Where do innovation and adventure meet? British Columbia, of course.
We are predisposed to seek answers; quick answers. We often turn to our peers and to our colleagues, to those we know. We query those we deem experts in our own fields looking to apply their knowledge to our problems. We ask questions to the person in closest proximity — it’s convenient, it’s easy, they know the topic and can provide a quick reply. Seems logical, right? It would be a sensible plan if you only wanted to move as quickly as your own industry can provide you information. But when we want to learn faster, when we want to have “ah-ha” moments, where do we look? Well, if you’re the Whistler Bike organization, you look far outside your industry to technology and social media leaders to learn at rapid pace. Whistler Bike 2016 is a forward thinking group of like-minded mountain biking gurus who knew to look outside of their own network to improve their knowledge base and ultimately, their customer’s experience.
I was invited to speak to industry insiders about ecommerce development, practices and customers. I was walking into this brotherhood of experts as a complete outsider, with no knowledge of mountain biking as a sport, or the business side of their industry. I was nervous to say the least that my message about ecommerce and my area of competence may be lost due to my lack of (my complete lack of) experience on a downhill or cross country bike. The event organizers and I were put in contact through a mutual road-biking acquaintance (please note, road biking is an unacceptable pastime with this gang, which is my only area of prowess on two wheels!). So I left my spandex cycling gear at home and I came in to spitball ideas with this sincere group of athletes and leaders; the ideas some factual, some anecdotal but all about doing business online. Oh, and they had invited me to learn how to ride a mountain bike. Easy, right?!
Are you Farming or Hunting?
In preparing my topic, I was continually thinking about how custom ecommerce development may translate to this audience and how to ensure my content was relevant. In preparing for my first time on a mountain bike, surrounded by experienced enthusiasts, I used a strong tool called denial, and didn’t think about it until it was D-Day. For my talk I constructed my conversation focusing on innovation, encouraging these experts to be hunters online and abandon farming tactics that only brought us guaranteed crops (see Jeremy Gutsche’s talk here on this amazing topic); take risks and to keep evolving on the web. I was in the company of some major Canadian mountain biking industry founding fathers such as Norco and Pinkbike and I wanted to challenge them to stay on top of what customers expect and demand on the web, and the unique challenges bike manufacturers face in selling a high value, technical and fit oriented product — virtually.
Are you farming or hunting with your eccomerce business?
How do you encourage your audience to take a look at what they are doing on the web when they are the industry leaders, and ask them to challenge what they know works well to take a gamble, and shoot for something potentially better? You use data. The constructs of the talk focused on a few basic areas. Firstly, we discussed the typical path most companies take to getting an ecomm store up and live in the wild. They usually fall into it, it’s an afterthought or add-on to their business and it’s limped along as a small secondary revenue stream for a few years. As their business and brand begin to gain momentum in the marketspace, they realize they are starting to feel embarrassed about the quality of their website, and it’s no longer reflective of the quality of their respective business. They work to improve the look, feel, features, functionality and user experience. They relaunch loud and proud and start selling with the big players. But then what? Do you just leave this eComm store up and live and only make small changes to sales banners and products year over year (farm), or do you find the bleeding edge, and lean into it (hunt)?
From here, we walked through the process it takes to give your own ecommerce website an honest audit through tools such as use case testing, heatmaps and funnel drop offs; and then we challenged ourselves not to marry our assumptions that came out of this data discovery process, but rather just date the ideas until we could prove them right, wrong or profitable. We took a quick spin around the topic of split testing to play out our findings and discussed tactics to evolve our sites along with our brands and products.
It Was More Than Just a Conference
While the talk went as expected in your classic format using slide and a pointer behind a podium, it’s what happened in between each session and after that really made this conference unique and authentic. Each afternoon transitioned from the conference room to the hill. Whistler Bike sent us on our way with downhill passes and cross country guides, and cut us loose in the most scenic and reputable riding terrain in British Columbia. All of the participants and attendees were solid riders with full gear and bikes ready to go. Then, there was me. Never have I ever been mountain biking. Whistler Blackcomb took me out and fit me with an amazing Giant bike, covered my ass in protective gear and paired me up with a patient and skilled guide and teacher named Jamie. Jamie took me on a 25km trail ride looping around Lost Lake, Alta Lake, we checked out the sand bar, explored the park, received a history lesson about the hills, watched a man catch a rainbow trout while fly fishing, road through a spectacular golf course, crossed creeks, rivers, bridges and passed many fellow cyclists on paths, trails and roads in our travels.
Let’s take a pause from this amazing setting and highlight just how tough mountain biking is, be it downhill or cross country. It’s HARD. I. Was. Terrible. I’m not known for my coordination, but I am known for my ability to laugh at myself which came in very handy for the afternoon. I tried double-track and single-track paths (or so they told me), I rode over (and straight into) stumps, rocks and roots. The other folks in the pack with me were supportive and encouraging and gracious in waiting for me to catch up when needed. In the course of the two hour ride, we laughed and I clenched my teeth and visualized my death and came out the other side completely unharmed. Maybe even slightly improved. When we returned to the group for the night to have dinner and drinks and further discussion, I was received by all of these experienced riders and professionals with smiles and congratulations for my efforts. They checked my shins to ensure the pedals toothy surface hadn’t damaged my gams (and right at the start of skirt season) and gave me a few high-fives for my efforts. They welcomed my rookie being into the fold and treated me with kindness for my attempt.
The format of the three day conference was focused on community, learning, sharing, chats, presentations, keynotes (such as Kristina Holly, ya, the original gangsta of Ted Talks), beer tasting and local culinary goodness — major props to Alta Bistro and Sushi Village for knocking it out of the park on the gastronomic adventures. Each speaker focused from a high-level on innovation, drawing the participants out of their shells with activities and challenging our conventional ways of approaching a problem. A few of the speaker highlights for me included Jamie Stein of Hootsuite, shedding wisdom on what social power can actually do for your business and what risk should mean to you. He challenged us to set goals, and be aware of our decisions online in a conscious but not constrictive way. Additionally, Steve Thorp from Postmark Brewery closed out the summit with some innovative approaches to cross channel marketing; an interesting spin on a completely non-traditional digital spend, his team has built out a SoundCloud profile, featuring playlists which are often downloaded by other businesses and market spaces, linking back to his home grown Vancouver brewery in a passive marketing connection for all consumed digital user. He was a comfortable and confident speaker making me feel like I could suddenly run off and start a brewery of my own.
The format of this conference was the perfect mix of practical, tactical and down right fun. Any industry which has such high skill and talent but such low ego is an obvious success. I was in attendance in the role of teacher for my session, expert if you will. But I came away with more learning than I suspect I bestowed. From my time on the bike to my time in the sessions lead by various enthusiastic and smart experts, I came away with a small insight into what makes this group such a family. Authenticity, transparency and a welcoming nature to share, learn and teach. Next tech conference I attend, I hope they have a mountain biking expert on the speakers list to teach us nerds a thing or two about framing our ideas from a different point of view.