“By seeking and blundering we learn.” ― Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Everybody flubs up. The best marketers learn from their mistakes. I’ve been holding onto something for a long time. It’ll be cathartic to let it out, after I share my takeaways on two other blunders. Maybe then mine won’t seem so bad?
Burger King sacrifice
A few years back, Burger King ran some freaky ads, which caused a giant question mark to float around in my brain. Were they really planning to sacrifice market share from their mom audience to lure young guys? I wasn’t alone in my confusion.
The author of the article, The King’s Comeuppances said their agency decided to focus on “BK’s ‘superfans’—meaning young dudes who eat fast food on a near daily basis. I wondered at the time if actively ignoring, and even offending, every other demographic category in America might be unwise for a nationwide brand that could potentially find solid customers among women, children, and men who don’t wear Ed Hardy T-shirts.”
It took a few years of declining sales and eventually being usurped by Wendy’s for the number two spot in fast food, but BK finally retired the strange character, because, as Steve Wiborg, Burger King's North America president said, "The King is not our brand."
Takeaway: Sacrificing one audience to gain another may be unwise. Do your research.
Pearl Izumi hating joggers
I’ve been a Runner’s World subscriber for more than two decades. I’ve written one letter to the editor. It was in 2008. I remember gasping and fuming at one of the Pearl Izumi (PI) “We are not jogger” ads. My comments were similar to the ones in this article, I’m a Runner, Not a Jogger, But Does That Really Matter?, “…where Pearl Izumi gets it wrong is by denigrating those who are ‘prancing around in brand-new trainers, trying to nurture their chi or look good for their wedding.’”
I spent several years on the obese side of the scale and lost 80 pounds in 2006 after getting back into running and not eating as many Snickers (sorry folks, no redeeming value there). I know how it feels to be sneered at. Pearl Izumi’s elitist attitude irked me and I boycotted them – and told my friends to do so.
My ire softened as their ads changed a few years later and started to welcome newbies. Then in 2014 I had a real quandary. I had signed up for Ride the Rockies, a 6-day, 400-mile ride (no motor, all legs). I needed some good shorts and ever person I asked for a recommendation told me PI. So, I figured that everyone deserves redemption and bought a pair. Then another because they actually were that good.
Takeaway: If you’re going for the hard-core elitists, don’t offend the newbies in the process.
Square pegs; BRAG and me
After falling in love with the Buell S2 Thunderbolt, I started a rogue Buell club when I was at the dealer in Columbus in 1995. When I clawed my way to the Milwaukee headquarters in 1998, I initiated the process for dealers to start official Buell Riders Adventure Group (BRAG) clubs. I also led events around the country, wrote much of the bimonthly magazine and loved my job. After all these years though, I believe one of my biggest career mistakes was lobbying for BRAG to be moved into the Harley Owners Group (HOG) department.
My intentions were good – better resources, customer service and expanded benefits. But it was like fitting a square peg in a round hole. Anyone who knew the early Buell owners knew they liked being Different in Every Sense, as one tagline proclaimed. I was — and still am — one of those square pegs.
Most Buell guys (and gals) preferred spirited twisty rides to meandering poker runs. They’re more likely to break a rule than follow it. Many of the folks at the corporate office understood the differences, so I think the biggest blunder of putting BRAG into HOG was that it gave the dealers the wrong impression; that the two groups were similar enough in attitudes and riding styles to share the same structure. It’s a mistake I will always regret. I hope the early Buell owners — and Erik — have forgiven me.
Takeaway: Understand where you can — and cannot — share common experiences between different customer segments.
This is my last regular column, so I hope you’ve enjoyed my musings. I thought it was time for someone else to share their insights. I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes, “Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless.” ― Mother Teresa.
A rider for 26 years, Leslie spent 15 years with Harley-Davidson (3 retail, 12 corporate) and created their marketing to women role in 2007. After 2 years at Trek Bicycles and 5 months volunteering in Tanzania, Leslie now helps companies sell more to new audiences.
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