By: Ryan LaBar
It’s no secret that GT’s image fell slightly off the back a couple years ago. After a few years of trying to grind its way back up, GT decided to kick it into high gear and re-launch the brand.
Bike recently had the chance to talk to Tyler Barnes, Global marketing director GT Bicycles, about the re-launch, GT’s brand position in the market and a little bit about punk rock.
[B] What’s the reasoning behind the brand re-launch?
[GT] The re-launch coincides with a couple things. First and foremost, the prior brand positioning was strong, and true to the brands DNA, but there were a lot of riders that couldn’t relate to it because it had been so long since the brand was in forefront, and they didn’t have a context for it. So when we would talk about the brand as being fast, it was difficult for a lot of people to relate to—they didn’t remember and they weren’t familiar with why we were fast. And that was increasingly becoming a problem for us. Especially because we wanted to become a stronger brand globally, but particularly in North America.
That was the first reason. The second reason was, honestly, we saw that there was an opportunity in the industry, as a brand, for someone to take a different approach. Right now, there are a lot of healthy brands that are competing for very little floor space, and there is seemingly very little distinction between the brands as far as their approach. So we felt there was an opportunity for a brand to take a distinctively different approach. We felt that GT was arguably one of the best brands to do that with its history, legacy and, overall, its attitude.
[B] How would you describe that attitude?
[GT] GT has always been known as competitive brand, and to a certain degree a racing brand. I suppose attitude is kind of the wrong word—a better word might be philosophy. We’ve always gone about our business in a different way.
Do we take our racing seriously? Do we take our riding seriously? Yeah, sure, but we also take our fun seriously. I think that shows in the look and feel of the bikes going back over the years; when you think about some of the classic GT bikes, whether it’s BMX or mountain or even road. They’re different, they’re bright they’re vibrant, they’re distinctive and they’re fun—they’re things that people want to be apart of.
We take our fun seriously and we take our riding seriously, but also we’ve never taken our selves seriously. I think this manifests itself in the product, the look and feel. This manifests itself in the brand perspective. If you look back at the GT that most people refer, to as a brand, they remember the: Fast. It’s corporate policy ads. It was different, it was fun, it wasn’t’ super serious or super technical—it was fun, it was creative and it was inventive. Just in contrast to some other brands out there right now, they are very serious and very technical. Not that that’s a bad thing—I think the sport needs that, and that level of innovation. And that level of passion has been nothing but good for the sport, but I think there are riders out there who are looking for something different.
Part of the re-launch is more of a focus on fun. I would also say that part of it is more of a focus on…maybe not providing riders with the most innovative tools, but providing riders with reliable tools. That’s the very DNA of GT’s bikes. When you go back to the original Triple Triangle design, that design was all about making our frames more reliable. It’s about providing riders with products that they know are capable, versus something that is just new and different.
[B] How is this ‘serious about fun’ philosophy reflected in the products? How does it trickle to the consumer?
[GT] It trickles to the consumer in a couple ways: With the new brand campaign and our collateral materials. Again, GT has a different visual approach than a lot of the industry.
In our products, we use less category conventional graphics. For example, with our gravity race products, we don’t feel they really need to look like racing bikes.
[B] When did the re-brand process come into its genesis?
[GT] It’s been a fairly comprehensive process. It started in earnest when I came aboard in November. We worked with Cassette out of New York on the re-launch project, and its official launch is intended to be July 28, but it actually got accelerated slightly because of publishing dates.
It was an exhaustive process, because with a brand that evokes a lot of strong passion and a lot of strong feelings from a pretty diverse audience it becomes incredibly difficult to pick a direction or pick one message to say.
And again because there are so many people in a very crowded room. And they are all bright intelligent and articulate and they are saying the right thing, but they may not all agree. Throughout the process it was really important that we connected with people who both had an experience with the brand and people who were completely new to the brand.
So we underwent a significant consumer research project. We engaged with over 100 riders from all over the globe to help get a sense from people who ride and are passionate about riding to see where the brand could go should go and what the industry needed. That was really the synthesis of the brand.
[B] If the brand were a band what band would it be?
[GT] That’s a good one… I’d personally probably say AC/DC. They’re a classic and they are badass, and people can relate to them. They mean a lot of things to a lot of people. And maybe there are some people from a younger generation who don’t understand how or why they are relevant, but when they listen to it, or are exposed to it, they like it—a lot.
Some of my coworkers would probably say GT is a little more punk rock than that, at least now, and I’d tend to agree. Let me think about that… Minor Threat. I would say Minor Threat in the sense that when GT first came on they were very influential. I think GT and Specialized both took very unique and distinctive approaches to marketing and communicating their brands to riders. They took a brand-focused approach. They took a culture-focused approach. That’s kind of similar to Minor Threat in the sense that they pretty much defined a whole genera of music, and similar to that, GT, and perhaps Specialized, defined a way of communicating cycling culture. The reason I say minor threat, as opposed to someone more rock-and-roll contemporary, is that they were super loud—almost to the point where people were like: Goddamn, that’s obnoxious.
[B] Is there anything you want to add?
[GT] The big thing is we’re just really excited to be back.