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.
Part 3 suggested that bike development should depend on end-customer research
In this part, I will suggest a few ways the bike brands can adjust their marketing tactics to better target all these new customers.
So, in the last part, I tried to make the case that the bikes we try to sell to casual cyclists pay little attention to what these cyclists want. Rather, they largely reflect the input of experienced cyclists in the industry, who design a bike that reflects our ideal of what such a customer should have. And a quick review of the bikes ridden by our staff shows that our tastes definitely tickle the outer boundaries of mainstream tastes.
Now let's say a big bike brand goes out and does all the market research. They design a line of great bikes, say in the $500-600 range, that are really attractive, or useful, or whatever really has the potential to get people excited about a bicycle who never even had them on their radar screen. The Model T of bicycles. How are you going to publicize it? And who are you targeting?
This is an area where real change has already been made. More and more, we are seeing obviously-planted mainstream media attention paid to particular bicycles, whether it is in the latest buy-this article in Men's Journal, the full-on PR blitz Shimano put on for their Coasting bikes, or the many celeb riding sightings lately. Paid ad placement is also flowing to the outlets where non-cyclists congregate, as it should. The old intuition held that someone looking for a bike would pick up a bicycling magazine. Logical. The reality is that non-cyclists are not actually looking for a bicycle, and those that are more apt to simply pick up the cheapest bike they can find. Thus, the only opportunity to differentiate a particular bicycle or brand is putting it out in the mainstream, and creating demand. Again, Coasting (and the Trek Lime in particular), and the paid media placements in targeted non-cycling publications last summer, provides a great case study on the value of taking this approach to appealing to non-cyclists. What might the next step in end-user marketing be? I would propose that more deliberate targeting of particular customer populations is necessary. The vast sea of non-cyclists are not a homogeneous population. My retired parents, my early-thirties city-dwelling friends, and Larry the Cable Guy are all non-cyclists. They don't read the same magazines, don't go to the same websites, and don't have the same tastes ("git 'r done!"). Should any of them decide to pick up a bike and start riding, each would probably be compelled to do so for different reasons, and would be attracted to different bikes or brands.
In this brave new world of bicycle development, we have done some research into our customer's tastes, and designed bicycles that will appeal to groups of non-cyclists. Maybe those groups are defined by demographics, or psychographics, or whatever. It is logical to then follow through, and target the marketing to particular groups.
Further, this marketing must go beyond the simple tactics described earlier. Marketing particular bicycles to particular groups must involve the dealer network, who would carry out and reinforce the targeted tactics on a local level, tailor their staffing and sales training to effectively carry out the marketing messages, and be allowed to choose to stock or not stock line items that do not appeal to their customer base.
The bike industry has done a great job of designing particular bicycles for every conceivable use. BikesnobNYC says this has gone overboard. And folks within the industry are starting to agree (scroll to bottom). But somewhere within the lineup, line items need to be devoted to appealing to tastes of large populations, rather than focusing on every possible whim of small ones.
Too corporate? Too cynical? Too much marketing mumbo-jumbo? Well, bypass the next post, when we'll discuss branding, and... I dunno, go take a refresher course on the Sheldon Brown gospel. And remember that this discussion is meant to just address how to appeal to the 170 million people in the US who could bike, but do so rarely or never. Developing, marketing, and selling the cool bikes the 13 million of us enjoy today can and should continue and thrive. But it shouldn't be to the exclusion of everybody else.