Why and how Trek Bicycles launched a powerful podcast

The bike-maker wanted to highlight the stories of cycling fans as well as high-profile athletes with a relationship to its product. The result offers many takeaways for brand managers.

A bicycle manufacturer has many fascinating stories to tell.

The cycling community is deeply engaged, both in the sport and recreational activities, and consumers have many exciting and fabulous stories to share about their relationship with the company and its products.

That’s why Trek decided to launch a podcast to highlight those stories and further engage an audience that loves its product and wants to connect with other enthusiasts.

Eric Bjorling, brand director for Trek Bicycle, says that goal was to share unique stories using the rapidly growing content channel.

“With the podcast, we’re looking to uncover cycling’s unexpected stories that the widest range of people possible will find interesting and inspiring,” he explains. “The content is unique, in that we’re not just delving into the typical stuff that’s super-technical; we’re offering content that’s fun and engaging for anybody.”

Episodes feature stories from cycling experts and famous athletes in other sports, all centered around their life experience with bicycles.

“We published an episode with Jens Voigt, famous in the cycling world for completing a record amount of Tour de France races,” says Bjorling. “But what the episode focuses on is his upbringing as the son of a Berlin Wall guard in communist East Germany and how that experience shaped his approach to competition, family, career and worldview.”

Brand journalists and other content creators can learn from Trek’s example by realizing that the range of topics available are wider than the narrow focus of its niche.

Bjorling cites an episode featuring “legendary athlete Bo Jackson talking about growing up in Alabama and riding cobbled-together dirt bikes with his friends, which helped lead him to a life where he loved sports and later led him to start a charity ride that has raised millions for tornado relief.”

Trek has had success in finding celebrity names, inside and outside the sport of cycling, and using their stories to grow their show.

“For us, it’s all about finding the unexpected and untold stories of cycling,” says Bjorling. “Our podcast is not going to be somebody giving their opinion about how the World Championship race unfolded. Our podcast will have the world champion tell you exactly what he was thinking during the race and then what he ordered at McDonald’s afterward.”

For Trek, an element of surprise is an essential part of hooking audiences.

“We want to surprise people with every episode, because we want the podcast to be about cycling’s greater role in people’s lives,” says Bjorling. “In our case, the technical stories of cycling professionals are not going to be enough of a hook for most people. We find that the more out-of-the-box and personal stories are well received.”

Measuring success

Trek analyzes the success of its podcast with several key measures.

“There’s a couple key metrics that we’re paying attention to, and it really comes down to ears and eyes,” says Bjorling. “Of course, there’s downloads and listens, but we’re also sharing these stories through other channels like our blog, consumer email, YouTube and social media.”

One thing distinguishing podcasts from other digital content is the importance of consumer ratings. Would-be podcasters must solicit and highlight reviews and ratings on platforms like Apple Podcast.

“Podcasts rise and fall based on ratings, so how is our Apple Podcast rating looking? How are the reviews?” says Bjorling. “Those are metrics we’ve never had to pay attention to when it comes to our digital content.”

Trek listens carefully to its audience to discover ways to improve its podcast.

“We’re still very much in the beginning stages of this journey, and we’re paying a lot of attention to what our audience is responding to,” says Bjorling. “What kind of guests are getting the most attention? Are we titling the episodes to maximize search? Are people even interested in watching episode videos on YouTube?”

Bjorling notes that building a podcast audience takes time and fortitude. “Podcasts are a slow burn that require significant investment, and most take time to hit their stride, so we’re very much in the ‘experiment, learn, change, experiment again’ phase,” he says.

Getting leaders on board

Securing execs’ buy-in on podcasts was relatively easy because of Trek’s heritage.

“Trek has a long history and deep respect for prototyping and experimenting, and that extends throughout the brand,” says Bjorling. “It’s baked into the culture. When the idea of adding a podcast … came up, leadership was 100% on board. The only rule we have is that if we were going to try it, we had to go full gas.”

Such broad commitment is essential for success. “Podcasting is hard,” says Bjorling. “It takes a lot of time to do it right. It’s a crowded space, and there’s a lot of upfront work just to get it off the ground.”

He also emphasizes that podcasting requires meticulous attention to detail.

“Everything matters,” he says. “The host matters. The story matters. The show notes matter. The research matters. The show description matters. Editing matters. The rating matters. The promotional plan matters.”

He emphasizes the importance of promotion.  “Expect to spend at least twice as much time promoting the podcast as you do creating it,” he says.

Here’s what advice Bjorling has for others seeking to launch a podcast for their brand or client:

  1. Specify your goals.

“Be crystal clear with exactly what business needs you feel a podcast will help resolve,” he says. “This will help drive your content plan and help you sell the idea internally.”

  1. Develop a detailed content plan.

“Know what the launch episodes are going to look like,” advises Bjorling. “We launched with four episodes out of the gate to give people an idea of what to expect and give us a runway to work on the next episodes. We are working on a three-month content plan that supports Trek’s larger brand plan.”

  1. Plan to invest heavily in promotion.

“Posting episodes to podcast platforms is not enough,” says Bjorling.

  1. Get top leaders on board early.

“My team was blessed with leadership that was very supportive, but with the investment in time and people, I can understand how it might be a hard sell,” says Bjorling. “Share your content plan with leadership to get their feedback and help them to feel part of the process.”

  1. Do your research up front.

“There are so many podcasts out there, and chances are there’s already a few in the space you’re looking at,” says Bjorling. “Know what the competition sounds like, and build a plan that helps you stand out.”

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