It’s all about the Conversation, Rick Vosper will tell you. And he’s in a position to know: He cultivated a conversation about biking into a highly creative and successful way to conquer a very specific market. My own conversation with Rick, an eloquent and passionate spokesman for content marketing, ranged from propaganda to cocktail parties. But it started with bicycles.
Creating the Conversation
“As a startup company,” Vosper says of Airborne Bikes, a subsidiary of Huffy, “we didn’t have a zillion dollar budget.” Vosper describes Airborne’s products as “real solid, entry-level performance bikes at the best value anywhere.” Huffy’s agency, Brunner, came up with the concept of a team of brand ambassadors called The Flight Crew. The ten-member team spreads the word about Airborne in exchange for a bike and gear.
“I wanted to take it another step,” he says. “I wanted them to be our content marketers.” The Flight Team specifically includes photographers and videographers, who already have their own blogs and produce high-quality, visually rich content. They all got basic lessons in content marketing, but Vosper told them it wasn’t just about Airborne. “You’re here to talk about riding bikes,” he told them.
Consumers loved the campaign. Airborne’s sponsored riders aren’t necessarily racers, and “the notion that just some regular guy could be sponsored the same way a pro athlete was” Vospers says, “is incredibly intoxicating.”
Vosper says the success of the campaign was talking with customers, instead of talking at them. “In the broadest sense it’s about having a conversation with our customers,” Vosper says. He refers to the old notion of a marketplace where sellers talked to buyers, and that discussion “wasn’t just about the products.” Talking to customers is “how we did it until this massive industrial era communications technologies took hold.”
Propaganda Isn’t Conversation
“Corporate America is stuck in this old-fashioned propaganda model of how to talk to customers,” Vosper told me. “Driving the sound truck through the streets saying who they are and what they do.” Vosper says it doesn’t work anymore. “Customers aren’t dumb, and they’re tired of it.”
Big companies aren’t dumb either, but when they start to do a content marketing plan “the old entrenched ways take over,” he says. And, “at that point, people turn if off.”
The propaganda model doesn’t work anymore. “It’s a dinosaur and old-style corporations will either adapt or die.” Their blogs and twitter accounts have nothing more to say than “we did this, or we did that.” Stuck in that paradigm, they’re like “the guy at the cocktail party who can only talk about himself.” At the end of the night, “those guys are all standing around in a small group, talking about themselves and not listening to each other.”
The Conversation Never Stops
In February, Vosper left Airborne and Huffy to focus on his own company, Rick Vosper-Marketing Services (http://www.rvms.com). He and his wife are going to hit the road for a while, but he’s not going to stop working. Thanks to technology, he’ll never stop talking to his clients. It’s about “the art of having a conversation,” Vosper tells me. And so it is.