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James Fairbank on the design-conscious world of cycling

Within the sports market, brands are constantly challenged with building loyalty and asserting their authority in the face of fierce competition. It's something that James Fairbank knows well.

As head of brand and central marketing at Rapha (opens in new tab), he's responsible for ensuring for ensuring the road cycling specialist engages cycling enthusiasts as well as appealing to design-conscious outsiders – challenges that he'll be discussing when he takes to the stage with AKQA co-founder James Hilton at our Impact Conference. We caught up with him to find out more…

Tell us a little bit about what you do and why you do it...

I'm head of brand and central marketing for Rapha, broadly speaking I'm responsible for making sure that our brand is consistent in all the places we inhabit: website, film, photography, print, events, social or our Cycle Clubs. I've been riding road bikes for 20 years and I'm passionate about helping to take what I consider to be the best sport in the world to a wider audience.

Independent sports brands – cycling in particular – seem to be attracting a more design-conscious customer base. How has this affected how you approach your branding?

It's absolutely integral to our brand as we were established with the aim of honouring the sport of road racing. This means we try to make design that non-cycling designers will appreciate, photography that professional photographers acknowledge and writing that authors might enjoy.

What would you say are the main challenges facing sports companies in terms of branding at the moment?

Broadly, I think that brands both small and large can struggle with legitimacy in the eyes of the informed consumer.

How do independent business such as yourself go about competing with the big sports brands?

By striving to become the widely recognised authority on our sport in terms of both product and content.

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