Brand Transparency with Flo Cycling
To start, this episode of The Active Lifestyle Marketer was one of our longest episodes because Jon and Chris, co-founders of Flo Cycling, went into such great detail around their business. The episode was incredible. They were super generous with their insight and experience. The content that came out of this episode was incredible. What we’ll cover as an expansion of this episode in this article will only touch on a few of the things we discussed. If I went into detail and expanded on everything we talked about in the podcast, this article would be far too long. If you’d like to know more about Flo Cycling in a more complete sense I would highly recommend listening to the episode. The journey Flo has taken to get where they are today is incredible, and we’ll go into why they’ve seen so much success, but it’s primarily because they’ve taken their consumer along for the ride and been honest and transparent along the way. See what I did there?
Flo Cycling and the consumer direct approach
Flo Cycling is a carbon wheel design, R&D, and manufacturing company that uses a consumer-direct approach to sales. There is no middleman, distributor, or bike shop. This allows Flo to offer wheels at the same quality level of their competitors, at a drastically lower price point. To give you an idea of the cost savings, a wheelset that’s sold by Zipp, Hed, and Enve for around $3000, will sell for around $1000 with Flo Cycling. Now, as marketers, we know how important brand recognition is, and Flo still doesn’t have the brand strength of those larger players, so those numbers are a little skewed by that reality. But, to be able to offer a comparable product for a 3rd of the price is incredible, and if they keep up with the growth and grind they’ve been putting into growing this company, we believe it won’t be long before they’ll be at the same level as their more recognized competition. Now, let’s get into the expansion of our conversation with Jon and Chris Thornham from Flo Cycling.
Flo Cycling delivers an unforgettable experience
Building a great brand in the active lifestyle space, one that’s well recognized takes a lot of hard work and patience. It’s a never ending journey. Marketing techniques and distribution channels for your brand stories are constantly changing, but there are a few things that must always be a pillar for any successful brand in order to succeed. You must always start with a great customer experience.
The first thing that’s ever said about Flo Cycling is their customer service is second to none. When they started building an online company, Jon and Chris knew it would be difficult to compete with the level of customer service you’re able to experience at a bike shop. It’s difficult to compete with face to face interaction. That was one of the biggest reasons they chose to go consumer direct. They wanted their customers to have direct access to them for anything. This direct access to the founders, designers, and R&D team has given Flo a customer experience level that you can’t find at most active lifestyle companies, especially bigger brands. Try to find an active lifestyle brand c-suite individual who will share their contact information publicly. We’ve tried as we’ve gone about inviting people on our podcast, and it’s nearly impossible. Flo Cycling’s level of investment in a great customer experience is indeed second to none, and it’s one of many reasons behind their huge success. But that’s not the only thing that’s brought them success around customer experience.
Jon and Chris realized from the start that they needed to come to market with a great product. They wanted to develop wheels that were extremely fast. “If you purchased our wheels you wouldn’t be giving anything up compared to the competition.” In order to create a brand experience that causes your audience to advocate for your brand, you’ve got to have a great product. In order to create a great brand, offering a great product, service, or experience is a pillar and requirement for success. The Thornham’s also knew that great brands create great brand experiences by educating their audience.
Flo Cycling educates their audience
If you know someone with a Tesla, and you’ve ever asked them a question about their car, you’ve probably experienced a situation where that person will talk your ear off about their Tesla vehicle for 15-20 minutes. Tesla customers, even Tesla fans who don’t own a Tesla, will advocate on behalf of the Tesla brand. They will market for Tesla. This is because Tesla has empowered their audience through education. They’ve educated their audience incredibly well, and when people are educated about a topic they naturally want to share their knowledge. As humans, we are created to share and live in community, and sharing our knowledge with one another is designed and built into us. The guys at Flo Cycling understand this truth.
One of the things that have helped create and foster a great experience for their customer, especially for those who are undecided about the Flo Cycling products, is that Flo Cycling has always educated their audience. They give information away for free. It’s historically been one of their most successful marketing approaches. Flo will do wind tunnel testing on their products and give that information away for free, whether that information is good or bad, supporting or revealing. They’ve done wind tunnel testing on tires and given that content away and they are incredibly open with all of their testing protocols.
