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Rebranding Fort Street Cycle

20 Jul
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Even their Google Street View was unlucky

It has been a rough first year for the new owners of Fort Street Cycle.

Bad energy left over from an unpopular ownership transition was sucking the life – and at one point, nearly every staff member – out of the shop. The new owners, from Beijing, were in crisis management from the get-go and wondering how they could survive. They decided they needed to start fresh. Well, fresher.

Brand Intervention.pngThis is where the Brand Intervention happens. (This is the icon that says that’s happening.)

I started with some online surveys to existing customers and non-customers to determine attitudes towards the store, and its perceived strengths and weaknesses. This was the key starting point for the rebrand because it told us that there was indeed some bad juju out there about the store – but no respondents had a clear sense why they felt that way.

It also told us that the brand really wasn’t on anyone’s radar and was considered past its day.

So there was no damage here.  But there was a lack of clarity about the store. The lack of clarity came from a lack of a vision, and a lack of  noise in the market. But we could fix those.


An analysis of the business, it’s core service and product offerings, and the opportunities in the market, indicated that we could chase the negative spirit away with a big, positive step forward. The store itself was in excellent shape: a good service reputation, a well-known location on Fort, and fantastic bikes: Cannondale, Cervelo and Giant, all high-end machines.

It just needed a focused brand strategy, and a look to pull it off.

The shop’s focus on placing service and proper fitting before bike sales pointed in the right direction, but we needed something bigger.

As luck would have it, the main competitive stores (Oak Bay Bicycles, Russ Hay’s, Trek and Broad Street Cycles) all referred to themselves as “bike shops” in their positioning lines. This created the opportunity.


Fort Street Cycle would no longer be just a bike shop. It would be about cycling: where the rider and the bike come together to create the magic. The store would be all about that. A place for cyclists to gather, to read cycle mags and drink coffee, to be professionally fitted, to watch live races on the TV, to post messages about stolen bikes, to find the latest gear to wear, to test ride new models, to talk cycling. Not a hardware store for machines, but  a place for people, something their “service-first” way of working already beautifully supported.

Hence the new tagline: Where Cycling Lives.

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As the brand strategy and visual look were being created, the store went on a serious hiring spree. Using both online ads and networking, there were soon ten passionate cyclists on the store’s staff roster. A mix of road and mountain cyclists, elite competitors and everyday grinders, they embraced the new brand direction and shouldered the tasks involved in bringing it to life.


Even though the store’s reputation had suffered in recent years, it was still an established brand with a history. We wanted to respect that by evolving the business, both the name and the logo. Enter long-time collaborator Michael Tension, who delivered a modern and impactful updating of the previous logo, along with an inspired palette of supporting colours to carry it. The name was shortened to Fort St Cycle, because it felt friendlier, and doing so created the space that allowed the name to be on one line in the logo, rather than stacked.

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The old….and the new. Urban Sign behind the new one.

The store had been quiet in Victoria for years and was poorly connected to both the cycling community and the businesses along Fort St.

To help improve that, we gave the staff tools to build new relationships, from branded work gear to highly personalized business cards (the photo is of the staff member, and they chose their own quote and colour) – neither of which the store had ever provided. Then we crafted marketing and social media strategies to slowly build back their audience.


Service Manager, Russ Parks in his new gear


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Michael Tension cards: folded and white on the inside for notes

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Once all the branded pieces were ready, Derek Ford did his usual exceptional job capturing the team spirit in photos. And then it was on to a welcoming Open House to let the market know Fort St Cycle was alive and kicking!

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Megan Munro poster

To promote the event and get rid of some pesky old branded water bottles, the staff rolled up invitations into the old bottles and left them in bikes with empty water bottle holders all over downtown.

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Message in a bottle campaign

The Open House saw a good crowd, and the positive buzz energized everyone and helped to exorcise the ghosts of the old brand.


Open House July 12

A new website from Leap is on the way, jerseys are being printed and a store renovation is planned for late fall. The store also has plans to lead a cycling tour to the Great Wall in China this year. More details on that coming up soon!  Until then, drop by the store and talk cycling: these guys know their stuff.

And ask for one of those cool new business cards!





Think of your brand as a body tattoo

2 Apr

How will tattoos look when I'm older?

Your brand’s personality is for the life of your brand.

It may undergo adjustments over time to reflect growth, just as people do, but the fundamental values should be set.

Just as you or I would keep at arm’s length the people we can’t get a bead on, so it is with brands.

When someone we know and trust says they value something, and their actions prove otherwise, our trust ebbs, if not disappears altogether.

And so it is with brands.

You ensure that the brand articulation you create has lifelong staying power by having an anchor belief as its foundation.

Telus power bar energy saving


Consider Telus. The telecom giant’s brand has an anchor belief that the future is friendly. For 12 years now, they have hit consistently at this belief through every customer touchpoint.

(You might argue that they haven’t been as successful on the delivery of the belief through customer service, but their promise of a friendly future allows them to disappoint you today!)

Your brand believes in something. It exists to deliver that belief.

