Welcome to the City Bikes clearance bin for all the overstock thoughts, rants, news items, and other idea fragments that we need to turn over. Check back often, as stock is refreshed frequently

Monday, July 7, 2008

A Bike Industry To-Do List #4 (Marketing to customers, not pushing product)

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.

1 comment:

Tara said...

I am, I suppose, part of the demographic you're trying to sort out, so I thought I'd leave my two cents.

The biggest barrier for me in coming into the store was the same barrier you face when taking your car to the shop: I don't know enough not to be taken advantage of. Coming in and volunteering 1)ignorance and 2) a willingness to spend money could very easily paint a big 'sucker' bullseye on your forehead to an average salesperson.

As a newb (the last bike i owned my mother bought me at sears) what I'm looking for is something that will do what i want it to and not cost too much in case i don't ride as much as i'd like to think i will. I don't really care what it looks like, and since I have no blessed idea what most of the terminology means, I'm willing to rely on some else's expertise on what's good/bad/suited to my needs. That however, requires some level of trust.

At any rate, I was pleasantly surprised when I came into the store the other day to ask questions/test ride some bikes. Norm helped me, and what I really appreciated was that he wasn't trying to sell me a ridiculously (perhaps i will join the elitist cycle club eventually and see the need to spend that much on a bike, but at the moment, yes, the prices seem ridiculous) expensive bike -- he asked what i was going to use it for, and helped me find something comfortable. And even better, when I said i wasn't ready to buy yet, there wasn't any pressure.

Having come back and checked out the site/blog/other sites reviews/etc. I like that you seem to be really involved in the community. The free classes, the maintenance, and so on.

I think I will be back to buy the bike and gear Norm recommended, because I feel like I'm not being taken advantage of, and I feel like I will continue to be supported as I sort myself, and the bike, out.

I don't know if i'm a typical non-cyclist or not -- I like to think of myself as practical and utilitarian (as you describe your elite cadre of lingo-slinging compatriots)-- but I'm not sure that bike appearance has as much to do with it as you might think. The initial investment can be relatively high, and there are a number of challenges you're facing, not the least of which is laziness. But something cheap and convenient is always attractive, particularly as gas prices continue to rise and people become more aware of global warming. The trick may in fact be to relax your own standards a little bit, and let us buy less-than-stellar-rides until we learn why we might want a nicer bike. It's not that I don't want a decent ride -- it's that I don't know the difference. A friend of mine is a cyclist and told me that I was under no circumstances allowed to buy a bike at a department store. Who knew bikes were made of different materials? I was vaguely aware that some bikes had itty bitty little tires and were horribly uncomfortable, but other than that... I was clueless. As a previous Sears-bike owner, the first step is to get me to stop buying at Sears. I think you can make that argument relatively easily -- as my friend did, citing quality, and weight, and life-span (a better investment than buying a series of crappy, heavy bikes). From there, I suspect it's a downhill slope into cycle-mania-land. :)

What I'm looking for is affordable transportation that will allow me to fit my daily exercise into my commute. My experience in the store was great -- you've both earned my trust and found something that will work for me. I've never heard of most of these bike brands before, and I couldn't tell you what color the bike I liked was. I think perhaps you're paying too much attention to the superficiality of advertising and people responding to an emailed image. As consumers, people have become relatively skeptical, and may respond differently to a hypothetical vs actually plunking down a large chunk of money for a bike.

I think that the practicality you value in riders can be found in a different way in the way non-cyclists attempt to shop for bikes -- that is we're looking for convenience without understanding why we should pay a grand for some gears, tires, and somewhere comfy to stick our (slightly out of shape) rears. I think perhaps the best thing you can do to get non-cyclists involved is talk about how easy it is to get started -- be accessible, down-to-earth, and practical about it. There is no prettier bike than the one that is within our budget, but we're willing to listen to reason, most of the time we just don't know better.