Jon and Chris said that in the beginning when they were starting out, they would write articles and PDF’s that simply gave away free information, like how to build a bike from scratch or content that answered questions like what’s the difference between aluminum and carbon clinchers? By answering these questions for an online consumer Flo Cycling became an expert in the field. They give their information away for free and that builds trust with consumers. Now, this is not a new marketing technique. It’s content marketing 101, but the results are incredible and Flo has seen huge success using this strategy. Everything they do as a brand creates a great brand experience for their customer. Flo Cycling is building out a foundation for brand loyalty and brand advocacy. But, that’s just simply the foundation for what makes this brand stand out. Earlier this week we shared an article titled “Purpose Driven Brands Win.” Flo Cycling is a purpose-driven brand.
Flo Cycling is driven by purpose
It’s one thing to sell a great product. It’s another thing to create a great customer experience in everything you do. But, if you want to succeed at the highest levels your brand has to stand for something more than the product or service you’re selling. In order to create a brand identity that people can relate to at a human level, your brand must have a deeper purpose at its core. Here’s the catch, if you’re communicating a core purpose or “why” as a tactic, you’ll do far more damage than good. A tactic will never work because consumers will see right through the facade, or you will eventually be found out. Your brand must be infected at the deepest levels with your purpose, and your actions must support your brand beliefs. During our conversation, Jon and Chris said, “We would do these social responsibility things regardless of whether or not they affected purchasing decisions.” Flo Cycling is driven by purpose and values bigger than cycling wheels. 1% of all sales goes towards their “Bike for a Kid” program. They’ve partnered with an organization called More Than Sport to make this possible. Their investment in Bike for a Kid is not only an investment in low-income communities where families can’t afford bikes for their kids, but it’s also an investment in the growth of cycling. You can see how that comes back full circle for Flo Cycling in the future. Doing the right thing, giving back, it always pays off.
In addition to their Bike for a Kid program, they’ve also recently started their “One Wheel, One Tree” program. Through a partnership with an organization called American Forest, Flo Cycling plants 1 tree for every wheel sold. Now, that doesn’t seem like a lot of trees at first glance, but given the fact that 1 tree can produce the equivalent of 80 Flo Cycling shipping boxes, that’s a pretty impressive return on investment. They’re replacing their environmental footprint 80 times over. They’re even working hard to completely remove all plastic elements from their shipping boxes, making their shipping containers completely from recycled cardboard materials.
The active lifestyle industry as a whole is built around the idea that getting outside and getting active is good for our health as humans. Partnering with an organization like American Forest, an organization dedicated to the heath and well-being of nature, is a perfect partnership for Flo Cycling because it reinforces the belief in the importance of that active lifestyle.
The important thing to remember is that Flo Cycling is not simply supporting, partnering, or “sponsoring” these organizations with their words. Jon and Chris are backing up their words with financial actions. We all know money talks, and their financial investment in these organizations speaks loud and clear to their audience that they are about more than just selling great carbon wheels. This would all be a lot less successful though if Flo Cycling wasn’t storytelling well.
Flo Cycling has brought their audience along for the ride
The thing that really stood out to us, more than anything else, was their story. As storytellers we might be a little bias, but we believe their story is the thing that’s brought Flo Cycling the most success. Flo Cycling is a true American Dream, “started in our garage,” Apple and Microsoft beginnings type story. It’s really an incredible origin story and you’ll want to listen to the entire episode to get the full story. Here’s what made Flo Cycling so successful from day 1. They brought people along for the journey, and by telling their story open and honestly right out of the gate, they had a following of 4000 people before they ever had a single product available for purchase. There was insane demand for their offering before a physical product even existed. This is the incredible power of storytelling when you honestly and transparently bring people along for the ride.
Flo Cycling has been open and honest with their journey but the key is in “open and honest.” Jon and Chris talked a lot about the failures, mistakes, and missteps along the way. Their audience knew about all of that the entire way. Their audience knew that they had to move from a Chinese factory to a Taiwanese factory. They were informed when the payment provider seized their account for 6 months because too much money was coming in too fast. They knew that Jon and Chris’ parents took equity out of their home to help with the first product order. These are all things that our intuition as business owners says we should hide and keep secret. We all are tempted to provide a perception to the world that we are bigger, more successful, and more experienced than we actually are in reality. Perception is reality, right?
Jon and Chris flipped that idea on its head and communicated everything to their audience, and a special thing happened; their audience not only appreciated the honesty, they fell in love with the origin story, and because Jon and Chris had brought them along on the journey, things went a step further and their audience felt like they were a part of that story. The Flo Cycling brand connected with its audience at a human level because humans by nature deal with very similar struggles, difficulties, heartaches, and financial missteps. The Flo Cycling origin story connected with people, because it was so relatable.
