Haters, the Best Validation of a Strong Brand
WARNING: This post contains reference to Rapha.
A brand represents a point of view manifested by a compendium of tangible and intangible elements such as products, logos, styling, photographs, video, texts, colours, tone of voice, visual merchandising, service and anything else that is perceptible by others. A strong brand has a strong point of view.
Not having a strong point of view is being generic. Being generic is the antithesis of being a brand. A brand must be differentiated. It must stand out from the rest.
Having a strong point of view necessarily polarises the audience. There will be fans, and there will be haters. A strong brand ought to have at least 3 haters for each fan. For every person a brand delights, it should wind up at least another 3. Of course, winding up people is not the objective, just a by-product of delighting those that are like-minded and share the clearly articulated values and spirit of the brand. The haters, as much as the fans, validate the fact that the brand’s point of view is worthy of consideration.
Rapha have a strong fan base. They have come a long way in a short time. Thanks to the founders’ vision, particularly Luke Schybeler’s aesthetic vision, they have a powerful brand with a distinct point of view. They are also blessed with a gaggle of haters. The Internet is awash with Rapha haters; they can’t stop talking about Rapha.
Bottom line, the Rapha brand fascinates people.
Occasionally, one comes across a hater in the flesh, and they tend to be amusing encounters.
Just after the Troisvilles-à-Inchy cobbled sector in this year’s Paris-Roubaix Challenge, there was a Brit standing at the side of the road wagging his pump, indicating that he needed help. I had a little tumble at the beginning of the previous sector and fell behind my group. I wanted to catch up with the boys but decided to stop and help the guy, remembering the kindness I received from a Dutchman during last year’s l’Eroica. As he told me that he needed to borrow a pump because his broke, I saw him look me over and noticed that a subtle but definite tenseness surfaced on his face. I was wearing Rapha neck to toe. He was similarly in Castelli. I knew what that look was about, but I tried to make small talk about the evil cobbled stretches. Of course, he was in no mood for a chat with some guy wearing Rapha kit. He just pumped up his tyre, thanked me and was on his way as if he was escaping from something. By this time, there was no hope in catching up with my group, so I just chuckled at the episode and continued at my own pace.
One of my cycling friends absolutely loves commenting on Rapha kit. He is an Assos fan and has declared on more than one occasion that he would never buy Rapha. Nevertheless, he cannot help commenting on Rapha. You would be forgiven for thinking that he is an undercover PR agent on Rapha’s payroll. By the time he says, ‘Assos make the best kit’, he has already mentioned Rapha on half a dozen occasions. And, he would mention Rapha again several times before he makes another short and unmemorable remark about Assos. Furthermore, his comments about Rapha tend to provoke a comment or two, positive or otherwise, from others within earshot, but his comments about Assos attract no reactions. He helps to keep Rapha firmly on the radar screen whilst ensuring that Assos may, at best, provoke a yawn. Very useful, these haters. Alongside the brand evangelists, they are the co-stars of a marketer’s wet dream. I would think that Rapha adore the sound of haters unwittingly but enthusiastically kissing their backside, at no charge.