EDITOR’S NOTE: Marcia Kull presented the keynote speech at the first PowersportsBusinessXchange, in December, discussing ways to attract an emerging motorcycle market: middle-aged women.
Kull knows what she’s talking about. She has 20 years experience working with powersports, marine and auto manufacturers. Most recently, she was a top executive for Genmar, the international boat builder. Today, she’s president and CEO of SheGoes, a consulting firm that shows manufacturers and dealers how to attract and convert tentative women prospects into confident, loyal customers.
While at Genmar, Marcia helped solve a major marketing problem for the company and its dealers: How can we get more women involved in boating? Kull conceived and implemented the innovative grassroots marketing program called, “Women Making Waves.” It was rolled out to 1,600 Genmar dealers and helped women learn hands-on boat handling skills.
She told participating powersports dealers
why and how this type of program could be successful in our industry. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Here is a summary of the remarks she made, edited for brevity and clarity. In this final of three parts, Kull discusses ways to break down barriers that prevent women from becoming customers.
There are several barriers that prevent women from becoming involved and loyal customers of your dealership. These barriers include lack of familiarity with riding; the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) training program that often does not meet the needs of new female riders as a first step to riding; fear of machinery, and a desire to learn from someone other than their partner.
An introductory experience, in the form of a women’s only, exploratory program, helps break these barriers.
This program provides the means to achieve three key goals: 1) to instill confidence and reduce fear; 2) to provide experiential marketing (or to create an experience so engaging its taps into her loyalty tank); and 3) to provide ample information strategically to speed her decision-making process.
The “women’s only” format is important. The snow sports industry found that learning new skills considered physically intimidating, like snowboarding, is best and more comfortably done in the collaborative and encouraging presence of other women, free from competition and societal pressures to prove herself.
The student surveys from the boating program reached the same conclusion: women felt very strongly about maintaining the women’s only format.
The second goal, experiential marketing, is great for all consumers because it engages people, creates memories and evokes an emotional connection. Think Van’s Skateboard Parks, REI rock climbing walls or Bass Pro Shop fish ponds.
Adding an experiential component to the research and purchase decision is particularly effective for women because women make decisions largely on a product’s emotional impact: how it looks, fits and feels, not only ergonomically, but with the rest of her life. She can’t get this impact in a typical sales visit.
The third key goal is the dissemination of information. Women prefer to receive information from other people. A two or three hour exploratory program provides ample opportunity for her to gain substantial information through interacting with your staff — on a person-to-person level.
We talked earlier about her longer decision making process. That stems from a basic difference between men and women shoppers. Men are looking for SOLUTIONS. Women are looking for the PERFECT ANSWER.
A woman will search for the perfect answer to her powersports needs, both inside and outside of your store. But if you can provide her with the information she WILL demand, you do her research for her, you control the results and you help speed her decision-making process. An exploratory program gives you the opportunity to do that for her.
USE YOUR DEALERSHIP
An ideal location for a training program is your dealership. You want her to feel comfortable there, and you can introduce her to the service and parts and accessories departments.
Our boating students told us they were content with either male or female instructors, provided the instructor was thoughtful and considerate. But, female instructors are important as role models.
If you don’t have women on staff to teach, ask some of your female customers to help out. These women will serve as role models and opinion leaders. And, as enthusiasts, they are extremely credible and persuasive, even without trying.
PROMOTING THE EVENT
To have a successful event, you first need to extend an invitation to your potential students by postcard, email or even publication. The invitation list is a great opportunity to target your most desirable customers.
A good starting point is the significant others of your current customers and prospects provided by OEMs. Invite a local newspaper or television reporter or anchorwoman and capitalize on the lifestyle coverage. Ask women associated with your dealership — staff, customers and spouses for their ideas on the invitation list. Then start that word of mouth network working for you.
Keep the group small to ensure an intimate and collaborative environment. You will have better success with two groups of 25 staged one month apart than 1 class of 50 students. Smaller groups allow for more personal interaction and post-event follow-up.
