When UK cycling clothing brand Rapha launched in 2004, road cycling was a niche sport in the country.
Since then, Rapha has risen alongside the popularity of the sport to become one of its premium brands.
It is almost a fashion brand in itself and has a turnover of around £50 million. And all of this was built with Rapha’s content marketing.
If you’re not familiar with Rapha, it was worn in the Tour de France by Team Sky and winner Chris Froome.
It features heavily in the Prudential RideLondon-Surrey Classic.
Rapha’s products are unashamedly high-end, with a lightweight short-sleeve jersey costing £100+. And if doesn’t put you off, a rain jacket will set you back £260.
As high quality as the products are, it is correct to say Rapha is also a marketing phenomenon and the quality of its content marketing is as high as its £155 lightweight bib shorts.
Your own publishing platform
By publishing through its own channels, Rapha content marketing takes an orthodox approach. It has largely sold and marketed its products through its own site.
In marketing terms, many other high-end cycling brands like Assos have focused on the quality of their products.
But in addition to this, Rapha has also worked to align itself with the emotion and history of cycling.
For many, the glory days of the sport were in the 50s – before the introduction of buses doubling as hotels, sports science, and marginal gains.
Back then cycling was about suffering and, Rapha realised, people still love the romance of that. Not for nothing has road cycling has been described as the most Catholic of sports.
The content marketing comes in the form of on-site articles and a TV channel on Vimeo. The content itself is highly stylised, making use of photography that has been shot with the generous use of a filter to highlight the effects of the road and tough conditions.
The product is often covered in sweat and grime, even that worn by Sir Bradley Wiggins whose team Rapha sponsors.
Use of film
Rapha has uploaded around 250 films to its Vimeo channel. A typical example is Of Steel, produced by Ridley Scott Associates. It is an interview with the maker of the Pegoretti (itself an extremely high-end product) steel road bike frame.
In the main, it is a discussion between the designer and his team about how steel is valued and perceived.
The video is predominantly philosophical opinion and the bike frames appear only sporadically. There is no Rapha clothing.
The connection is clear but unspoken. There is no mention of Rapha throughout the 15-minute piece but you are left with the impression that it and Pegoretti share the same philosophy.
The product comes first, and everything else follows. If you are the best, they can’t ignore you.
Rapha’s blog articles are like those in a magazine. Indeed, it is still influenced by Rouleur, an upmarket bi-monthly magazine that Rapha launched and sold on in 2013.
Its contributors included writers from The Guardian and photography by members of the Magnum agency. It was printed on expensive paper and sold accordingly.
The adherence to such a clear brand strategy, coupled with the use of actual journalists and photographers seems like a modern approach. And it is certainly one that FirstWord advocates.
Yet Rapha has been doing it for years, and the results are clear.
It is one of the best known and trusted brands in cycling despite coming from a country that had very little background in the sport until a few years ago.
Many brands would pay a fortune in brand advertising to build such a reputation in such a short space of time.
Such is the power of quality content marketing.