When it stops delivering it, the bond with the customer is broken and the brand diminishes. All it takes is a stumble in our consumer-driven market and the crowd will stampede over you.

Beliefs, in the world of branding, are forever – something you want to take care to get right the first time.

The articulation of it should never be viewed as a means to an end. Like the tattoo that covers you from head to toe, it is a statement of life-long conviction. The means should flow from that.


Case study: connecting a national brand to its customers

19 Feb

I was approached late last year by the national debt consultancy, 4 Pillars, and asked to help them take their brand to a higher level.

I understand debt and the incredible stress that it brings to bear on you, so I felt I was the right person to do this job for them.

Additionally, 4 Pillars was the company that helped me re-structure my own debt, and they had done everything they said they would do. So I had a high degree of confidence in them as a business.

The Brand Intervention process kicks in.

First I conducted a Brand Evaluation, involving the owners, members of a franchise action committee, and other key stakeholders, to determine what brand positioning and messaging 4 Pillars could authentically own.

Then I weighed these findings against the competition, the brand’s current articulation and the customer’s experience and expectations.

My observation back to 4 Pillars was that their current brand promise wasn’t connecting strongly enough with their potential customers on an emotional level.

Debt takes over your life. It finds you wherever you are. There is no place to hide and you see debt everywhere you look.

Since 4 Pillars had already demonstrated to me, through my experience as a customer, that they understood where I was on an emotional level, and were able to help with that in addition to providing me with solutions, it was clear that the brand promise could authentically occupy a far more empathetic territory.

The Brand Interventionist Recommended

First, designer Alison Garrad and I looked at the logo. We wanted to make it more approachable, so we made a number of adjustments: switching to a different blue, differentiating the 4 from the Pillars to create a beat, moving from serif to sans serif and from upper case to upper/lower case.

4 Pillars logos

Advertising was just one of the tactics for lead generation recommended to 4 Pillars. But here the change was most dramatic.

We asked the business to move away from their existing advertising, exemplified below, which stressed tactics and outcomes upfront in the language of the business, and lacked polish.

4 Pillars old ad

Instead, we wanted to connect better with the potential customer on an emotional level.

What the advertising should do is speak to them in a language they understand. What they understand right now is that their debt has gradually, like a camel in a tent, taken over their lives, their thoughts, even their sleep.

Here are a few ads in the campaign.

seeing debt everywhere

debt follows you to bed

The owners have embraced this new positioning and are beginning to extend it across all their customer touchpoints.

They are now speaking in the language of their customers, always the right direction to head in!


Finally, some truth in advertising

13 Feb

In the U.S. there is something called the Heart Attack Grill.

Items on the menu include this Quadruple Bypass Burger, topping in at around 8,000 calories.

Quadruple Bypass Burger

Diners who weigh over 350 lbs eat free.

Yesterday their most loyal customer, a 52-year old daily regular, dropped dead of a heart attack outside the restaurant.  The unappetizing details are here.

The owner of the restaurant was quick to head-off the obvious remarks by reminding all that this wasn’t a laughing matter. A man – a good man by all accounts – was dead.

The Brand Interventionist Recommends

While I am all for truth in advertising, if your brand promise is that you will kill your customers and you deliver on that promise, you should probably be in jail, not reaping the profits from people too stupid to save themselves.

“Taste worth dying for!” Heart Attack Grill slogan


How should a company say Merry Christmas to its customers?

20 Dec

Yesterday I received this e-card from Bell Mobility.

The card was fine, but it got me thinking: What does a corporate Christmas wish mean to a customer?

Bell Mobility Christmas e-card with TV snowman

This one stopped at wishing me the best (never a bad thing, just a missed opportunity from a marketing point of view).

It also told me I am in a database, which I know of course. There may be an illusion of a relationship here, but when viewed through cynical customer eyes, it’s just an impersonal, one-way marketing piece meant to connect me further to the brand. It isn’t about me, the customer, at all.

What might Bell have done differently?

The Brand Interventionist Recommends

Bell missed an opportunity here to create some loyalty and communicate where their heart is as a business. They could have:

  • Told me they are doing something philanthropic in the spirit of the season, using the money they made from me.
  • Offered me relevant personalization. “Hey Doug, thanks for joining us this year!”
  • Offered me a gift (something this much smaller company does so well). Telus Mobility gave me their calendar every year.

An empty corporate Christmas greeting may satisfy some, who are caught up in the rush of the season and don’t think too much on it.

But customers want more from a business these days.

No one is likely to feel bad about Bell for sending this greeting. But “don’t feel bad about them” is not the ringing endorsement a company wants to achieve through its marketing.

Did any corporate Christmas greeting catch your eye?



How being good at customer service can kill a business

7 Dec

The view from the CN Tower

Consider the case of a small customer-centric business.

It knows its customers intimately and enjoys enviable loyalty in return. Word spreads. Sales increase. The business grows. All good, right?

But soon our little company is a much bigger company, with all the challenges that come with customer-centricity when you’re big.

