This is not a Bag

There aren’t a lot of things I pay top dollar for but when it comes to a quality bag or backpack I have learned  you don’t skimp.

I am a commuter.

On a daily basis I travel by Car, Train, Bus, sometimes by boat or bike. One of the first things I realized when I moved to the city is that your bag is your life.

Well, maybe not your life but its pretty essential.

Carrying everything from a tablet to a change of clothes; the items you stow away in your trusty backpack or briefcase represents who you are. For such a versatile item I only wanted the best.

So about a year and half ago I purchased a Timbuk2 messenger style bag. For just a shade under $100 It was a major purchase for me but one that I don’t regret in the least.

At the time I had never encountered a Timbuk2 advertisement, commercial, or store, to be honest I had no idea who they were.

What I did know was that there was a company out there that made durable bags for bike messengers. A couple of my friends had them and I had seen a couple of messengers in the city wearing them.

Why did I want one?

Simple, I figured that for a bike messenger a bag had to be durable, weather resistant and well designed.

I wanted a bag that would not only be good for my daily commute but for travel, camping, and business trips.

From what I had seen of them, Timbuk2 messenger bags fit the bill with heavy nylon canvas exteriors and weatherproof interiors. 

The Brand

A strong Brand identification and subtle word of mouth marketing strategy is what Timbuk2 has been built on.

It is at the core of their highly successful Social Media and eCommerce Strategy.

My experience discovering the product is the type of inbound marketing T2 excels at. 

Over the last 10 years the messenger bag as grown from a bag of necessity to a “Urban fashion accessory” Timbuk2 has been at the center of this transformation.

Started in 1989 by Rob Honeycutt a San Francisco bicycle messenger, Timbuk2 first design was homemade. Honeycutt created the bag that fit the rigors of Job; when people started asking him make them one Timbuk2 got its start.

Timbuk2 is known for high quality bags, design, and a vibrant bike culture.

The company has been organically grown over the last 20+ years and has centered their product line on the identity and lifestyle of the people who use them.

Custom Manufacturing

Timbuk2 bags are highly customizable and the company is constantly improving their product based upon recommendations from their customers. This is largely due to the fantastic eCommerce platform developed as the company grew to a national brand.  

Initially Timbuk2 was launched in a traditionally retail environment. The company struggled in with retail finding it difficult to present their customizable product on the retail floor.

“it was our frustration in dealing with traditional retailers that made us decide to add e-commerce to capabilities to our web site. So we thought it made sense to develop software that lets consumers pick their own colors fabric and options.” VP Jordon Reiss

In 1999 T2 turned to ecommerce and developed the Bag builder web platform, dedicated to letting the consumer create their own custom bag.



Ecommerce and direct customer feedback

Bag builder established an efficient and direct channel to their consumers. The site not only  allowed users to customize their bag but streamlined the distribution process and generating real time sales metrics.

Today Bag builder accounts for 30-40% of Timbuk2’s sales and is often found on display in rental locations that carry Timbuk2 allowing consumers to see and design bags at the same time.

Ecommerce also opened a direct dialog with their base consumers. Customers naturally wanted to review the bags they created and provide feedback to improve quality and design. Reviews brought T2 Closer to their base and is the foundation for the companies  aggressive social media presence.

From the start Timbuk2 was a company understood how to utilize and drive sales through word of mouth,  Social Media merely extended their reach.

As they have grown Timbuk2 has worked hard to partner with their base. As a brand they represent more of a lifestyle then just a product line. Of course they have a great product but its the character of the company that really shines through their social media channels.

Its this connection that enables them to position themselves as a discovery brand encouraging the consumer to find them.

Aside from bag builder T2 has an extensive social media presence, utilizing email, blog and various social networks.

Social Media Tools

Facebook page

Blog

Flicker

Youtube

Twitter

Tumbler

When you watch their youtube videos demonstrating the latest products you get a sense of the casualness the company embodies.  T2 employees are excited about what they sell and often reference how improvements were made based on customer feedback.


Risk of Brand Dilution

For a company that basically evolved with social media you would think that the risk of embracing social media would be almost nonexistent.

For the most part this is true but Timbuk2 but for a brand like T2 there is a risk of overexposing the product and going “Main Stream”. Alienating their core consumer base and losing thier brand identity. To grow Timbuk2 had to move into new markets meaning new types of consumers. 

The original T2 customers prided themselves on finding unknown styles or products. They identified with labels that are not well known and respond to brands that communicated purpose and honesty.

New timbuk2 customers tend to be motivated by new trends and styles. More of the urban trendsetter instead of the hardcore bike messenger. To appeal to the commuter Timbuk2 has to expand their product lineup creating styles that would appeal more to the avg Joe on the go instead of the bike messenger.

The more popular they become the more risk of losing focus and turning to more of a mass apealing message.

The difficulty is finding the balance between brand identity and progress. At times this may mean sacrificing your most ardent supporters to competitors but the objective is to maintain the essence that made the brand successful.  

Enjoying a gradual growth rather then overexposing your product and making it appealing to everyone.

TimbukT2 has successively struck this balance maintaining the practical rebluoos bike messeger vibe and listing to thier core customer base. Timbuk2 may expand into new markets but on their own terms allowing the consumer to understand the brand.

By utilizing social media and avoding traditonal  marketing; Timbuk2 maintains it under the radar presence while meeting the expectations of the converted.

Personally I sought out this product because of the reputation I perceived about it.

I love this product because it lived up to its promise.


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3 thoughts on “This is not a Bag

  1. Jason,

    I think that companies that build their Social Media marketing around their products generally do very well. Dell, before the “Dell Hell” incident, did very well with customer service and sales. Had mainstream Social Media been as popular as it is today back then, they would have fared very well. Personally I think that whomever is marketing Timbuk2 is doing a great job – including the idea to use an e-commerce store with custom colors — people love that sort of stuff.

    My only concern with this brand is its limited reach. Yes, they do make a variety of “bags” for various kinds of products, but that’s about as far as it goes. There will always be a market for the product and there will always be a group of people who are enthusiastic about those products. HOWEVER, I think that for their Social Media campaign to maintain an upward rise without over-exposure, there needs to be something more than just people who love to talk about how much they love the bags. There needs to be interaction, product events, etc. People need to be enthusiastic about the brand, not just the product.

    -Bill

  2. Bill,

    I get where you are coming from in regards to reach vs growth. I was also focused on the limited reach the company seems to have as if by choice. What I was trying to zero in on is how controlling their exposure within social media can be perceived as benefit to the brand. Do you think expanding to traditional media would end up being more of benefit then their current strategy?

    As for events and public interaction they are pretty involved in the bike and art scene sponsoring and having a presence at events.
    http://www.timbuk2.com/tb2/cms/artistOriginals/artistOriginalsEvents.htm

    However this to is on a very targeted a basis as well.

  3. HI Jason,
    Great post, partially because it is a brand I do not know too much about. So I found it very interesting to read about them and how different they remain compared to others in the accessory industry.
    I do not think there is anything wrong with staying within the close knit community that seems to be described within Timbuk2’s marketing efforts. However, I also believe that one year a particular tactic can work or even a 5-year plan but strategies are not meant to stay the same. That is why companies revisit their annual marketing plans each year in order to improve, change and succeed in new ways.
    I think in time, if they see themselves growing and branching out into new products that they see an audience for, their SM outreach will change in that respect.

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