Social media has grown from a fringe curiosity to a slightly left-of-center marketing tool in just a few short years. It seems now to be only a matter of time before social media techniques and philosophy penetrate the mainstream.
In what is, hopefully, a long series covering Social Media Success Stories I intend to introduce you to the early pioneers who have adopted social media and translated it into greater success.
I have started by interviewing someone who has taken on a conservative old industry with a small niche brand and a great social media approach: Tim Jackson aka Masi Guy from Masi Bicycles USA.
Brand Manager- Masi Bicycles, USA
How long have you been there?
I have been with Masi for nearly 4 years- it’ll be 4 years in September/ October 2008.
Tell us a little bit about Masi Bicycles:
We’re a road bike brand with a nearly 70 year history. The brand nearly vanished several years ago but was licensed and then purchased by Haro Bikes.
When Haro purchased the brand, they decided to hire somebody to steward the brand- which is me.
We’re a very small brand, less than 1% of the entire US road market, and we’re really only 1-1/2 people- my self and my Product Manager (Wayne Doran), but he splits his time with Haro as well. So really, I’m the only full time Masi employee.
Does Masi’s marketing target distributors (B2B) or consumers (B2C) or both?
We market to both. I sell to retailers/ distributors, but I advertise to both.
That’s one of the things I love the most about Social Media; I can talk to one, the other, or both at the same time. I’m all about conversations and relationship building.
One of the funny things I didn’t really expect is that the blog has been a great tool for strengthening the relationships I have with the vendors I buy from- here in the US and also in Europe and Taiwan. I have a lot of blog readers in Taiwan and many of them are people I buy from- it’s funny when they mention something they read on the blog.
What was Masi’s marketing style / mix prior to your arrival?
Well, the company had little to no budget at all for marketing as it was in the very beginning of the new ownership. They had just finished the last of their magazine ads when I came onboard. So I started blogging within 6 months because I knew I had to do something.
The company hadn’t even heard the term “social media”, except for possibly one other person, before I came to the company. Granted, I had only really heard of it in passing my self. Getting into blogging was really my trial by fire, as well as my introduction to marketing.
What is your marketing approach now? Specifically, what social media do you pursue?
My approach is one of utilizing whatever I can.
I run print ads in magazines because many of my consumers are still reading them.
I advertise in our biggest trade mag’ as well, to reach my “real” customers- the people who are actually buying the bikes from me.
I still blog like crazy and I’m on MySpace (though almost never), Facebook (a little), Twitter, Plurk and a little YouTube.
I’ve begun a podcast and am trying to get better at that.
It’s my sincere desire to start doing a lot more video work because I think it has great potential for what I need to do; I can really use it to educate and explain. I see video as my next really big thing.
So traditional marketing is still in the mix?
The magazines in the cycling world still have pretty good readership. Especially among the actual retailers- I get lots of comments about our print ad efforts from the retailers.
Consumers tend to be more savvy than many of the retailers and spend the bulk of their time online, so I go after them there.
I have advertised online in the past, but I have found I get more traffic and feedback from my blog and podcast.
What social media channels do you employ in marketing Masi?
I’m really a Social Media omnivore. I really wish I could do more in more channels, but I try a little of everything.
Like I said, I really see the potential for me in video projects. I can tell a compelling story about the bikes and hopefully answer questions for people. I’ve been told that I am a very passionate speaker- I do love what I do- and that my presentations are good. So I see video projects as becoming very important to me.
But I’ll stay involved with Twitter, Plurk, Seesmic, Facebook, the blogs… wherever I can find places to have conversations.
Which social media channels do you believe have been the most effective?
I’m really a big fan of blogging. I spend the bulk of my time there and have had unbelievable responses to it. I don’t ever plan to stop blogging.
However…I’ve been enjoying playing with the micro-blogging formats like Twitter and Plurk. But as far as effectiveness so far, blogging has been the big winner so far.
How has this impacted upon sales?
Within two years of joining the company, sales had doubled.
We’re currently having our best year ever and we look to be on track for an even better year coming.
Obviously, I’d like to say it is all because of the blog and other Social Media efforts I’ve made, but that’d be foolish. However, considering the lack of a marketing budget still, I do feel confident in saying that the Social Media efforts have played a very big role in things.
I know the brand awareness is stronger than it was when I joined the company.
What other benefits have you noticed from your social media approach?
Well, the biggest has just been the increased overall brand image and recognition.
Masi was nearly invisible when I joined the company. The former ownership knew lots of incredible things about making bikes, but didn’t know much about marketing and really just didn’t have the time to try.
We now also have a community that has grown around the brand again. Masi had a cult following for decades- primarily with an older demographic. Now, we have a new cult following that spans a lot more age groups and income brackets. I’m really proud of that.
A rather amazing benefit has been a bit more specific to me though- the fact that I have been out in the marketing and Social Media worlds so much over the past 3 years has gotten me into many conversations I never thought I’d be having.
I’ve learned a lot as a marketer by getting to know and work with some of the best marketing minds in the world. I’ve learned how to listen a lot better.
I feel like I have a much better understanding of the people who buy and ride my bicycles.
What advice would you give to marketers looking to include social media in their mix?
Don’t be afraid to fail once in a while.
A little healthy fear is good, but don’t let it paralyse you. Fear will keep you away from conversations and conversation is the lifeblood of any company- you need conversation to understand your markets.
Without it, you’re dead in the water.