Cervélo Cycles and The New Rules of Marketing and PR

I'm a strong believer in "show, don't tell." While writing how-to ideas about The New Rules of Marketing and PR helps to illustrate the techniques of reaching your buyers directly, there's nothing like hearing from those who have been successful with the ideas that I evangelize.

This is the first in a series of case studies of successful uses of The New Rules of Marketing and PR. The best case studies will also appear in my book due out in late 2007. Watch this blog for many more case examples of reaching buyers directly with targeted messages.

Yes, the media is still important, but why not tell your story directly?

Gerard Vroomen will tell you that he is an engineer, not a marketer. He will tell you that the company he cofounded, Cervélo Cycles, does not have any marketing experts. But Vroomen is wrong. Why? He is obsessed with the buyers of his competition bikes and with the engineering-driven product he offers them. He's focused his company to help his customers win races—and they do; in the 2005 Tour de France, David Zabriskie rode the fastest time trial in TDF history on a Cervélo P3C at a speed of 54.676 kph (33.954 mph). Vroomen excels at using the web to tell cycling enthusiasts compelling stories, to educate them, to engage them in conversation, and to entertain them. Because he uses compelling web content in interesting ways and happens to sell a bunch of bikes in the process, Vroomen is a terrific marketer.


The Cervélo site includes detailed information about each model, bikes that can cost from $3,000 to $5,000 or more. An online museum showcases production models and interesting prototypes from the early days of the company. Competitive cycling enthusiasts can sign up for an email newsletter, download audio including interviews with the athletes, or check out the blog. Cervélo-sponsored Team CSC wins races, and you can follow the action on the Cervélo’s Team CSC pages, which include news and bike race photos. And Cervélo has launched Cervé, an online channel with product features, race reports, and cycling celebrity interviews.

"Our goal is education," Vroomen says. "We have a technical product and we're the most engineering-driven company in the industry. Most bike companies don't employ a single engineer, and we have eight. So we want to have that engineering focus stand out with the content on the site. We don't sell on the newest paint job. So on the site, we're not spending our time creating fluff. Instead we have a good set of content."

Ryan Patch is the sort of customer Cervélo wants to reach. An amateur triathlon competitor on the Vortex Racing team, Patch says, "On the Cervélo site I can learn that Bobby Julich from Team CSC rides the same bike that is available to me. And it’s not just that they are riding, but they are doing really well. I can see how someone from Team CSC won the Giro de Italia on a Cervélo. That's mind-blowing that I can get the same bike that the pros are riding. I can ride the same gear. Cervélo has as much street cred as you can have with shaved legs."

Patch says that if you’re looking to buy a new bike, if you are a hard-core consumer, then there is a great deal of information on the Cervélo site about the bikes' technology, construction, and specs—all in great detail. "What I really like about this Web site is how it retains an impression of authenticity and it gives off the aura of legitimacy, being based in fact, not fluff," Patch says.

Vroomen writes all of the content for the Cervélo site himself, and the site was built by a chiropractor who moonlights as a Web designer. There's a content management tool built in, so Vroomen can update the site himself. You wouldn’t call the site fancy, but it works. "We get negative feedback from web designers about our site," Vroomen says. "But we have great comments from customers."

Because of the keyword rich cycling content available on the site, Vroomen says, Cervélo gets the same amount of search engine traffic as many sites for bike companies that are ten times bigger. Cervélo is growing very quickly, but Vroomen is quick to note that growth is not the result of any one thing. "We take as gospel that people have to see the product five different ways to really get the credibility. They have to see the bike on the site, on TV in a pro race, at the dealer, and on a blog."

Vroomen says building out the web marketing at Cervélo takes a lot of time, but it is simple and cost effective. "This is the future for companies like us," he says. "You can be very small and niche and sell your products all over the world. It's amazing when we go into a new country the amount of name recognition we have. The Internet gives you opportunities you never had before. And its not rocket science. It's pretty easy to figure out."

David Meerman Scott

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