Influence, Virality, and Brand Building: Q&A with Super73’s Michael Cannavo
Jordan Kelley, Content Director, BrandStorytelling.tv
Building a brand is no easy feat. Entering a competitive space with an idea or product of great quality isn’t enough. In today’s market, establishing the brand as a popular option requires a command of a brand’s voice, values, and presence. With growing popularity comes even more competition between similar brands to proliferate. In the world of e-bikes, there are many brands working hard to take the top spot in the hearts and minds of the industry’s target consumer - but none are doing it with the authenticity, tact, and success of Super73.
Super73 recognizes itself as more than just an e-bike company - they’re an American lifestyle adventure brand fusing motorcycle heritage and youth culture. In just four years, Super73 has come to lead the charge in pioneering a new approach to the electric bike industry. The brand’s ability to speak directly to its audience is demonstrated by their knack for achieving virality across multiple social media platforms, attracting the attention of celebrities, influencers, musicians, and athletes. Most importantly, they’ve cultivated a die-hard group of brand-loyal riders who connect with one another via social and in person, gathering en masse for Super73 group rides.
Brand Storytelling caught up with Super73 CMO and Co-Founder Michael Cannavo to learn more about his journey building Super73 and what it takes to find your voice and leverage it into a socially successful and popular brand:
Thanks for taking the time to Chat Michael. Let's jump right in - when and why did you found Super73?
We founded Super73 in May of 2016. The first Super73 bike was born from our desire to build a product that met our transportation and adventure needs while feeling like something truly unique and important. We wanted to marry motorcycle heritage with youth culture and give ourselves an easy way to explore Southern California in style while being environmentally conscious.
Did you have a clear vision for how to market the brand when you started out, or was it something you had to find along the way?
None of us came from a traditional marketing background. I had found some success on social media apps like Vine and Instagram but had no formal education which ended up being to our advantage. Super73 was marketed to everyday adventurers and creators by everyday adventurers and creators. This meant that we needed to be authentic, honest, humble, and front facing. We never initially worried about buying ads or building marketing campaigns. Instead we reached out to our creator friends and put tons of content online. We were proud of what we made and wanted to show people. Wherever we could post for free, we posted and wherever we saw an opportunity to share our story, we took it. The product did the work, all we needed to do was open the door. Our first video cleared 1.5 million views and the following videos did a great job of keeping up to that standard. We never could have guessed that Super73 was going to be the hit it became but we knew we had something special and we did our best to make sure the world saw it as we did.
How has your social media marketing approach changed in four years?
For the first couple of years, spending money on ads wasn't even in the question. I think my total marketing budget for the first two years combined must have been less than $10,000. There was no budget to buy views, creators, or traction so we decided that our only chance to be noticed and credible was to stay viral week after week. We are so happy that we took that approach because even now, we prioritize unpaid media and have still never paid a cent for an influencer post, celebrity endorsement, or product placement. As we scaled, we introduced paid ads as a compliment to what we were already doing on social and have seen huge growth as a result. While these ads are important to our marketing strategy, they still come second to what we release on our social platforms. Our product speaks for us and celebrities and brands are still filling our direct messages asking to collaborate. It's been a lot of fun marketing in this environment and we feel truly lucky to stand behind such a cool brand at such an important time.
When did you begin to get popular online creators like Jesse Wellens, Casey Neistat, and others to support your brand?
Jesse is a really interesting story. Andy Milonakis found us on Kickstarter and ordered two bikes. The second bike was for his friend, Jesse Wellens. Jesse instantly fell in love with our brand and we built a relationship between the founders of Super73 and the iconic YouTuber. Jesse was releasing a drop for his brand, Rose Ave. and we found it to be the perfect time to collaborate. The Super73 Rose Ave. was introduced through one of his YouTube videos and instantly generated over 800 orders in 30 days. As was tradition, we didn't run any ads or supplemental content. We relied on social media and press to spread the word and again, we were lucky enough to have the right product with the right voice at the right time. As for Casey, he wanted to review our product months before we let him. It was almost like we were fighting him off with a stick because we knew how important his opinion was and how he had the ability to make or break a brand. Once we were sure we nailed it with the Super73 S1, we sent it off and the rest is history. We're so grateful for his honest and truthful review and equally grateful to be one of his favorite brands years later. We've also simply made custom bikes for people we admire. Post Malone and Lil Nas X didn't ask for bikes, but by creating something that was built to their likes and interests, we were able to get their attention and build a relationship with them.