CONDUCTING THE CLASS
During the class, keep the lectures to an absolute minimum. I’m a firm believer in hands-on education and you want to maximize the amount of time interacting with the product. In order to do that, I always break the students into small groups and rotate them among stations. You want to create a sensory experience to help overcome initial worries and to give her the confidence to move to the next stage.
And programs like these work: PowerSports Business recently profiled Yellowstone Harley-Davidson, a dealer in Montana, which motivated six attendees to enroll in the MSF class and two to purchase bikes after attending an introductory class at the dealership.
Here’s an example of a sample curriculum. Women are keenly interested in safety. This topic can be taught by an experienced rider, local police officer or MSF instructor. Allot at least 30 minutes to the subject, and be prepared for lots of questions from the students on how to stay safe.
The You and Your Motorcycle topic should cover all aspects of the lifestyle. Women think more contextually and holistically, more “Big Picture.” Men want the technical specs and the price. Women want to know how the motorcycle will enhance their experiences with family and friends and improve leisure time.
She’ll want to know the good local rides, maintenance schedules, finance and insurance information, local clubs, what to wear, how to prevent helmet hair, what colors are available and what to do if she drops the bike and more. Then she’ll want to know the technical specs and the price.
Choosing a Bike and Motorcycle Basics should focus on issues important to woman: reliability, durability, fit and safety. To master the mystery of the machine, women should sit on, start, shift and back up a bike.
The more time she can spend interacting physically with the bike or ATV, the sooner she will have the confidence to make the commitment to buy. A helmet and accessories topic provides an opportunity to try on clothes and gear and encourages cross-selling opportunities.
The event should conclude with a ride behind a licensed, preferably female, driver to cement the emotional connection to the sport and her experience at your dealership.
At the end of the day, you’ll want to celebrate her accomplishment with a small graduation ceremony. Take a digital photo of each student sitting on her favorite bike. A couple days later, email it to her with a note of thanks for attending. That photo becomes memorabilia of the experience and helps her visualize herself as a rider. And, you can bet she’ll forward that email to her friends, starting that very important word of mouth campaign.
Then, track your results to measure the program’s effectiveness. Because you are introducing her, in many cases, to a brand-new concept and because a woman’s decision-making cycle is longer than men’s, be patient. When she chooses to ride, she will buy at your dealership, be a profitable customer and sell her experience to her friends.
WHY IT WORKS
A women’s-only exploratory program works because women have more complex needs and wants than men, and they have no historical experience in the sport. The program successfully converts tentative women prospects into confident consumers and brand loyalists by strategically pushing the right buttons, and creating the right experiences to get her started.
The program is designed to provide benefits both ways: first, there is truly a market need. Women came out of the woodwork to participate in the boating program, and you’ll find similar success with powersports.
The extended session with your staff builds an emotional connection and rapport for a sales process that lasts longer than a man’s. The program works because you become the primary source of information. You do the research for her, control the results and save her time. Engaging a group of women in a unique program like this starts the word of mouth network rolling. Aided by the lifestyle publicity these programs draw, soon women in your community will be spreading the word of your products and your dealership in the most effective media known: personal endorsements.
Finally, it’s the SMART thing to do for all customers. One thing that we learned from our research is that anything we do to attract female customers is readily accepted by our male customers. I’d add an additional verb: appreciated.
With the boating experience, the male partners of the women students were as grateful for our program as the women. They had been trying for years to get their partners interested in an activity they loved, with little success. Addressing women’s needs filled a huge need for them.
Effectively targeting women also generates higher customer satisfaction among both men and women. Companies as diverse as Genmar, BMW autos, Jiffy Lube, Merrill Lynch and others have found that marketing and service improvements designed to enhance appeal among women result in greater customer satisfaction among men as well. The reason: women want all the same things as men- and more.
When you meet the higher expectations of women, you are more than fulfilling the demands of men. With so few in the powersports industry seriously courting women, the companies that choose to make a determined effort will capture a disproportionate share of this $42 million.