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Monday, June 30, 2008

A Bike Industry To-Do List #3 (Talk to Your Targets)

Note: This is the third in an ignorant eight-part suggestion of some measures the bike brands could take to better appeal to the majority of Americans, who have little or no interest in cycling.

Part 1 described the situation, the challenges, and some important caveats.

Part 2 examined the importance of cosmetics, and our lack of visual differentiation.

In this part, we will discuss approaches to designing bikes with broader appeal.

In the last installment, I tried to demonstrate how appearances matter, and how scarily undifferentiated the bicycles we sell in bicycle stores are from the ones available at the Jumbo Mart. These effects are amplified among the folks we are talking about, the vast crowds of Americans who aren't cyclists. So, how do we lend some zazz to our products? What will get these people buzzing about our bikes? Ask them what they like.

Oh, market research, blech. Lock a 15-person cross-section of America in a one-way mirror room, all anxiously awaiting $25 and free Subway sandwiches, and show them some paint chips. That will solve everything, right?

Well, what are we doing now, and how well is it working? We design and sell bicycles that we (those who have opted into a cycling lifestyle) think are wicked awesome. And the net result is a bunch of bikes that we really like. But in general, we're a different sort of crowd. Demographically, behaviorally, politically, we don't always resemble the rest of the country.

If we want to invite everybody else to join our little crowd, perhaps it is time to step a little bit further outside of our comfort zone, and thus open ourselves up to some new ideas. And by 'new ideas,' I mean ideas that we might offensive to our notions of what makes a good bicycle, or what we think a new cyclists should want or need. The cautionary tale for us should be the longstanding reticence of automakers to install good cupholders in our cars.

Research by the bike brands only seems to target their own dealers, as far as I can tell. This is just fine for the enthusiast bikes, those existing segments of the market that we all club ourselves silly fighting over. And it is great that they ask us what dealers think, it is flattering. It allows us to relay what our customers are saying, though that input is obviously getting filtered. And pride probably makes us better salespeople, if we are selling products we had a small hand in developing.

But the result is a series of FUBU bicycles -- for us, by us. Few of us know a lot about people who don't bike. We don't know what they think is cool, we don't know what scares them, we don't know what is keeping them off a bike, we don't know what will make them feel comfortable. And these points are proven by where we find ourselves, fighting over a shrinking market, in market conditions where our sales should be skyrocketing.

1 comment:

Erik Kugler said...

Cupholders on bicycles??! Egads!