Season 2. Episode 7: James Fairbank, Head of Central and Brand Marketing at Rapha | Pearlfisher

hello and welcome to another episode of challenges of icons and today I'm in the Rafah cycle Club in London where I'm talking to James Fairbanks who is the head of central marketing and brand for rapper rapper was founded in 2004 by Simon Mottram who himself was a former brand and design consultant and it's all about rapper creating the finest cycling clothing and accessories in the world and it's already regarded as a laden icon of cycling in January 2013 sky Pro Cycling announced that rapper will become the official clothing supplier taking over from the sportswear giant Adi – well rapper is now a global even luxury online retailer and rapper serves as both an Emporium of performance road where had a home to inspiring content that's all about celebrating the glory and suffering of road riding James is a passionate and committed road cyclist and prior to joining rapper he was the head of marketing retail at car heart UK but James is highly regarded as a cult brand marketer and is a gained success through his emphasis on playing up lifestyle to garner recognition for his brand he's increasingly in demand as a speaker on the global stage sharing his views on brands and business and life on such prestigious platforms such as PS FK so it was with great pleasure that I welcome James to challenges like gods today well it's great to be here at Rafa and welcome James to challenges and icons very nice to meet you get to meet a great environment we're in here I was here on Sunday watching the Milan San Remo race it was a fantastic experience seeing how the whole refa brand and its loyal fan base kind of gets engaged with it all and and it's and it strikes me that this is a really dynamic brand it's really been set up to challenge I think all sorts of different things and from your point of view challenging yourself through the sports and through marketing is clearly a part of your makeup and what's come through into the brand so can you just talk to us about the challenges that are driving yourself and Rafa yeah certainly I mean I mean the thing that led to Rapha's emergence 10 years ago is kind of the thing that still drives us now so we're underpinned by this drive to honor the sport of cycling we felt or Simon felt before he started the brand in 2004 that cycling had been wonderfully served in a component and bike sense but that there's soft good side of things was distinctly lacking so his experience in luxury brand consultancy had led him to kind of look around and come to the conclusion that he wasn't alone in feeling that as an active cyclist there was a kind of a market need for for products that were a little bit more akin to the other luxury brands that he was consuming in his sort of casual wardrobe so that was kind of customer insight was really the catalyst for Rafa and the idea of honoring the sport through the creative approach in terms of the film that we produce or the photography it's kind of the thing that still drives us now and it's still the thing that we find most challenging because we kind of truly believe this to be the greatest sport in the world and our approach to marketing is to to try and encourage and explain that to as many people as possible whether they be kind of people new to cycling or people who've been involved in the sport for 20 years plus so to try and show the amazing characters the wonderful stories that amazing archive photography the heroes and the villains is kind of a key part of our makeup and so rather than focusing kind of on a product to sell it's more about kind of focusing on their the activity itself and and yeah as I said honoring honoring the sport so that's our daily challenge really and that kind of coupled with a an attention to detail which kind of mitigates the expansion of the company as we grow and you know we're ambitious in terms of where we'd like to end up the two things kind of balance each other quite well if you want in the sport and make sure that the quality of the creative output and of course your products are on a parallel and then that serves our business out great and it's become this kind of wonderful lifestyle brand if that's a phrase that you you feel comfortable talking about and and I think many set out to try and make a lifestyle brand but but fail but I think a lot of them your fans and would would say that this is almost like the ultimate lifestyle brand in the world of cycling just interested hear what your definition of it is of a successful lifestyle brands I think it would be any one that has an emotional connection to to the end consumer I need anything that actually works on a level that sort of transcends the products that your you're trying to sell and trying to make sure that it's relevant to people not only in a kind of obvious clothing sense but beyond that in terms of kind of the coffee you drink or the you know the artwork you have hanging on your walls or your daily routine I'm all of those things making sure that the brand is present at all of those kind of points throughout the day that to me is is what we try and aspire to be and I guess my definition of the lifestyle by a brand would be one hazard as a true and valid emotional connection with the end hmm okay well there's clearly that's happening here and not just here but online and and all the different touch points that are of rasa and I think you know as we as Rafa expands and continues to innovate too you know from you know the performance market for the dedicated cyclists but also there's got to be a temptation to appeal to a broader audience what are the the tensions and challenges there as you inevitably grow you know your business do you feel there's a risk that as you can have appeal to a wider audience there could be a risk of potentially diluting what you offer or how do you manage that yeah I think it's sort of recognized consumer characteristic that people like things to be their little secret so then as you grow as a brands obviously it's it's impossible to kind of balance those two things so I think there are two ways that we try to mitigate this is the attention to detail also making sure that the quality bars maintained across everything that you do is really important and that's linked to how the business is structured so retaining control of our business in terms of whether we're retailing and