You would think that big companies would be better at servicing their customers, with their resources and staffing and budgets. But the opposite is true. As staffing increases, so grows the distance between senior management and front-line staff, and therefore the customer. Middle management are inserted to bridge the gap, thereby creating, ironically, greater distance.

When the VPs lose touch with the “floor”, it’s game over.

A whole host of internal strategic planning issues now emerge to vie for the attention of management: inter-departmental communication; the need for processes; improvements to the delivery channels to handle the increased demand; staff morale; hiring and training; internal culture. It requires an entire new level of staffing to address these. It’s hardly surprising that, in the midst of all this internal change, the business loses sight of the customer.

So the customer, ignored and left to wonder about the schizophrenia now demonstrated by the brand that used to service her so well, goes in search of a better customer experience.

Off to the smaller business she will go. And the whole doomed cycle repeats itself.

So what’s a business to do?

The Brand Interventionist Recommends

Departments that don’t talk to each other are speaking different languages to the customer, so that’s the place to start.

Communication and internal alignment will bring a business back to the customer’s experience, so the brand promise should be applied to the internal culture first.

If Brand X is all about ease and simplicity, then these need to be the mantras inside the business. Billing, marketing, staff meetings, communications, incentives – everything is influenced. The business has to wrap itself in the brand flag from the inside out.

A business that figures out how the brand promise directs the internal issues has a puncher’s chance of keeping its customers around when it grows.


Customer Experience Strategy: got one?

9 Nov

Vintage exploding cigars and joy buzzers illustration

The last holdouts to the push-theory of marketing are waiting for something that will not happen: their customers will never give up the ground they have gained to control the relationship through digital channels.

So what’s a business to do?

As you continue to innovate and improve the product or service you offer, you move increasingly towards customer-centricity.

This not only makes sense from a sales-model perspective, but from a competitive one as well. The experience a customer has with your brand at all your touchpoints can be a strategic differentiator. For good or bad!

But in order not to make a hash of things, you need to evaluate your customer’s experience with you. Not once, not twice, but on an ongoing basis – much as you would test your online content – to optimize the relationship.

Customer Relationship Optimization

I had never even heard this term until I just wrote it, so I did some googling: It’s out there! It makes perfect sense that this should become the next big buzz-phrase in marketing, and here’s why:

Constant evaluation of the experience your customer is having with your brand ensures you’re making the most of your opportunities and creating loyalty and advocacy, thereby extending the duration – and I would suggest, intensity – of your customer lifecycle.

Simple. Not so simple is how you do it.

The Brand Interventionist Recommends

Create a Customer Experience Strategy for your company. This strategy should be built around two phases:


Evaluating your customer’s experience effectively means both research and mapping.

RESEARCH  You build customer feedback into your existing channels to encourage a steady-flow of insights about what your customer needs. For example, all your outgoing communications (email, paid media, invoices) and in-bound channels  (website, social media pages etc.) should include a survey link (Survey Monkey works nicely), asking what your customer is looking for, and how well you’re providing what they want and value. This helps you to create your gap analysis.

MAPPING  This process evaluates the journey your customer takes when she engages with your brand. It allows you to walk in her shoes and see your business from her perspective.

How does your website hold-up to a customer’s actual needs? What is the experience of interacting with your call centre? What’s the first impression of your selling environment? How do you handle complaints? What does an email from your business feel like? How quickly do you respond to social media mentions? Obviously, there’s a lot going on.

Customer experience lifecycle

If your business draws a mindmap that includes every potential interaction between the customer and your brand during the customer lifecycle – starting with researching the category (search), through investigating the product, point of purchase, post-purchase, loyalty and retention programs, all the way to advocacy – you will end up with a blueprint for a comprehensive audit of your touchpoints.

There’s much to be said for hiring an outside consultant to do this for you: they’re faster, have better processes, know what they’re doing, bring objectivity to the task and are able to deliver a suite of recommendations on the back of it. They can also cost a whack of dough.

But you can scale down the scope and do some of the lifting on your own with methods you’re already familiar with but not putting to use, like secret shopping, both online and off.


The step that closes the loop is implementing the tactics that narrow the gap between what your customer wants and needs, and what you’re delivering.

There will be quick wins out of the gate and long-term have-to-do’s. Your research should help you understand what’s urgent and what can wait.

Because this is an optimized process of gathering insight, evaluating and implementing changes, your work is never done! Such is  the life of a customer-centric business…

Ideally there will be a mindset shift within your organization towards customer-centricity. The process of implementing tactics to improve your customer’s experience is not just for the customer but also for you and your staff. Defining the required internal cultural shift could have a seismic impact on your business. You may see staff turnover, as those unable to make the leap leave, but you will also begin attracting the right sorts of people to your business.

Does it all seem too daunting? Start small with a single evaluation, such as a website audit. The agency I work with, Redbird Communications, can give you a killer audit. Then implement the recommendations. Commit to a second evaluation. Implement. And so on.

Delight your customer. Win her loyalty.

Make her the most powerful marketing tool you can have: a screaming fan for life.

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