Giant’s Plans for World Domination

A Giant Branded Bike

Taiwan Today is featuring a lengthy article on Taiwan’s Giant Manufacturing Co. Ltd., which has positioned itself to become the dominant bicycle brand in East Asia.

The article provides a lengthy history of Giant, from OEM to worldwide brand. The most interesting details come at the latter half of the article, which provides some fantastic mid-management speak that sounds like it comes right out of a cheap MBA program.

My favorite comes from Giant spokesman, Jeffery Shiou:

Asked to comment on what makes Giant so unique, Sheu mentioned the company’s complete dedication, since the very beginning, to bicycles. Its goal has been to become a “total cycling solution provider,” Sheu noted.

Despite the management speak, the article provides several points for discussion regarding Giant, branding and positioning itself as a world leader.

Giant also adopted sports marketing techniques to make its quality products better known. “We started to sponsor cyclists in all kinds of international competitions,” said Sheu.

If these cyclists performed well, their cycling equipment and devices would receive widespread media coverage. “That was how foreign customers became familiar with Giant,” he said.

Giant also invited many professional cyclists to test its vehicles and offer tips for improvement. For instance, opinions from these experts helped Giant build its world-renowned carbon fiber bicycles.

So much of sports marketing has to do with selling a fantasy. People care about what the pros are using and hope they too can purchase some magic to become a better cyclist, which beats traditional training any day.
Putting a bike in the pro ranks instantly increases its value. Put one on the podium and the value skyrockets. The rush to carbon fiber bikes is not driven by the pros, but it is driven by the manufacturers who will see increased profit margins with carbon fiber and use the pros to sell bikes. Let’s face it… professional racing is about selling products.

Moreover, the company was among the first bicycle brands to produce a line of models especially for females. “Women make up half of the population and their needs should not be ignored,” said Bonnie Tu, Giant’s chief financial officer.

In April 2008, the world’s first female bicycle retail store, which sells Giant bicycles made under its subsidiary brand name Liv, opened in Taipei.

But Giant is not only about selling bikes. More importantly, the leading bicycle brand is devoted to promoting cycling culture.

Giant’s View Of Female Cyclists

I think I have made my view of the Liv/Giant campaign abundantly clear. Something I might like to add is that Giant’s marketing strategy seems to be focusing on transforming the image of Giant domestically from the proletarian, affordable bike for the masses, to a prestige nameplate that seeks to convey the messages of status, which, in a society with a strong Confucian cultural influence, locates people on a grade-scale that defines social relationships in terms of superiority and inferiority. I think networks of guanxi clearly demonstrate the social function of status within Taiwanese society and how Taiwanese use prestige symbolism to traverse the cleavage between these relationships.

With Giant defining and articulating “cycling culture”, backed by its overwhelming presence and close relations with the central government, Giant may have more influence over how cycling culture develops in Taiwan than any other social force. Giant plays a large role in determining which products will be available to the consumer through its ubiquitous Giant retail stores.

“But we are not doing all this to ask people to buy Giant products,” said Sheu. “We just want them to be aware of the benefits of cycling, experience the fun of it all and make it part of their life.”

The foundation may have had a little bit of luck on its side. Many more people in Taiwan have become aware in recent years of the importance of reducing carbon emissions, and bicycles provide a natural solution. Indeed, starting in 2007, more and more people have taken to using bicycles as a daily means of transportation.

The first sentence above should be taken with a grain of salt. They are a business, and businesses want to make money and sell their product. Giant wants to sell a product… they are out to expand the market and gain market share. In the positive side, a company with a presence like Giant provides the opportunity for other component manufacturers to build partnerships with Giant and build brand awareness.

In spite of its many accomplishments, Giant has no intention of resting on its laurels. The quest to become the best bicycle company in the world drives it ever forward.

My final thought on Giant is the fact that Giant, as both a manufacturer and retailer, has the ability to exploit its vast supply networks and political relationships to squeeze out the alternatives. I know several small and dedicated bike shops that are under increasing pressure from the lower price points available from Giant.

These small, independent stores have been the centers of local cycling culture on Taiwan for decades where cyclists could gather and build community. These little shops are poised to suffer from the “Walmartization” of Taiwan’s cycling retailers. If Giant does succeed in driving out the local independent retailer, Taiwan’s unique cycling culture will suffer an important loss and the choices will be greatly limited.

We need a strong system of locally based independent retailers in our communities and I would encourage everyone to support their local bike shop over the Giant retailer where our money goes back into the community.

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