Appointing Bike Gurus to Bike Model Types

Don Brown numbers financial outlook

Honda sales, for example, have been declining to the point that we are forecasting that Yamaha could beat Honda in total retail sales of all motorcycles this calendar year. Right now they are too close together for us to be certain. (Click on charts for a larger view.)

Yamaha's marketing approach in recent years has been what some call "internal branding" of model types, like the Star brand. Some have said that's an idea that was offered to Yamaha by a consulting group that had an automobile background. Whether or not that is true, the idea isn't bad. General Motor's marketing of Pontiac and other model lines is a routine that has been followed by other automakers, too.

But the fact that these big automakers have gone bust at least in part because of poor management practices could make one wonder whether internal branding makes sense. Personally, I doubt the auto industry's woes have much to do with it. Its problems probably have more to do with excessive competitiveness and, again, poor management practices and a deplorable economy.

But before I start sounding like I know a lot about the auto business, when I don't, let me point out what I'm really getting at. I'm bringing up the idea of transferring an auto marketing practice to the powersports industry and sort of wondering out loud whether this would work. Internal branding isn't new; it's a matter of separating models such as cruisers, sportbikes and other model types and having a "czar" in charge of, say, each one. Talk about the screams that would come out: "That can't work! Too many bosses. Too much overlapping."

Maybe those are important issues, and it would be too expensive to work. But something needs to be put in place to increase internal creativity and expand the buyer's awareness of specific model capabilities.

Another thing is happening too often at the OEM level. Not enough resources — or not enough right resources — are put into new-model development. The resources employed are far off the mark when it comes to being a true enhancement to the sales bottom line. "But," you say, "look at all of those great bikes out there. Isn't it the economy that's off the mark? And besides, we can't afford any czars in our industry." Maybe you're right, but the top manufacturers do need something to compete against the small companies that don't want czars because they have a small number of models. Look at KTM, considered to be a manufacturer that builds very-high-quality dirtbikes and now streetbikes also. If it keep it up, it's going to need a "dirt czar" and a "street czar."

There seems to me to be too much "sameness" creeping into our industry, just as it crept into the auto business over time. But Yamaha has done a great job with its Star lineup, which one could say is a great example of internal branding. So far, so good, Mr. Yamaha. Keep it up! — DJB