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Bike gear business draws attention on Twitter

For the Banjo Brothers, marketing is like hand-to-hand combat.

At least that’s how it looks to Mike Vanderscheuren, one of the two founders and owners of the Minneapolis bicycle gear business. Five years ago, Vanderscheuren and partner Eric Leugers tested a new line of bike bags and backpacks in seven Twin Cities bike shops. Today, the company has its products in 450 bike shops nationwide.

The pair built their business the new-fashioned way: not by spraying ads all over the landscape, but by reaching out to the right targets, a few people at a time.

They connected with biking websites. They sent their products to bloggers and asked them to test and review them, no holds barred. Week by week, month by month, they built word of mouth among avid cyclists — and the word eventually reached bike shop owners.

“I’ve heard that as a musician today, if you have 1,000 avid fans, you can make a living,” Vanderscheuren said. “That’s where we’re at. We’re not a behemoth. But we’ve been able to get word of our products out into a community that’s intensely interested.”

Last week, Banjo Brothers pulled a stunt that got quite a bit of attention in the Twitterverse. They engaged a local writer, Ian Pratt, to create a work of serial fiction in 17 Twitter posts — “tweets,” for the uninitiated — that went out every half hour between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Thursday.

“Some Tires Are Meant To Be Flat” told a Twittered tale of angst, 140 characters at a time, as a lone cyclist made his way from the Stone Arch Bridge to the Midtown Greenway to Tangletown, searching for a lost love. You can read the entire story — it doesn’t take long! — here. “Some Tires” was co-sponsored by Calhoun Cycle.

Connecting with the right people
Assessing the event a couple of days after the fact, Vanderscheuren called it a success. According to TweetReach, a Twitter analytics service, “Some Tires” reached more than 7,900 people. The event created a total of more than 55,000 impressions — meaning that many in the audience viewed multiple tweets.

On the day “Some Tires” ran, the Banjo Brothers website logged about 1,200 visitors — roughly three times the normal traffic. Banjo Brothers gained about 150 new Twitter followers and added about 30 fans to its Facebook page.

Those aren’t huge numbers. But in the modern marketing world, it’s not always about huge numbers.

“As best I can tell, it was quality traffic — spot on our demographic,” Vanderscheuren said. “It was right on target in terms of, are these the right people I want looking at our products?”

And the cost to reach several thousand of the right people? About $550 — including pizza and beer to celebrate after it was over.

Vanderscheuren is sold on social marketing. For a small business like his, he said, it’s a great way to connect with qualified customers.

“You start testing something like direct messaging to Facebook fans, and you can get a high response rate — because they’re already vetted and they’re interested in your stuff,” he said.

So, can we expect to see another bike-themed Twitter miniseries any time soon?

“To be determined,” Vanderscheuren said.

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