online and that's about 80% of our businesses through our website or through sort of spaces like this which a 100% owned and controlled by us which is a further sort 10% of our business and if you have those two sort of business to consumer aspects completely controlled then it means that you can control the rollout and you can control the way that people are perceiving you so so the physical environment the rides that people go on you know the film that they see on the website or the photography they're consuming and I think it's it's difficult for for people to criticize if you're you're still producing work that kind of established you in the first instance so yeah those would be the two ways that we try and and cope with increasing ubiquity l so the attention to detail that you've just been talking about is very prevalent in all the different touch points of the Rafa brand from your website to the films that you do to the clubs and and clearly the garments thinking about design in the big sense of the word design and creativity how important do you think that is to building a brand these days that Sarah died so I think the design is completely fundamental to our to our business simply because owning those relationships with the customer from kind of our business straight through the end consumer it kind of has to be relatively seamless from the website through to the packaging that people receive through to the impact mailing that comes with through to the film's that they will consume online as also but it's it's also when we started kind of going back to that point of honoring the Spore making sure that we kind of made design that designers would appreciate and then hopefully they kind of look at it and then look at cycling in a different light and reconsider their participation of it and that's probably something that we apply to all of the creative areas that we're involved in you know so we try and make film that filmmakers might enjoy or photography that photographers might enjoy because honoring the sport is part of kind of moving it forward creatively so so it kind of covers the entire creative camera to try and make sure that we're doing a good job of taking our sport further rather than kind of just focusing on kind of key products yeah you know your role that you that you have is about driving the brand century and you have a view of pushing out creativity from a central source and we've read that you only work with selective traitor partners to help you facilitate your brand and as I was wanted to ask you about your collaboration with supports myth it was I'm a big fan of and who isn't who's also likes the attention to detail is he one of would you see him as one of your sort of select sort of partners it represents the brand and what was the reason for partnering with someone like him when essentially do you really need to partner with Paul yeah I mean it like a lot of things that we do it's kind of driven out of consumer insight and an interest amongst kind of the senior management of the company to do something with suppose so we first got together in 2007 when the tour last came to the UK to do a Jersey and a cap together and that was born out of the fact that Paul Smith's a master cycling fan and he was aware of Rafah and the the project was born out of that it was no more complicated or you know financially contrived that led to a kind of an understanding between the two companies that was then led to two seasons worth of collaboration on city riding products and we still maintain that relationship through doing kind of jersey's economy about every other season now and but really it's born out of supposed love of cycling like I always remember a quote of his from an interview and he says he's never happier than when he's kind of sat on the step of a place in Italy they listening to the either watching the sport on the television or kind of just past in the hours that way and because he understands it and gets it you know he's really close friends of Mark Cavendish he's got an amazing Jersey collection and the Mazin collection of other ephemera and it felt like a very natural association and collaboratively that's really how we work with other people as well so whether it be in an individual freelancer Center so we got together with the photographer shoots our campaigns Bening and back in 2004 he still shoots all of our main campaigns now and he just stopped shooting fashion and because he stopped enjoying doing it but we were introduced or rather Simon was introduced in through a mutual friend and Simon came clutching this book which is called intimate portraits of the Tour de France and it was a load of photography of kind of key figures in the sport but they weren't actually riding bikes they were kind of they were off the bike they were kind of shown in having a massage or kind of in bed in some instances or crashed by the roadside and so Simon went to Venice at our you know it's the emotional side of things that I need you to bring to the photography yes the products are occurrence are within this photoshoot then the key thing is the place or the faces that you go into betray and Ben got it immediately and managed to translate it very early on but then we realized that Ben knew way more about photography than we did so then to drive our photography forward because the brand's parameters have been clearly set it was like well Ben just go and make your best work for us because that would serve his sort of role well and it would serve his career well but it also serves our aims to and it's we partially financially driven certainly in the early days because we just couldn't afford to go to go to a big name and say right we want to shoot that campaign but there's some wonderfully gifted creative people and the brand is it was well enough to find to allow people to kind of come and do work for us and say look just make your best work here the parameters do you understand them yes I go away and make your best work for us and that approach still works for us and it allows us to kind of work in a truly symbiotic way with kind of designers or filmmakers or writers or photographers and it's really really important it's absolutely key to our success I think the creative outlet is prolific and and it's you know you can really feel the sport coming through in all sorts of different ways and I and I love that idea that it rather than that