Pedal-powered Storytelling

January 23rd, 2012 | Guest Contributor | 23 Comments

Guest Post by Jamie Garantziotis

I was catching up on emails recently when a message caught my eye from one of my favorite brands: Rapha.

As a bike geek and cycling lover, I love Rapha’s comfortable and beautifully designed cycling wear, and admire its use of content (particularly video) to tell its story.

Over the holiday season, Rapha challenged its community to complete the Festive 500 – burning off those Christmas calories by getting outside and cycling 500km across one week.

You can see some of the great efforts and content shared by the community here.

What struck me about this was the reversal of the storytelling dynamic, and the ongoing willingness of Rapha to put the brand in the hands of its consumers and community – a point highlighted by Brian Solis in his recent interview with Ford’s Jim Farley.

While Rapha normally invests in the production of stylish content to tell its story, this initiative was an invitation to get outside, enjoy riding your bike, and share the journey with the community.

In a recent discussion over coffee, a friend made the proclamation that 2012 isn’t the year for brands to take on more and more channels, but instead to target their social channels and do them better. Quality, not quantity.

What do Rapha and the Festive 500 teach brands about storytelling and doing it better?

Flip the dynamic

Yes, a brand should tell its story to consumers, but it also needs to take up the challenge and opportunity of speaking through its consumers and hearing the stories from within the community (hat tip again to Brian Solis for this point in his interview with Jim Farley).

This doesn’t mean a one-off “post a picture to Facebook” promotion, but consistent commitment to engaging consumers and forming a narrative around the brand’s place in their lives.

Understand the touchpoints

In a video interview, Capital Radio Director of Marketing Giles Pearman highlighted the importance of brands understanding each and every touchpoint that a consumer has with its products.

What better way for a brand to do that than by seeing and hearing what, when, where and how its communities are utilizing these products both online and off?

Foster connections within communities

People enjoy hearing others’ stories, particularly when they are focused around a shared passion or interest. Making a brand’s space a place for communal sharing has the power to foster incredible connections and relationships between people, and provide them with value beyond a physical product. I know I’ve already found a few blogs from Rapha’s Festive 500 I wouldn’t mind reaching out to in future.

Make it about something larger

A brand is one of many in the lives of the individuals within its community, and has its own part to play for each person. The stories a brand shares and encourages its community to share should reflect that, and make them about the wider landscape in which the brand operates.

In the case of Rapha, it’s not only about cycling, but about health, fitness, recreation and the outdoors.


A brand should balance its story with those of its community – and work to incorporate both sides of this storytelling in a wider narrative. I will continue to watch the videos that Rapha shares to evolve its own story, but also welcome the occasions on which it flips the dynamic and asks to hear my story and see how the brand fits into my time on the bicycle.

It’s a scary thing to give control of a story over to others… especially when it’s that of your own brand.

But with the advent and evolution of media channels and the desire for users to share more and more, brands have an unprecedented opportunity to interweave the narrative of their communities with their own.

What do you think?

Have you got any favorite examples of storytelling among online communities? Do you have any brands you believe are doing it best? How do you think a brand should balance content to both tell its own story and listen to the stories of its community?

I’d love to hear your thoughts … and in the meantime, it’s time for a bike ride!

Jamie Garantziotis is a communication professional based in Melbourne, Australia, where he is PR Manager – Regional for Southern Cross Austereo. He is the current Member Communication Chair for IABC Victoria, Australian correspondent / co-host of Engage TV, and in his spare time loves to indulge his passion for communication, cycling and speciality coffee.

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@shonali agree 100%! In a strange way, I think that the idea of control has been somewhat of a myth. We can send out messages, craft communications, control products - but it's ultimately been up to the consumer/advocate/fan/evangelist to purchase or utilize a brand's services or products, and to exert influence and share opinions amongst peers. In that respect, I think the community has always had that element of ownership ... only now they are more empowered to connect, share and ultimately shape a brand more than ever before. Would you agree?

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Shonali moderator

Last week I was at @whatsnextdc , and one of the presentations I sat in on (I was the MC for one of the breakout rooms) was one on branding, where the point was made that ownership of the brand no longer rests WITH the brand; they're at least co-owned by the audience. Especially with the conversational element social media has added, I think that's really true.

Case in point, just look at what's happening to Komen right now. I don't know how it's all going to play out, but I'm imagine there are a lot of meetings going on about how they can take back control of their brand and message.

The thing is, they can't, not the way they may have been able to do a decade ago. Perhaps they should bring in someone from Rapha!


@kdillabough Thanks, Kaarina! I feel like I missed a tweet or two from you... did I?

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

Rapha sure has a passionate following. No brand has the % of fans talking about it like Rapha does. None. Seriously most brands are lucky to have 0.05% but they have 2000 out of 17000 which shows the customers view the brand differently than 99.9% of the brands in their lives since we talk with so few.

I am not a Brian Solis fan. I lump him in with the guru's because whenever I read his blog I pretty much disagree with everything he writes but granted I rarely go there.

But the points you make are valid here. The problem is most brands can't do this on a large scale. We dont want to talk with 99.9% of the brands in our lives. For me it's Chobani. Really the only brand I talk to on social media now days. Every brand will have a small percent of hardcore customers and it is important to foster them, but even for Rapha I bet they have way more than 17,000 customers. I am a mountain biker so don't know the brand but I love what they did to generate such response from their hardcore base.

Shonali moderator

@JGarant I suppose in the "old" days brands felt as if they really did have control, because they WERE controlling all the messaging. So really, unless the media uncovered something terrible, they were the ones telling consumers how to think about a product or service, through the media (paid and earned).

I don't know if the community had a sense of ownership (again, in days past), or of belonging. As in, "I love this brand, I feel like it belongs in my life." Now, however, they do, and as we've seen, they're not afraid of wielding that power.


@jgarant I did, but I couldn't think of anything witty to say. Thus, no comment on the post. ;-)


@HowieG Great observations Howie. I agree - Rapha do an awesome job at engaging their passionate fans - and just like me they all want to spread the word about how great a brand it is. Perhaps it's because it was born as a purely online retail brand that Rapha achieve such great results and have this philosophy of creating and sharing content with their community engrained in the ethos of the brand (?) Achieving this on a large scale isn't easy - however if a brand is successful at generating a response and dialogue with even those hardcore fans, I think the opportunities for content and dialogue about the brand to amplify among like-minded people and potential fans/consumers will come ... as long as its all part of a commitment by the brand, rather than a one-off campaign (we all know how these campaigns can garner fans and then draw a negative response from the community when the brand all of a sudden falls silent).

Hope you get the chance to head out for nice mountain bike ride soon!


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