If a gravel race falls in the woods... (or, The Road Strikes Back!)

This summer's endless class is Product Management, which is a very interesting one. The professor premised the entire thing by saying that this would be the last time the class is titled Product Management, and will be changed to Customer Management in the future. This reflects the long-underway trend within marketing organizations to segment by customer group rather than product, the theory being that if my group has a bunch of competencies at reaching and solving the needs of an identifiable slice of customers, the compelling thing is the customer group, not the product. If November is great at reaching customers with X, Y, and Z characteristics and needs, then we should be successful at selling you any number of allied products within a logical universe from where our relationship with you began. Or (and) we could be successful at different market categories with customers with similar characteristics and traits, for example we might "Novemberize" golf (which Mike actually raised at one point). 

The sticky wrinkle that presents itself right now is about "aspirational decisions." i.e. what moves the needle in your mind. For about the last 15 pages of the calendar, the light and the heat has all been around gravel, and road racing is dead, and World Tour races don't matter to anyone. Our sales certainly reflect a move toward this reality, as for example the HED Belgium G builds have gone from 0 to 60 in a reasonably short time, but the RCGs and Cafe Racers plug right along, too. Granted, a ton of people (myself included) use RCGs and Cafe Racers for gravel, and the GOATs are also a crossover rim that gets used a lot across these categories (and which we seem to sell out before they arrive each time). Unquestionably, over the past several years, gravel has taken a lot of mind and market share from road, but road ain't giving up that easily.

The Belgium Waffle Ride has gone from quirky little thing to probably one of the 10 biggest cycling events in North America in a short time. Based on all of the metrics and trends that the matrix of my mind is able to track, this is a big event that has great awareness and generates a ton of interest. But in the face of the final weekend of a compelling Tour de France, it got lost in the noise. None of the media that I see daily had it in a visible place, I had to search for the results (Pete Stetina and Katerina Nash - still my fave - won).

 

Back to marketing. This week's case unit is on the overall viability of Direct To Consumer ("DTC" - why the world has chose "T" instead of "2" as in "B2B" and "B2C" is well beyond me) brands like November, but this issue is really about all brands. If you had $1,000,000 and wanted to get your product as much visibility as possible, you'd have made the wrong choice with gravel and the right choice with road. Granted, the Tour has about a 100 year head start on gravel (there are many who would say the original Tour is closer to a gravel race), and there's structure there that makes the Tour nigh on impossible to overpower as a cycling story. But I didn't expect BWR to get so shoved off the page. 

Of course this all presupposes that any of this actually influences decisions. So much heat in marketing right now is about peer influence, and if you saw our inbox you would think "a buddy of mine..." means "hello" in some cryptic language. That seems to power a lot of movement, thankfully, and when you're small and trying to stay that way, that's cool. But if you had seed or series funding and were trying to get big (which, if any VCs read this - RUN don't walk from any cycling pitches that aren't e-bike focused), I still don't know that you could make a case for gravel based on this season. 

 

 


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