being potentially what I see taking place in other areas a cynical partnership it was more of a passionate partnership between someone like supports me and Ben the photographer you know that that made it all kind of works so you're 10 years on now and what a success story has been so far and there's plans that have been announced to expand the business you know even more than where it's got to the moment so this centralization of the brand that's got to throw a challenge up for you in terms of what you're doing or do you still see it as actually relatively simple if I can control the core it's just a question of scaling it out or I'd loved I'd love to think that would work and but I'm I'm aware that it won't I think also as the region's become more important to us as a business and we're about 30% UK bias and 30% of states but Europe's growing incredibly quickly for us at the moment then so they need to have more creative impacts on kind of how the brands perceived but will always be monolithic will always be centrally defined it's just making sure that those creative guardrails are kind of defined correctly so people can kind of work within those whether those be regionally or within a freelance and network the create sort of come into the come into the creative hole but yeah it is it is definitely a challenge and it's something that we are going to have to be comfortable we change I think through being cohesive as a business and being resilient and it's something that will kind of get through creatively because we know we we have legitimacy it's one of the wonderful things about being 10 years old is that I think that our early years a lot of people felt well your market is kind of trying to take aspects of cycling for commercial gain and I hope we've got the stage now that people believe that we're kind of passionate cyclicity we're trying to honor the sport and make a successful business off that approach and so having won that sort of hard fall fight I think then the next period is making sure that we don't lose that legitimacy through through ubiquity and just making sure that quality mate is maintained it's probably key to that well I think with the various kind of the roller coaster that there the sport has been on generally we were talking before we started the interview about the sort of the lows and now potentially the highs of the sport I think you're in it you're in a good position to to capitalize on maybe a new approach to had the sports scene and looking forward and how the brand is going to expand we know that you you've got you're investing in a bigger ecommerce framework and more physical spaces like the one we're in and and do you see that as the future for the brand this kind of symbiosis of both the digital space and the physical space and what more might we see happening in that area yeah absolutely that they're two things have to move far closer together than they currently are I mean we're a data-rich business that uses data cut badly so for a company that conducts most of its transaction is straight with the end consumer or through our own spaces we don't have a way of kind of joining up the customers who will walk in through the door to purchase with their customers online data part of that is the fact that we just launched a new website and it will take time to kind of marry those two things up but we're really in our infancy in a sort of structural business sense for using that data correctly but I think things like ibeacon I'm really really exciting because it's one of those things that if you get an idea of what people are looking at but not purchasing it kind of can inform everything from kind of the design process and the color choices to you know or even if you don't make decisions based on that knowledge at least you have the knowledge and at least you have that awareness within business so yeah because we control the process because we will aim to continue to have that kind of balance that's the thing that will keep us ticking along I think okay so that aspect of technologies is quite interesting and we know that technical innovation is only going to continue throughout the world generally and that's perhaps one example of how it will help you provide a better business relationship with your customers what other areas you see of technology impacting on the ruff-ruff a brain I think participations a very useful one there's a number of kind of third-party sort of apps Strava being a very good one that pops to mind the idea of kind of creating campaigns around getting as many people to ride as possible and then share their experiences online so whether it's a question of kind of riding a certain distance or a certain distance at a certain speed or going over a certain hill taking it all back to riding and actually the active expression of what we're trying to sell you know bringing using digital to kind of bring those two things a little bit closer together so of course you go for a ride at the weekend and then you can discuss it discuss it digitally after having done it means that you're kind of doing that kind of bed to bed approach of making sure you're relevant to the customer coming throughout their entire day and so yeah I think that's really really interesting I mean we're not a tech company so we'll always look to work with people in kind of they're excellent in that space and so revered in that space we we know what we're good at of us would take a massive amount of investment so it kind of relates to another aspect of the business which I see unfolding which is sees you in connection and engagement with your supporters through a community such as the cycle clubs that we're in and offering holiday packages can you tell us a little bit more about how this is going to be beneficial to the brand and and other ideas that may be unfolding yeah I think so I mean if he if he wasn't working here which I couldn't imagine I think he'd be spending his entire life on a random a so it would be one of our holiday offerings which is kind of the idea of you know either doing the the ray Pyrenean which is kind of riding from Barrett's to Kali or going across the spine of the Pyrenees and kind of staying in beautiful accommodation and eating extremely well but then riding hard during the day that would be coming that is his ideal life and the thing that he kind of rides the rest of the year to kind of be in decent condition to be