In a recent piece in the Institute of Directors magazine, a panel of experts offer advice to a small, London-based bike builder called James Kennedy of Kennedy City Bicycles. Kennedy is looking to grow his customer base. But without the means to get involved in traditional advertising or large-scale digital marketing. Oh, what is a small, niche business like that to do?

According to Phil Jones, Managing Director, Brother UK:

“… the trick we found was to really activate your fans as ambassadors and amplifiers.”

Jones says that the bike business should start with its customers and then search further afield for people who will tell the brand’s story:

“… [bind] them into a community of advocates, particularly those with a strong social media footprint.”

Next up, Stephen Roberts, Founder, Metis Partners:

“Creating a community that buyers can feel part of on social media will allow customers to develop your brand experience for you via their own creative and critical input.”

And what about the third expert, Paul Gosling, a consultant:

“Reading the Kennedy City Bicycles story just screams “community building” to me. You need to build your tribe and retain them.”

Three different people, with very different experiences and expertise, all suggesting essentially the same tactic. Get people excited about what you make or do and then let them tell the story of your brand or business.

All Brands Should Cultivate Advocates

We agree with the assessment of the panel interviewed for the magazine article. Finding vocal people who love what your brand makes or does, is a great way to reach new potential customers.

And we believe that the size, age or sophistication of your business is largely irrelevant. Whether you are listed on the New York or London stock exchange or you are building bikes in a shed in the back garden, brand advocates are hugely valuable. They are authentic. As a result their audiences trust them (trust which is imbued onto your brand). Advocates are often creative, telling your brand story in their own unique way (variety is the spice of life, remember). And they are fast – influencers will often review a product or experience the moment they encounter it and will be posting content immediately.

… But Not All Advocates Are Equal

What the experts in the magazine piece don’t really delve into is the fact that not all advocates are equal. Jones does briefly allude to it when he says “particularly those with a strong social media footprint“. But the other two experts completely fail to address one very important aspect of working with brand fans. That some can move the needle for your brand whilst others are likely to have a very limited impact.

For Kennedy, there is no requirement for customers to have thousands of social media followers or a highly regarded blog to buy a new bicycle. Kennedy says he has built and sold 671 bikes. Phil Jones suggests that this could be 671 advocates for the brand. We agree. But within the group of customers, there will be some who have the ability – through their social channels, blog or YouTube channel – to reach thousands or tens of thousands of potential customers.

These are the people we call influencers.

What we would recommend

Certainly every brand should try to find ways to get their customers to tell friends, family, colleagues and any other connections they have about the amazing product or service they have just paid for.

But if we were advising James from Kennedy City Bicycles, we would add that he should:

  • Establish who amongst his customers have significant influencer and focus on working with them
  • Think of interesting ways to engage the influencers he already has contact with – being creative in how you work with influencers tends to yield creativity in return
  • Find other influencers who are not yet customers and come up with a plan for how to work with them to tap into their audiences of potential customers

And those suggestions are applicable whether you are Specialized or Kennedy City Bicycles – welcome to the brave new world of marketing.


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