Content brand of the week: Rapha, the luxe lycra brand that ‘roules’ the publishing roost

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I see a new video has dropped from the purveyors of ‘nice but pricey’ cycling gear. Bet it’s shot in black and white and features the whirring of wheels, the winding road, the sweat sodden chamois.

Correct on all counts – apart from the soggy seat-pad. This inspirational video ramping up excitement about Rapha-sponsored Team Sky’s tilt at this year’s Tour de France is the brand’s latest piece of super-glossy content. It ties in nicely with the world’s biggest bike race, which is of course a very rich narrative seam for any cycling brand to mine. And with uber-mensch Chris Froome wearing one of their extra-special yellow jerseys, the super-sauve ‘performance roadwear’ brand for chaps with pots of cash would be mad not to capitalise on all this cycling exposure.

I thought Le Coq Sportif made the leaders’ jerseys?

True, but fortunately the editorial bods at Rapha haven’t let minor setbacks stop them from producing some compelling content that will appeal to those aforementioned rich blokes. As a brand Rapha has content at its heart. In the company’s infancy founder Simon Mottram described his aim for the brand thus, “25,000 Rapha customers meeting at Rapha cycling cafes, going for rides together, consuming Rapha coffee, being all part of a club […] reading magazines that Rapha publishes.” – a vision they have essentially realised.

Some guys have all the luck. A Rapha e-newsletter dropped into my mailbox earlier this week. Looks like they’ve just trotted out some content about ‘L’Etape’ from previous years?

I think the term you’re grasping for is repurposed. Rapha always goes very big on content surrounding the Etape du Tour because it’s something a lot of their aspirational target consumers would love to do – essentially it’s a chance for amateur riders to experience the pain and pride of riding a stage of the Tour de France. Each year Rapha produces a great feature piece about the stage that has been chosen, as well as lots of additional content.

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One of Rapha’s l’Etape features.

Sounds epic. Tell me more.

We’ve been treated to a range of blogs, promo videos and a mobile supporter’s club (shop in a van), which has been following Le Grand Boucle around France. Tour coverage has also completely overtaken the Doppio, Rapha’s weekly two-page racing news-sheet which is printed and distributed around the brand’s ‘Cycle Clubs’ (shop in a building), as well as made available for free online in a neat PDF format.

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Rapha’s two-page news sheet, the Doppio.

Seems they’ve got all bases covered for Le Tour, are they as active during the rest of the year?

Absolutely, and that’s why Rapha is leading the way in cycling content, cresting the summit while other brands are still labouring on the lower slopes. Rapha is consistent in what it produces, making as much fanfare about smaller stage races and on-the-street cycle style as it does about the grand tours. Rapha.com is a treasure trove of interesting writing, videos and imagery – the brand splits its onsite content into ‘Stories’, more considered pieces and longer reports, and Blogs, where there’s more information and events news, plus ‘Survey’, a photo journal documenting on-the-street cycle style.

So they’ve really become part of their audience’s wider cultural landscape?

Indeed. They’re owning that all-important ‘disproportionate share of popular culture’. The best example of this is probably Rouleur magazine, which you could argue is the definitive brand content success story. The glossy, ad- and subscription-funded journal was launched in 2006 and helped propel Rapha to its coveted place in the lucrative worldwide cycling apparel market. It even spawned a baby brother – Privateer – for the mountain biking fraternity. Seven years on, following a management buyout, Rouleur is an editorially independent media entity in its own right, but readers still associate it strongly with the brand that brought it into life.

Doppios all round!

Author: Tom Owen

A strategic storyteller and compelling content creator, awash with acuity and adept at alliteration. I work for Speak Media. www.speakmedia.co.uk

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