Surly Bikes Float On Snow!
Its not often you see a product that catches your eye that makes you want to go up to someone on the street and ask the owner where did they got that product. Surly Bikes has one such product. I was in Lincoln Nebraska for a presentation on corporate blogging a few weeks ago. I’d finished my presentation and had a few hours to kill before my plane took off for Detroit.
While walking down the street to check out the local café’s Internet wi-fi connection I spied an unusual sight, a gentleman outside a bike shop riding a mountain bike with enormous tires. I stopped the rider and asked him about the bike. He explained the bike was from Surly, a manufacturer of bike frames and tires. The bike shop had received the bike frame a few weeks ago and had just received the new tires. The tires are snow tires, able to support the weight of bike and rider on snow. The bike shop rider also told me he had several local farmers who were interested in the bike tires for riding on sand.
I congratulated the rider, and made note of the Surly name. Back in Boston I was delighted to find the company had previously launched the Surly blog. Great I thought, I can combine my fascination with this great new product, and find out if the company had received any benefits from blogging. I contacted Andy Corson at Surly and asked the following questions about the value of blogging to Surly.
John: What value have you received from the blog?
Andy: Several years ago we decided to revamp our website and the web designer suggested we have a blog, and none of us had any idea what a blog was.
The web guy mocked us and said he thought it would be a good idea. Realized right away that it would only be worthwhile if we kept it current and published only things that could truly be of interest to our customers.
We use our blog for new product announcements, changes, and cultural reports (what's happening on the bike scene). It has met with tremendous response and I've heard from people who are not into bikes or our brand and read it because they find it interesting.
John: I was wondering about results from the blog? Have you seen more direct traffic? Has the blog improved search engine rankings?
Andy: The results have been that the blog is the second most visited portion of our website after the home page. It gets a lot of traffic, and based on feedback and site stats we get a lot of people coming to the Surly site specifically for the blog.
It's sort of hard for me to compare pre-blog to post-blog for search engine rankings, since our website was completely redone all at once (and at that time the blog was added), and our website traffic was slower then due to a lot of factors, from the number of customers we had then to how our previous site looked and how comprehensive it was. We wanted the new site overall to be much more informative than before. It needed to be our storefront, where before it was just a website. Plus, our growth and public familiarity with the brand has increased due to other factors like advertising and word of mouth. I just did a quick and dirty search using Yahoo.com and Google.com and the current Surly site came up first in both cases, which I know was not the case three years ago. In fact on Google the first hit is our home page and the second is for our blog (and the seventh is dictionary.com's word of the day: surly).
John: Have you received any new product ideas that you have implemented? I've seen a number of examples where companies are taking suggestions from customers to improve existing products, and also make upgrades to products in the next version of a product. The change might be minor or major.
As far as new product ideas, in our case that has very little to do with our blog, yes, customer feedback of this sort happens to us, but it happened before the blog, just by email mostly (though I have received letters written on typewriters too).
While I think the blog has increased peoples' awareness of us, and seems to have raised our visibility (although the blog is only part of that), and this might lead to more feedback, it isn't specifically the result of having a blog. In fact we don't invite it to the same degree that some companies do, but of course it would be stupid to ignore people who feel strongly enough one way or another to write us with feedback. A large part of design change consideration for us is in the product we see coming back to us. That easily has the most to do with design changes for us.
We are pretty sure of our deigns by the time they reach production, so not much design change is usually necessary, but when potential changes do present themselves we are made aware of them by means of warranty returns sent back to us. Something breaks and people send it back, we determine if it was our design or manufacturing that was at fault and decide from there if change is necessary.
This is different from people just contacting us with ideas they have had that they would like to see someone produce or ideas for changes to existing our existing product. These sorts of communications generally are more spontaneous and less in depth than the more holistic approach design changes necessitate.
John: Since chatting with bloggers at Microsoft and Macromedia, I've discovered that some companies do use blogs for product feedback and customer service on occasion. But I wondered how quantifiable that information was in terms of being representative of the whole audience. With a strong metric like returns you have no doubts about people's opinions on products and its durability. Do you ask for product feedback?
Andy: The blog is definitely a form of interactive communication for us. People read it and many are prompted to write in. But I had said we don't invite it, and by this I mean that I know of companies who actively seek customer input through their blog and other methods (bicycle discussion forums for example), but we do not do this. Rather, we put info up on the blog and answer questions that may come up.
Posted by johncass at October 27, 2005 4:39 PM
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John, You've got to mention that images and photography on the company website product shots on this website are something to see. I guess [edited: I'm] really behind the times. I had no idea that pink hip hugger shorts, high cut off tees and pink floral sweat pants were in. http://www.surlybikes.com/bikes.html
Posted by: Anonymous at October 28, 2005 4:35 PM
Looking for the Surly web site today[5/22/06] and finding it is not available. Whassup?
I hope you're back on line soon.
Posted by: Rick Glass at May 22, 2006 5:06 PM