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Inside Indian’s marketing strategy

Senior Marketing Director for Indian Motorcycle reveals the company’s marketing plan for growth.

Speaking at an Association of National Advertisers conference this week, Pam Kermisch (Senior Director, Integrated Marketing and Customer Experience, Polaris) provided a little insight into how Indian plans to sell their product over the coming years.

And it’s no easy sell either; an Indian Motorcycle has a fairly narrow target for sale, it’s an expensive product that is sold only in speciality locations (dealerships), has a low frequency of purchase and as a new brand within the Polaris portfolio it has a relatively low budget for marketing and a small team available in order to activate any campaigns.

Oh and then there’s the small matter of going up directly against your closest competition, Harley-Davidson.

Kermisch joined Indian (and then Victory) back in April of 2015, having previously worked within General Mills – the company responsible for brands such as Cheerios and Häagen-Dazs, as Director of Integrated Shopper Marketing. And despite there being a seemingly wide chasm between breakfast cereal and Cruiser motorcycles, she’s attempted to harness some of this experience within the plan for growth of the Indian brand,

“It was working. We were growing. But we could do better… We needed a new marketing model.”

Clothing

So she and her team set about interviewing employees, dealers and customers in order to completely map out the product lifecycle – in a sort of ‘from farm to table’ style.

“We mapped out different phases people go through before buying a motorcycle. For each phase we looked at what the consumer was doing, what was important and what information they needed to get to that next level.”

What they found was interesting; especially when considering the digital environment within which people like us here at Motofire operate.

What the team at Indian discovered was that most of a potential buyer’s time is actually spent researching online – using websites and YouTube – only making a visit to a dealership once they’ve done the majority of their ‘shopping’.

This is a change from what used to be the model, where advertising attracted a potential customer into a showroom, and it was the dealership that the did the bulk of the ‘selling work’.

“Research has moved from dealerships to digital, consumers like to visit dealerships and want a reason to stop in. Trying new bikes is recreation and they’re looking to connect with other riders. We looked at how we could create more opportunities.”

So what does a company like Indian do when the traditional model of getting customers to browse and interact with bikes has moved from the real to the virtual world?

Perhaps rather oddly for a brand that trades in so much heritage and old-world charm, Indian looked to completely change their digital shopping strategy. Part of that was making sure that their online presence was easy and quick to access, but more importantly they had enough belief in their product to actively encourage reviews of their motorcycles from less traditional outlets.

By doing so, they have allowed other people to become ambassadors for their brand.

And they’ve also concentrated on owners – something for which their peers Harley-Davidson are particularly well renowned.

“These are our people. They are six times more likely to buy because they love our brand”.

All of which doesn’t really sound like rocket science. But when you consider how little some major manufacturers provide by way of incentivising ‘brand ownership’, it’s not so easy to downplay just what this kind of marketing can do to affect change towards a brand’s perception.

Consider this; the current incarnation of Indian Motorcycle (the one under Polaris control) only started shipping bikes in 2013.

3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Richard Atkinson

    April 26, 2017 at 14:44

    Good to see Indian has seen a way forward, though with a small tinge of hindsight…

    Why?

    The consultancy business I’m with has 30 years + working alongside 2 & 4-wheel clients (manufacturers/brands and dealers). We understand how a unified ‘experience’ aligns Places, People, Processes and Messages around a core principle. We also develop coherent retail and customer experience strategies; when knitted together they can deliver real impact and bottomline results.

    From developing Kawasaki’s “Performance of a Lifetime,” customer experience programme to creating Nissan LEAF’s “Powering Up,” EV sales training programme, part of the European car launch – we can bring a 360-view to help concertina some of the research time while getting to the start line earlier.

    Good strategy to get customers to become brand ambassadors, much like Kia (also a client of ours) did in 2014 with very positive results, especially in the digital domain.

    Tinge of hindsight; it’s a pity we couldn’t have helped the Indian team ‘cut-to-the-chase’ quicker with our industry sector knowledge and expertise.

    Maybe next time…

  2. Avatar

    motofire

    April 26, 2017 at 17:52

    It’s certainly interesting. The Motorcycle isn’t as progressive as you would be led to believe once you’re inside of it though, so we welcome anybody taking a radical change to what is a pretty dyed-in-the-wool business.

    For us, the interesting part was that they have identified that customers no longer really ‘browse’ in showrooms like they used to. It sounds obvious, but when you look at the digital strategies of many manufacturers you can see that they’re still stuck in the old ways of doing things.

    Just three years ago Indian Motorcycle had three bikes on their books and limited dealerships. Extrapolate what they’re doing now by another three years and the environment is potentially going to look pretty wild. – Steve MF

  3. Avatar

    stevebarker66

    May 13, 2017 at 07:36

    Mustn’t throw the baby out with the bath water.

    I opened and ran what was then UK’s flagship Victory dealership back in 2005. We already had KTM and had BMW on another site.

    The guys from Polaris/Victory guided us in those early days as to the importance of working with local owner/riders as Brand Ambassadors and that has always been the way with selling motorcycles: the herd follow the leaders.

    We targeted prolific local riders of competitor models and loaned them a bike. We organised ride-outs and open days and test-ride days.

    None of this is new or revolutionary and will still be needed going forward. Riding ‘bikes is about Brotherhood (even for the Sisters); its about a feeling of family and belonging to a tribe.

    Digital marketing is hugely important now, but once it has caught people in its net and funnelled them to a real (as opposed to virtual) dealership it comes down to good staff and a good outlook to encourage ownership and build long-lasting relationships with owners.

    Owners who will then do your marketing for you!

    One of the reasons Victory failed as Indian won was because there were no significantly new Victory models to attract new owners or encourage existing owners to upgrade.

    With both brands under Polaris I think that was the right decision, but if the Scout platform was originally marketed as a Victory (as I understand was intended) I think things would be very different now.

    If the big Vic bikes had received a new engine and frame 2 yrs ago it would again be a very different story.

    Without a doubt, digital marketing has helped launch Indian, but then again digital marketing could not save Victory. Polaris must accept responsibility for allowing Victory to wither on the vine and must ensure a regular cadence of new model releases under Indian.

    Digital marketing is now an essential component of the motorcycle industry, but so is a strong dealership network, regular model updates and new model releases.

    Sorry to rain on the parade of the marketing gurus out there, but you can’t re-invent the wheel!

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