Cycling enthusiasts Simon Mottram and Luke Scheybeler were convinced that they could translate their passion for cycle racing into a powerful niche brand when they started Rapha in 2004. Not being a cyclist I was not aware of the UK born brand until recently, from that first moment of awareness I have admired the brilliance in branding that has been applied to the Rapha business. Upon exploring the brand it was not surprising to find that the two founders had previously been professionally employed creating brands for others. They get it (branding) in spades and they execute with flair.
Mottram based his initial research on a comparison of the cycle sport industry with other sports sectors. Where many sports support sales of the core equipment with major markets in clothing and accessories, spend in cycling was heavily skewed towards the bicycles themselves. ‘All the research suggested there was an unexploited niche for high value clothing and accessories,’ says Scheybeler. They had the smarts to find an unsatisfied niche and one that was high end.
They also new that at that high end that customers would be design aware, and hence every thing they touch has a high design cred running through it. To this end they decreed that everything the company made or did would communicate their passion for the sport through design. Such a mindset will always create a far more emotionally appealing product than those who carry only a functional paradigm in what they offer.
But it is the essence of their brand that excites me. We spend a significant proportion of time working with clients to establish clarity around the essence of their brands – the heart and soul of their brand’s mantra. For Rapha it has been built around the concept of ‘Glory through Suffering’ – a brand essence that celebrates the fact that from pain comes pleasure. The sport’s great battles are fought on an epic scale, across the plains and mountains of continents. This is an activity that demands extraordinary commitment from its participants and encourages it in its followers (think late nights watching the Tour de France). Rapha harnesses all of this in its storytelling and its customer engagement. It pays homage to the sapping nature of long tough road races. It lives the passion of the sport with style.
Rapha has much to offer in terms of brand lessons. Jump on its site, if you have not previously done so, and you will discover a brand that has carved out a niche that delivers stunning margins. It looked for gap in the market and found it. It pursued a passion and wrapped it up superbly with high end design.