Interbike, Las Vegas – A venerable Disneyland for bike aficionados.
Having watched the show from the digital sidelines for the last decade, my expectations for Interbike consisted largely of product and pints, inter-spliced with brain mists and high fives; and while the show certainly delivered on all those accounts, advocacy was unquestionably the common thread underlying Interbike 2012.
To this end, John Burke – CEO of Trek Bicycles, delivered a compelling argument for the central role advocacy has the potential to play in the year over year growth of North America’s cycling industry. John’s address began by highlighting some of the successes the industry had achieved through the effort of volunteers and advocates over the course of the last decade. A 3x growth in federal investments in cycling from $1.8B to $6.0B. A parallel 3x growth in new trail projects, from 6,000 to 18,000 and the fortification of a number of new American ‘bike friendly cities’ which now includes Portland, New York City, Atlanta, San Francisco, Boulder, Minneapolis & DC.\
Despite this growth, Burke emphasized the importance of measuring the effect these events have made towards moving the needle of American bike culture vs. the rest of the world. The benchmark focused on was % of trips taken by bicycle by a country’s suburban population. Compared with nations like The Netherlands – 25%, Denmark – 19%, Germany – 10%, France – 6%, Ireland – 3% & Canada – 2% urbanites in the United States clocked just under 1% of total trips taken by bicycle in 2011. On top of this, Burke pointed out that the industry had lost over $900M in funding to bureaucracy in 2011 & perhaps most significantly, industry participation in advocacy programs has been idle. Burke estimated of 500 suppliers and distributors in the United States, only 150 were members of Bikes Belong (America’s foremost advocacy group by membership), 500 of 4500 retailers shared the same affiliation and just 5000 of 50, 000 industry employees were members.
The upside to all of this came down to untapped opportunity and the potential to realize massive industry growth centred around a targeted 5% growth in urban American bike travel by 2025. The keys to this growth according to Burke would come from the efforts of volunteers and advocates to rally Washington for funding and put tool to trail in order to develop the trail & urban lane developments required to coax people out of their vehicles and onto their bikes. With the 5% target achieved by 2025 Burke estimated the total value of the cycling industry will exceed $12.5B vs today’s $4.5B market.
Burke lifted his approach for achieving this goal from George W Bush’s 2004 Ohio electoral strategy. While pundits in Ohio encouraged Bush to invest time in the areas where he had little support his advisors instead suggested he ignore these areas and focus on rallying voters and advocates in the districts where he had already established strong support. The goal? To inspire existing advocates and ensure involvement by getting them out to the polls. Burke extended this metaphor directly to bike industry employees. By inspiring and activating these individuals, Burke predicted the industry will grow exponentially faster then if the same resources were used to try and inspire the masses at large.
Burke closed by quoting outspoken NFL coaching legend Bill Parcels by asking attendees of the speech to take a leadership position & ‘just do something’ before leaving the stage to a standing ovation.
Lapping the show floor following the keynote I encountered a landscape dotted with non-profits from across North America – IMBA, Bikes Belong, Trips for Kids, One Street, The Adventure Cycling Association, The Bike Collective Network etc. Many of their messages could be heard echoed and amplified in the manufacturer’s booths. Leaving the conference, there was little question there is a huge appetite amongst the industry’s suppliers and manufacturers to partner with advocacy groups and causes which align well with their brand’s core ethic.
In part 2 of this post I’ll take a step back from John Burke & Interbike to look at ways brands can leverage the Ohio metaphor to achieve the rare feat of contributing to their communities while at the same time articulating their brand principals and philosophy. This follow up will begin with a survey of some of advocacy programs out there, some potential opportunities for creating new programs and the methods for evaluating whether a program aligns well with your core brand message. Next, we’ll look into tactics for identifying where your true supporters and brand advocates are already living before turning to some strategic approaches for leveraging these advocacy programs in a call to action capable of inspiring and engaging your core audience.
Click here to watch John Burke’s complete keynote address http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dBQt9WDwp44