able to achieve so it made perfect sense for us to own under the ultimate expression of how we see the Rafah brand so we work with someone third-party to deliver travel and then took it in-house last year because it was like there's something that's so close to our hearts we kind of have to own it completely and so yeah that that side of things along with ownership of almost complete ownership of other parts of the business from distribution to to the way that the website looks and that will pave our expansion for sure just making sure that we have control over it and equality so let's talk about a competition because I guess there's a you know you've challenged the big boys you know you're sponsoring Team Sky Pro having replaced that Adidas and Nike is kind of had a sort of like a falling out with the sport I guess after the the Armstrongs of doping scandal but the competition has got to be watching him and seeing very successful brand build a real connection and and you've kind of then you've got this sort of luxury sort of feel about you as well which is quite amazing for a effectively performance gear to be seen as a luxury kind of brand so do you see more brands just kind of come into your space are you worried about what the big boys are up to and I think it would be foolish to ignore the rest of the market but it's certainly not something that consumes us simply because we're probably more involved with marketing the sport itself than we are kind of trying to take market share off competitors or kind of dominate certain aspects of the market I mean to draw a parallel I think what Nike did with running and where that took them to as a brand is it's something it's an incredibly aspirational thing to think that we could do the same within cycling you know and take a pursuit and make that so central to the brand that we became all about it and then that led to you know a brand which really has some kind of clout and is revered in 10 and 20 years time as regards kind of the newer companies that are kind of popping up I think they're a reflection of just how boring the cycling market is at the moment and I it's yeah there's the smaller ones that year not such as not such a concern I'd be very worried if Nike suddenly turned their guns back to cycling but the problem with cycling is it is a it has a checkerboard past which scares a lot of the large companies off which is why Michael Fulop cycling in the first instance and my added us left as well because the fallout from the major doping scandal is something that they would impact their business completely I mean with not naive we know cycling has a checkered past but we celebrate sport warts and all you know you can't honor the sport without honoring some of the people who were referring to some of the people who were definitely cheating unfortunately and it's they're part of the history of the sport you can't ignore that yeah and and we're comfortable kind of having those conversations I think to not do so would be to shy away from sort of a difficult discussion sure and it's one of the things that makes it an emotional connection because it's very very emotive yeah well thinking about the sort of you know how Nike have sort of you know just maybe steps away from the sport you know and that sort of sense of the adversity that all the publicity surrounded all the doping created is that adversity is you know perhaps the sort of good place for the Rafa brand to build success in through the kind of the purity of the connection that you are creating through that the glory and the suffering that you are projecting through the brand and I think that's a really powerful sort of one-to-one message which you get it gets across so you're a creative guy maybe you can tell us about what you would like to do next with Rafa or things that are personally kind of aspirational for you creatively what's the future for you and yeah definitely a creative facilitator I'm backed by an amazing group of people who produce some amazing work and yeah i'm i guess the gatekeeper to make sure that kind of what goes out along with simon and slate is the requisite standard I mean personally cycling wise I am aging amateur cyclists whom they once my second cat license back for racing so I'll endeavor to try and get that back this year but I I adore riding I adore riding in the British Isles I adore exploring and and I find them probably at my most useful when I'm kind of my bike on my own kind of thinking about things whether they be work-related or more widely so you're trying to make sure I've got space to think in space space to think about what makes our customers tick I mean personally speaking I am very passionate about helping a new generation of cyclists come through so kind of support of emerging talent is something that's very close to my heart and there's some amazing sort of young men now from hackney who were kind of emerging on the international scene so watch them develop is there's something which gives me great pleasure and also events I think amateur racing in the UK is poorly served and I think mainly because sport teams have taken all the attention so I'd love to try and help develop sort of amateur racing in the UK as well and yep so those I guess there are two things it's very close to work I'm forcing out I'm unable to make a distinction between the two things so yeah if I come across beautiful photographers I try and apply them to work or you can see an amazing film you know Mika Levy's soundscape fir'd under the skin's so good it's like I've got to find that girl and then try and get work on a piece for us and so China they bring things from a wider cultural world so bear on kind of their passion which has defined my life pretty much since I was 14 15 fascinates me too well I suspect that though they look great in my do I you probably don't see workers work you probably just an extension of your life and that is very clear from what I can see all around me here and I think those are some great aspirations actually and wish you the best of luck with those and to say thank you very much for taking part today it's been a great interview and I've certainly learnt a lot more about the brand than though that I knew before I was coming into it so congratulations keep it going and we look forward to even more success that's really kind thanks for very much for coming to visit us that's pleasure okay great thank you