Branding, marketing and corporate identity make their way into cycling, entire internet gasps in horror

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In the last few days, much has been made of the email that was sent to Trek employees regarding the correct name of Andy Schleck's new team, and how the team's name should be stated in both written and spoken form. Like you, I see the humor in that email, since it serves as a perfect showpiece for the stilted way in which large companies communicate with their employees. The email serves as proof of the level of awareness and attention to detail (regardless of whether or not you like the outcome) that is now common in other businesses outside of cycling. Yes, when you read emails like that one you cringe, and rightfully so. When something as seemingly meaningless as whether you use capital letters or not is dictated in such a methodical way, you have to laugh, much like you laughed at the excessive amounts of hair gel and scarves that were on hand at the team presentation. Having said that, it should be pointed out that pretty much every medium to large company has a branding and identity program like the one that Leopard has. Even countries have them.

As far as Leopard goes, it does seem silly that anyone would go to such trouble to ensure that the name of a cycling team would be stated correctly...particularly when the names of cycling teams change faster than....than...well, faster than the names of cycling teams. But I think that the reaction to this Trek email is indicative of how many cyclists refuse to believe that the sport or activity they are involved in have anything to do with big business. As a matter of fact, many believe that by merely riding a bike, they are taking on the establishment and single-handedly dismantling corporate greed and capitalism. They shake their fists at the cars that drive by, because bikes are the way to go, and cars are signs of capitalist thought. In terms of the professional side of cycling, many fans tend to see football, baseball, or formula 1 as the real big-time sports...the ones with huge budgets where big businesses are involved. Cycling, they believe, is rather different. After all, on the weekend of the 2009 or 2010 Paris-Roubaix (I forget which), Tiger Woods' caddy made more money than the winner of the famed race, by simply receiving 10% of Wood's winnings. By that measure, cycling's monetary reality is laughable, and this leads some fans to further believe that the sport they follow is not like the others.

But while it may feel like cycling is a bit of an outsider sport in that sense, consider the fact that we refer to teams by their sponsor, not by a team name. Real Madrid hasn't changed its name from Siemens Mobile, to BenQ, to in the last few years, have they? As such, I have to wonder, how on earth it is that cycling fans are so amazed when aspects of big business magically sneak into their (seemingly) tiny sport. If they were paying attention (as I have, since I'm not only good looking but also superbly smart) they would almost expect these things, and actually be surprised by the fact that they haven't happened before. Why? Because obsessive attention to detail is now commonplace for any new company that is worth millions. So too is the fact that when individuals or companies decide to invest substantial sums of money in a new enterprise, they expect that it will be branded and marketed by a professional firm whose sole expertise is in branding (in Leopard's case it was Minale Design).

Yes, the budgets for a cycling teams is comparatively small...but a million dollars is a million dollars any way you slice it. Because of that, marketing and branding have now made their way into the mental checklist that people run through as they start businesses of this size. Perhaps a person who actually knows about how businesses are run will disagree with me, but it certainly appears to me that these things have come into the foreground as of late.

Corporate identity standards manuals have existed for a long time. If you think being particular about how a name is spelled is weird, you should see what large companies include in their guidelines. Your head will be spinning for days.

So while the realities of how a business is run can make us cringe (like seeing how sausage is made), it's time to realize that cycling is a business. It's for that reason that cycling teams are probably not all that different in some ways from the movie Office Space, or a badly written episode of The Office (is there any other kind of Office episode?) So even though the product they are pushing is race wins, and sponsor exposure instead of drill bits, food dehydrators or pajama jeans, teams still function as a business. Yes, I know that Androni Giocatolli's kits look like they were designed by a secretary, and have more logos than a Nascar driver...but by and large, what I stated in an earlier post still stands. Companies and teams that use marketing and branding to this degree are merely part of how the world works. You can disagree with it. You can cringe, but it's how things are done.

Companies within cycling that use marketing and branding a business tool are merely proof of the fact that such thinking is trickling down to small companies in every niche market. Depending on how you feel about that aspect of business coming into your neighborhood (that "neighborhood" being cycling), your take on those companies or teams will vary. Perhaps you feel that cycling was always a bit of a refuge from the world of marketing, at least in the levels that are common in other business sectors, since it's a relatively small industry. Yes, I know that bike manufacturers have long created their own idiotic terminology for the numerous kinds of pseudo-technology that are on their frames. But compared to what goes on outside of the cycling world, these attempts seem largely clumsy and uninformed. So while cycling has had aspects of marketing and branding within itself for some time, it's not until recently that these objectives began to be executed in the direct approach that we see today. Even bicycle makers who have been around for a significant amount of time haven't managed to encapsulate their brand as successfully as some of today's smaller companies.

You can hate marketing. You can hate words like "branding" as well as terms like "brand consistency" and "brand equity". I don't blame you for hating them, because I sort of do too. I also sort of hate gravity...but I'm slowly learning to let that issue go. Yes words like "branding" seem dirty, and slimy. That's because business can be both dirty and slimy, much like Cancellara's hair at the Leopard team presentation. But if you'd like, you can still feel like you're taking on the world by riding your bike. You're a rebel, you are way outside of the norm because people at your job think you're weird for riding a bike to work. You, my friend, have nothing to do with big business, and you are thus free and clear from having anything to do with corporate branding, marketing and the like. You didn't buy that bike because you saw an add for it. You weren't fooled by marketing mumbo-jumbo. That's for the Freds who buy Trek's because of Lance. You are way beyond that. You know a guy at such and such company, and he got you a deal on a sweet frame. You're beyond it all. You're not a professional, but you pay for a kit that has logos on it, so that you can look like a professional who actually gets paid to wear a kit that has logos on it. So go on thinking anyway you wish, particularly if you feel better as a result. But if the business climate outside of cycling is any indication, these things aren't going anywhere. As a matter of fact, they will only intensify. And if you really, really object to this type of business mentality being a part of cycling, I should point out that the only thing that may get some of the big-business mentality (and some of the big-business money) out of cycling is the other think you hate. Doping. But we'll save that for another time.

The truth is that cycling, bikes, and bike racing are big-ish business...and those who invest money in big business want to ensure that certain steps have been taken to ensure their return on investment. These may be silly steps to take, but they are now part of of the lessons taught as part of MBA programs at every community college. So they are not going anywhere. So you can object to all this and laugh. Like me, you can shake your head about the whole thing, because its not only cycling, but the whole world that has started to think in this way. Because all they care about is that we type it and say it correctly. So type along with me people:


Because the moment you start typing it right, the team will change its name anyway.

Two more things:

While my brother's podcast is certainly the best one in the world, it's also worth mentioning the Real Peloton is a fantastic listen as well. Matt Rendell, who has shown his affinity and knowledge of Colombian cycling by publishing three books on the subject (including Kings Of The Mountains) co-hosts the podcast with Ned Boulting. This latest episode was done while Matt was in Colombia and includes some interesting insights and tidbits about Colombian riders. You can listen here.

Lastly, I'd like to say that the next few months will be busy ones for me. In order to remain sane, I'll have to try to get back to my Thursday posts being a bit shorter. Bear with me. I know that many of you refer to the posts on this blog as "manna from heaven", but if I don't look after my sanity, there won't be any more manna in the future. Nahmean?