The real driver behind a strong brand is a team that can inspire and is passionate about a brand’s purpose. This will make you more effective.

Is there one type of communication that you feel your audience responds best to?

You get the best response on an honest and authentic communication with your audience. Authenticity builds trust and that’s what people are looking for these days. Good brands demonstrating transparency and accountability - two things that the world needs. And we are on this journey. Consumers hate being on a blind date with a brand. If you want user interaction and community engagement you need to let the world know what you are all about before you can expect action from them. There is a great Chinese proverb, ‘Tell me and I'll forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and I'll understand’

How has the increasing popularity of the cycling industry affected your brand?

It’s great to see that more and more people see the benefits of riding bikes more often. As a sport, a daily commute, exercise or just for fun. We want to be the brand of choice for discerning riders of all types and we will work harder to earn this position. To stay relevant and to build those relationships in times of an empowered consumer you need to be more open, inclusive and inviting as a brand. More and more we have to understand that the brand isn’t the hero. It is an enabler of the journey a rider is on.

Finally, what advice would you give to someone just starting out in branding who eventually wanted to work in a similar position to you?

The importance of brands dramatically increases in times of empowered consumers and as information is more and more available. Your responsibility and accountability as brand steward dramatically increases. Branding needs to connect every aspect of a companies business and every functional group. It has a measurable business impact. It’s not just about logos and policing brand standards anymore. As the relationship between organizations and individuals is pushed forward by new technologies, brands need to build deeper experiences that have both positive social and commercial impact. The ability to tell a meaningful story through actions and products, not just words, is the only way to win. You need to build and curate this great and authentic narrative. Ultimately it requires the delivery of simplicity in an increasingly complex world. Being able to say more ‘no’ - don’t try to be too many things to too many people. Brands that are focused on getting us places and connecting us to others are the brands of the future.

It is clear from Frank’s answers that the branding of Specialized is in the right hands. As we move forward we are seeing that they are growing as a brand, this year for instance, Specialized bikes were ridden to victory in two of the three grand tours. This only helps to push the brand image and values and with Frank pulling the strings behind the scenes, they seem to be doing it well.

Image Credit: William Perugini / Shutterstock.com

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