Find a way to connect with your audience through story at a human level, and you’ll most likely find incredible success in a world starved for real stories. Flo Cycling found that truth, whether by design or accident and so can your active lifestyle brand. This isn’t the end of the Flo Cycling story though, they are still growing, and we believe they’ve only touched the surface of their storytelling potential.
Flo Cycling and Missed Opportunity
Let’s make one thing clear. No one has ALL the answers for how to market in this constantly changing digital age. Not Tim Ferriss, not Neil Patel, not Simon Sinek, not even Gary Vee… not anyone or any agency you may follow. They may have some of the answers, but certainly not all of the answers. Yes, many of those guys are at the top of their game, the forefront of marketing, and some of them may even be driving the direction of marketing as we will know it in the next two or three decades. But, the internet is barely 20 years old and we are still figuring things out. We are in a massive trial and error phase in marketing. One thing is for sure though, we are living through the single largest culture shift in generations and if you don’t do something with your active lifestyle brand in this digital space you’ll get left behind. It’s quite possible you’ll get left behind even if you do things in the digital space. Not all marketing techniques in the digital space are going to win out. Now, I say this because I don’t claim to have all the answers by any stretch of the imagination. We don’t claim to have all of the answers as an agency. We do know one thing without a shadow of a doubt, stories have always been, and always will be powerful tools for moving humanity. With all of that said, we feel there is missed opportunity around marketing for Flo Cycling and I want to share those insights (Jon and Chris, we really do love what you guys are doing. Take this as encouragement. You’re doing a lot of things right).
In the previous section of this article, we talked about how Flo Cycling brought their audience “along for the ride.” They invited their audience into the origin story of Flo Cycling. We don’t think they’ve necessarily gone away from that approach in the last couple of years, but the missed opportunity is that they haven’t “doubled down” on that approach. We believe Flo Cycling should be a media company that just so happens to sell carbon cycling wheels. They are already telling their story, they simply need to be telling their story more often, in the places where consumers attention is right now. What brought Flo Cycling success, in the beginning, should be their continued focus, but with greater consistency and cadence. Now, where those stories are distributed might change depending on where consumer attention is (Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, or some new platform that pops up tomorrow) but telling their story more often, or telling more of their story can only benefit the company and brand.
Now, you might say that’s all well and good advice, but how does a company that’s posting almost daily tell a story more often? Constantly creating content from scratch is incredibly difficult. If you’re constantly trying to come up with free answers written in blog form for how to build a bike from scratch (an example they’ve already done), you’ll likely run out of content fairly quickly. If you’re always trying to create new and original content for your Instagram feed, it’s going to be difficult to keep up with a consistent cadence, which is becoming a necessity in the digital space. So, our recommendation would be to “document” rather than “create.” Document more of the Flo Cycling story. Document the new partnership meetings, the speaking opportunities, the daily grind of running a business, the things Flo Cycling has always shared with their audience in photo, video, and written form (especially in the beginning)… just do that more often, like 6 and 7 times a day more often. If you’re documenting instead of creating, that amount of content becomes a lot less difficult. You’re no longer having to come up with something out of nothing. Now, that doesn’t mean you stop creating, and that brings me to my second missed opportunity.
Flo Cycling is a purpose driven brand, but in our opinion, their storytelling around that purpose could be so much stronger. They’ve done a good job communicating their purpose and sharing how they give back, but we feel there’s far more opportunity in that space than simply sharing an explainer video on their website and occasionally sharing on Instagram when they’re giving away new bikes. Again, all great stuff, but missed opportunity to share powerful stories more often. Emotionally charged stories of how Flo Cycling is impacting children’s lives for good can be a bigger focus for the brand.
To date, Flo Cycling has donated 1350 bikes to kids. When you’ve donated that many bikes to kids, there are that many stories to be told. Our recommendation for Flo Cycling, or any active lifestyle brand that has a bigger purpose at its core, is to tell the individual stories of how that “giving back investment” has impacted individual lives. Tell stories of how a single bike brought hope to a family in need. A majority of the stories we tell as brands don’t need to be emotionally heavy, but those “real” stories,” those stories that have emotional weight have a far better chance of cutting through the noise. In a social media world where cat videos and Jimmy Fallon replays (nothing against Jimmy Fallon, he’s the best) are the norm, people are starved for real stories. Social media is the direction all marketing is headed, we’re already there, but it’s also starved us for real-life human stories and interaction. A true story of hope, redemption or struggle will stand out amidst that noise. Flo Cycling has an opportunity to tell more of those real stories.