Revolutionary Measures

A Marketing Tour de Force

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few days, you’ll have seen that the Tour de France, the world’s biggest annual sporting event, visited the UK. From the Grand Départ (race start) in Leeds on Saturday to the final British stage from Cambridge to London on Monday, the race has been typified by enormous support, with an estimated six million people turning out to watch at the roadside.

Image from Scudamore’s Punting Cambridge www.scudamores.com via Flickr

Image from Scudamore’s Punting Cambridge http://www.scudamores.com

Putting that in context the normal total number of spectators for the entire, three week event is 12 million people. Riders described the noise levels at the roadside as ‘like being in a disco’, with climbs in the Yorkshire Dales resembling Alpe D’Huez when it came to the number of spectators. Even the normally insouciant French admitted it was the biggest start to the event ever.

I was one of the six million spectators, on both the Yorkshire stages and as a Tour Maker volunteer marshal in Cambridge and am still reeling from the exhilaration of the experience, with a sore throat from the shouting.

What makes the success even more amazing is the ratio of waiting to watching. The speed of the race means that the bunch tends to be past in less than a minute – even spread out on a climb it is less than 15-20 minutes for the final stragglers to come through. Yet people were in place the day before on climbs and 5 hours ahead of the race coming through on the flat. As someone pointed out to me, at 2 hours, the gap between the publicity caravan and the cyclists themselves was longer than a football match.

What makes people, many of whom had no interest in cycling, turn out in their millions and give up their time? And, what can marketers learn from the event’s success? I’d distil it into six characteristics:

1          Ownership and Pride
From the very start, the Grand Départ was billed as Yorkshire’s chance to shine, with the chance for God’s own country to show the world what it was capable of. This spurred a frenzy of creative ideas, from knitting miles of coloured jersey bunting to painting houses, people and sheep in tour colours. Every community wanted to outdo its neighbour in a friendly, but very serious rivalry. And this spread to the South as well – events and decorations in Cambridge and Essex stepped up a gear as they were determined to rival Yorkshire.

2          Inclusivity
I saw thousands of people on bikes around the stages – and importantly you could cycle on the roads for hours before the race came through, and immediately afterwards. And the bikes (and cyclists) came in all shapes and sizes – from ultra light carbon machines piloted by whippet-thin athletes to shoppers and standard bikes with enormous child carrying trailers. There may have been too much Lycra on display, but it really felt that everyone could take part without being judged on their knowledge of rear sprockets or cycle computers.

3          Planning and providing something for everyone
Recognising that cycling itself wasn’t of interest to everyone, there was a huge range of activities around the tour. From French-themed markets to public art projects, the organisers used the Tour to stimulate a whole programme of activities that brought people together. It wasn’t just the preserve of big business either – from the smallest shop to the largest company, there were opportunities to get involved without spending megabucks to become an official partner. Even if the Tour was just a chance to have a party or visit one of the fan parks with big screens, you could enjoy yourself without travelling far. Planning was meticulous, even if the sheer number of people caused unexpected delays on trains, and all the relevant authorities worked well together to deliver the event.

4          Make it real
For generations reared on seeing sports stars at a distance, the Tour is a complete change. It comes to your town and the riders pass within centimetres of the crowd (admittedly leading to some incidents as spectators misjudged the amount of space needed by a charging peloton). You have the chance to get close to the stars, rather than simply seeing them on screen. From riders signing on before the stage to warming down by their team buses afterwards, the whole spectacle is public and accessible.

5          Not stopping after the event
Too many brands are focused on initial engagement, then treat customers as expendable. Like the Olympics, the idea of legacy was central to the Tour’s success in the UK. Before Saturday, Yorkshire was probably not known by many outside Great Britain. Now, thanks to the power of the TV coverage, it has been seen by billions of people around the world. Already Yorkshire has plans for a follow-up race, and has set out its ambition to be one of Europe’s cycling hotspots, boosting tourism and the economy. We’re in the midst of a massive growth in cycling in the UK, with its associated health benefits, and the Grand Depart will spur many more people to switch to two wheels.

6          Deliver a damn good show
There’s a reason the Tour de France is the biggest annual sporting event in the world – it is absolutely enormous. 198 riders, 440 vehicles in the race convoy, at least four helicopters, and a requirement for over 14,500 beds every night give you an idea of the scale of the thing. The publicity caravan alone takes around 45 minutes to pass any particular spot. People I talked to at the roadside were blown away by the spectacle, the noise, the sirens and the free stuff thrown from the caravan. Spectators really felt that they’d been part of something to remember – no mean feat given the time they’d spent by the roadside.