You often make personal deliveries of your product - to everyone from Will Smith to the young man who sent your office cute dog photos every day for a year just to cheer you up. Why is fostering personal connections with all lovers of the brand important to you, famous or not?
I'm a fan and consumer. I obsess over franchises like Star Wars and RS-X releases from Puma. I know how highly I esteem these brands and I see when they do or don't nail it with consumers. For me, I wanted people to really understand how grateful I was that they chose to ride with us. It was personal for us. The startup grind is a slugfest and when someone like Will Smith shoots you a message, that message has the ability to change the rest of your life if you give it the attention it deserves. I couldn't let our bikes be delivered to Will without sharing the history so jumping on a plane and spending the last of our money to get to Florida with two bikes was priority one no matter the risk. As a result, I was able to share why what we are doing is so special and important. Unlike a lot of these other bike companies, we are developing our own tech, building our own frames, and working to be innovators in an industry full of replicators. Will Smith was so excited by that and understands the importance of valuing American innovation so he jumped in to assist us. In cases like Blake the "dog kid," as we call him around here, it was a way we could directly say thank you to our supporters. While we can't do that sort of thing every day, we do our best to give away as many bikes as we can to good people who are in need. I want to be the kind of business that I would want to support.
Many brands have struggled to keep up this year - with everything from new platforms like TikTok to continuing to operate and promote during the pandemic. Not SUPER73 - you’ve managed to stay present and consistent - you've already got several TikToks that have been viewed in the millions. What has been the key to success when it comes to rolling with the new and unexpected?
Thank you for saying that, wow. We really appreciate hearing that as we work in a vacuum here and aren't always sure how things translate. I think the key to constantly evolving is humility, as funny as that sounds. The ability to identify when you are outmatched or unequipped is endlessly necessary in a social age that changes month to month. I jumped on TikTok late last year in an attempt to learn and understand the new platform. I created a personal account as I didn't want to damage the brand if I came across tone deaf or "cringey" but was met with quite a following. A surprise to be sure as I was 10 years older than the average platform influencer. Long, weird story, but I was invited by Lucasfilm to film videos as press for the release of Star Wars. It was there that I met fellow Star Wars fan and creator, Liam Cole. Liam had gathered a large following as well and I was extremely impressed by his awareness and drive. Super73 needed a young, relatable personality that people could get behind. Brands are so quickly vilified on TikTok so I knew that we needed an authentic voice to champion our brand. In the middle of a global pandemic, I asked Liam to move away from his home and job to create for us full time. He quit his job that day, loaded up his car, and drove to Southern California before the official offer letter was even signed. Upon arriving, he asked for direction in the content that he was making and was shocked when I gave him none and instructed him to "be Liam but on a bike." He took a bit to find his rhythm but he has blown us all away with his angle on representing a young bike company to a young audience. We have a lot of plans for Liam as he has continued to evolve and grow within the brand. It's a very different take than most brands on the platform have, but as Liam gets more comfortable as a representative, the content will shift and become more directional. We will continue to replicate this formula across the brand as we face new platforms
For those out there trying to find and/or refine their brand's voice, what advice might you give?
Authenticity is possibly the most important tool a brand can have in this new era of consumerism. The ability to make a product, show how it's made, stand behind it, and support it is an extremely difficult thing to do, but one that we've decided to embrace for better or worse. Things haven't been easy this year. Delays and chaos due to the pandemic has made it increasingly difficult to meet our timelines and keep waiting customers happy but we have done our best to peel back the curtain for those who want answers and inform our riders of the difficulties this year has presented us with. Every brand, creator, and person is going to make mistakes. It's about embracing the mistakes, sharing them, learning from them, and correcting course so that we don't make that mistake again. Using the personalities on our team has made it easy to relate to our community and we hope to be able to do that more as we grow into the next era of Super73.
About Michael Cannavo
Michael Cannavo is the Chief Marketing Officer and Co-Founder at Super73. Michael Specializes in viral marketing, social media content, and influencer partnerships. In the brief moments that his life isn't isn't revolving around the bright sun of Super73, he hosts a sci-fi podcast accompanied by multiple social media accounts.