Simon Wear talks marketing’s evolution and 10 years of Shift Active Media

Simon Wear Shift Active MediaShift Active Media marks ten years of specialist bike industry marketing and PR this month. Here Founder Simon Wear and MD Wayne Brown discuss the agency’s constant evolution in a marketing landscape that never stops evolving…

When Shift Active Media launched in 2010 the media landscape was undergoing another seismic shift. The world had transitioned quickly online, with search engines pointing consumers to all the content they could possibly consume at the click of a mouse.

This was just the start of a trend that to this day evolves year by year; in 2004 Facebook was launched in Mark Zuckerberg’s University dorm room; a year later came YouTube and quickly following the launch of those websites came the age of the smartphone. From that point onwards things have really snowballed.

“It’s fluid and changing all the time, so that’s a challenge for any business to plug into. If you are a marketing department for a cycling brand you now have to consider search platforms, social media – including new platforms like Tik Tok – as they come and go. The market has exploded. If you happen to be doing this for a portfolio of brands you’re doing so much more work than anyone else, so departments require such a different level of resources and skills nowadays,” starts Simon Wear, the Founder of Shift Active Media and former COO of Future Publishing.

For brands leaning on the marketing agency, it makes little difference whether you’re a new and tech-savvy kid on the block like Zwift or YT, or a veteran like Rapha, the task of capturing a targeted audience is a round the clock job.

Shift Active Media wiggleFor Shift Active Media a significant recruitment drive paired with deep consumer research has formed the foundation of a platform that has tapped into markets all around the globe, sometimes overcoming tricky local barriers with more guerrilla marketing tactics. One such example of this was the firm’s attempt to tap Wiggle in to the Australian market. When local papers declined to take advertising Shift instead took to the skies, flying a Wiggle banner the size of football field over the Sydney marathon.

“We work with brilliant marketeers who as part of a collaborative process with the client often do great things. We’re an extension of any marketing team. When a client works with us there’s a collective intelligence built around over 40 cycle marketing experts, as well as the whole Play Sports Group. The right experience is always to hand and is further backed by computer scientists and analysts who can track and develop the results,” says MD Wayne Brown.

Having an enthusiast of any given cycling genre in the room has long been part of the strategy. Wear says in the past hiring mistakes have been made and very often the deciding factor in success has been down to a candidate’s natural affinity to the cycling world and its many quirks.

“At PSG we have eight staff who have ridden in Grand Tours, but some only ride to the pub. There’s everything in between, a true Addams Family of cycling staff. Likewise, we’ve staff pulled in from outside the industry from agencies who work with HSBC and Nike, but there is almost always an understanding of the cycling world in one of its forms,” says Brown

“It has been steadily adding these layers of understanding that has been key to our evolution,” adds Wear. “We can do things now that we couldn’t have dreamed of when we started and it’s this constant addition of skills that gives Shift such depth.”

Of course the agency has skillsets of sister businesses the Global Cycling Network to pull in if required, as well as outside help from investors such as the Discovery Communications Group, parent to Eurosport.

Underpinning the knowledge of staff, data collection through the network has added value. Most recently, the Cycling Through the Pandemic – What’s Next? study has sought to understand consumer behaviour following what has been an anomalous year for the world.

This year, 17 separate studies have been undertaken by Shift Active Media, spanning many countries and with 80,000 cyclists feeding in.

18 months in to working with Zwift, the agency surveyed its audience, discovering that 25% of cyclists viewed indoor training as a ‘necessary evil’ of competition. Shift played a part in altering this perception of training, leveraging Zwift to the forefront of the idea things could be different, they say.

“Fast forward to three years later and the view of indoor training has shifted and that in large part was brought about by Zwift and the marketing around the brand. This year that has accelerated further. Lots of major races are going online due to the pandemic and while these won’t replace racing, the acceptance has grown,” says Brown.

“We handle media planning around specialist and endemic media and broadcasting, working with our sister company Eurosport to make sure Zwift message is in front of all road cyclists and increasingly MTB riders too. Many will have seen the Harrogate station takeover, a great example of putting this online cycling world in front of the physical audience,” he adds.

The Do’s and Don’ts of marketing in today’s world

Simon says: “If you want to be good at cycle marketing you have to be a ferocious content consumer, on all platforms. If you are to truly be an expert you have to commit that time to all of it – Facebook, Snapchat, magazines, TV, Instagram – and truly understand how each works and who uses it..”

Wayne says: “The best people in Shift have a very high commitment to personal development. So much can be learned online to develop and immerse yourself in marketing and the cycling world. Often it can be as simple as trusting your instincts, thinking to yourself: Would I do or buy this?

“Don’t lose sight of the rider, too. In industry and agency meeting rooms you can whip round and all somewhat agree something is going to work, but double check your work. Is it something a consumer really wants? Will they really move from their current choice to this new thing? Don’t make assumptions.”