Marketers should take note from the success of Le Tour en Yorkshire (et Cambridge) and learn lessons on how they can create an equivalent buzz with customers going forward. And Lycra doesn’t need to be part of it………..

July 9, 2014 Posted by | Cambridge, Marketing | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The internet – too much choice?

Bangor Pier, Bangor, North Wales

Bangor Pier, Bangor, North Wales (Photo credit: timdifford)

I’ve just been booking my Summer holiday and like most people nowadays turned to the internet to sort everything out. And some of it was fun – such as using my iPad and Google Maps to zoom in on unsuspecting French villages to check exactly how far a potential holiday home was from the beach and how close to major autoroutes. But after trawling through what felt like hundreds of properties on multiple websites to read reviews and get the best possible house at the best possible price I eventually wondered if it was really worth it.

Instead of spending extra hours surfing and comparing could I have just saved the time by walking into my local travel agent, giving some basic details and letting them do the rest? If it all went pear-shaped I had someone to blame (compared to which I’m on the hook if the villa of our dreams is next to a sewage works) and while I’d have paid over the odds I’d not have to experience some of the truly unhelpful travel/tourism sites that seem to litter the web.

I appreciate I’m coming over all Luddite here, but it made me think of a broader point. The internet has revolutionised our lives and made it as easy to book a weekend in Bangkok as one in Bangor but overall it hasn’t really saved us any time or removed stress. Think about car insurance – 15 years ago it was a question of going to a broker or renewing with your existing insurer. Now you can spend days tracking down the best deal and then playing off two companies against each other as you haggle to save an extra £5 or so.

Essentially we’re stuck in the middle – we want the benefits of the depth and scale the internet gives us, but even with search engines finding what you want is akin to locating a needle in the proverbial haystack. You’re more likely to find a cute kitten instead. What we actually need is a way of making the internet smart so it understands about us, learns what we like/dislike and uses this to run our lives – like an enormously powerful Amazon recommendation engine. Or alternatively I should find someone I can just outsource my holiday planning to……………

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May 8, 2012 Posted by | Marketing, Social Media | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The C-word and social media

Events over the last week have got me thinking about social media and the C-word (censorship). Firstly, Twitter announced that it was ‘accommodating countries that have different ideas about the contours of freedom of expression’, i.e. enabling the blocking and deletion of tweets on a country by country basis. The example it gives is the legal ban on pro-Nazi speech in Germany and France, which no right thinking person is going to disagree with. The issue obviously comes when something is not to the taste of a particular regime, but a key issue that citizens of that country want to discuss. If you take the example of last year’s Arab Spring uprisings, would the tweets of protesters have been removed?

BERLIN, GERMANY - JANUARY 10:  A printing pres...

Image by Getty Images via @daylife

At the same time the European Union has published its new Data Protection Laws, which, if passed, will become law across all 27 EU members. These include the so-called Right to Forget, which means any citizen can demand that information they have posted on social media is not just removed from that network, but the entire web. Again, this is a question of degree – removing that dodgy student photo from Facebook when you start going for job interviews is one thing, deleting a tweet from a politician that makes him/her look stupid seems to me to be completely different.

None of this is new – all through history there’s been a conflict over the control of how information is distributed. In early civilisations this was pretty simple – only certain people could read/write/chisel hieroglyphics so rulers could keep a close eye on them. And if malcontents daubed slogans on the walls of public places, not a huge number of people would see them.

Obviously this changed with the printing press, which provided the ability to make multiple copies of documents relatively quickly and easily. So governments regulated printers (and pretty much still do) to try and control what information was disseminated. What makes the internet and social media so different is that you don’t need expensive printing and distribution channels – you can tweet or send a Facebook update using a mobile phone or PC from anywhere. Governments can track down who is responsible, but it takes time, hence the wholesale banning of social media

or switching off of mobile networks, for example in Egypt last year.

So, you can see Twitter’s new rules and the EU’s laws as just part of an ongoing struggle between the rulers and the ruled. However I think that social media has tipped the balance towards citizens and away from governments – it is simply too difficult to regulate, even with the support of the networks themselves. New ones will simply spring up – and the only way to combat them will be to switch off the internet entirely. And in our connected, web world that cripples a country’s ability to operate. So while censorship is still a threat it is beginning to become an increasingly empty one.

 

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January 30, 2012 Posted by | PR, Social Media | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment