Dec. 3, 2007 – Kawasaki focuses on zone marketing

By Neil Pascale
Kawasaki Motors Corp. USA is striving to make vast improvements on a statistic that represents how rarely dealers take full advantage of OEM marketing materials.
Only 30 percent of all manufacturers’ banners, signage and other marketing material are ever displayed by powersports dealers, said Chris Brull, a senior manager of marketing for Kawasaki Motors Corp. U.S.A.
Brull and the Kawasaki marketing team are hoping to change that trend — a disturbing one to OEMs that spend millions on such materials — by increasing communication to dealers and within their own sales force.
Plus, Kawasaki is seeking to build on a relatively new marketing strategy that uses a tactic common to big-box retailers. That tactic identifies a number of different zones that consumers experience during their retail shopping experience, from the parking lot to the cash register. Each zone carries a slightly different marketing expectation from the consumer.
It’s a concept that was outlined by Richard Thomas, CEO of marketing company Trisect, during the Kawasaki Motors Corp. USA national dealer meeting in September.
Starting last spring, Kawasaki Motors Corp. USA started working with its dealers to place strategic messages in several of those key retail zones. The manufacturer continued that this fall and hopes to build on the number of zones it hits in 2008.
“When a consumer walks into a dealership, there are many different components to that, no different than how you interact when you’re going into a supermarket,” Brull said.
The zone philosophy is one that was discovered by major retailers in different sectors of the economy, Thomas said. Renowned retailers, from Best Buy to McDonalds to Cadillac, found that customers think and shop in a similar way even if they’re in different retail environments.
That perception of how customers shop is extremely important because of the difficulty of reaching them through common advertising approaches. Because today’s consumers get inundated with marketing messages — Thomas estimates customers are barraged with 3,000-5,000 of such messages a day — they tend to shut them out until they reach a retail outlet.
And at that point, the consumer opens their mind to marketing messages.
“Why?” Thomas asked dealers, before answering, “Because they’re in an environment that they believe they can buy in.”
In fact, Thomas said more than 65 percent of consumers’ purchase decisions are made in a dealership. That includes “if they will buy, if they will buy now, which products they will buy and which dealership they will buy it from.”
But all of those questions are less likely to occur if they don’t get the proper messages at the proper time.
Thomas outlined several zones that consumers walk through, how their expectations change from one zone to the next and what type of marketing messages should occur in those areas. Those retail areas include:
• The street zone: These first-impression marketing messages, actually viewed from the street, should create dealership visibility and awareness of brands.
• The exterior zone: This area starts as soon as a consumer has pulled into a parking lot. Messages here can determine whether a consumer actually steps out of their vehicle and into a dealership. Marketing signage should be large enough to be seen from anywhere in the parking lot, and in the street if possible, to avoid a not uncommon retail occurrence: a consumer driving into a parking lot, not being enthused by anything on the dealership exterior and then driving off.
• The entry zone: This area, actually where the consumer enters the dealership, has become increasingly important in retailers’ eyes, as evidence by Wal-Mart’s and Best Buy’s greeters. “Retailers think it is a make-or-break zone,” Thomas said, noting that welcome mats should be a minimum here.
• The interior zone: This is a crucial area, where marketing messages should “build excitement,” Thomas said. This zone, a consumer’s first view of the entire dealership, often is where shoppers decide whether to stay, and how long to stay. Of course, the longer a customer stays, the more likely they are to buy.
• The product zone: When consumers shift their focus from the overall store environment to a specific product than their marketing expectations shift as well. At this time they need less of an emotional reason to buy, craving more
specific product knowledge. Thomas said signage in this area should provide consumers with reasons to buy the product as well as encourage interaction with a dealership’s sales staff.
• The counter zone: Because consumers are often caught up in the enthusiasm of the moment, this is the prime area to encourage additional purchases.
Of those different retail zones, Kawasaki addressed three of them — street, interior and product zones — last year in its spring and fall marketing campaigns, Brull said. The OEM again is planning to hit those zones this year as well as possibly address the other zones in the latter half of 2008.
“Those zones that we’re going to focus on give us the greatest impact based on budget and timing,” Brull said of Kawasaki’s phased approach to the zones.
“But it’s important to still have a game plan to treat those other zones.”
Besides identifying what the consumer needs in each zone, Kawasaki also spent six months last year doing consumer and dealer research to come up with its main marketing message: to be true to the core enthusiasts, Brull said.
“We wanted to be authentic to our consumers and our dealers,” he said. “Since our main objectives are to keep our (consumers) and we want to grow by grabbing other people that want to ride, we’re talking to enthusiasts. And enthusiasts, as you know, have a BS meter and if you’re going to be authentic to an enthusiast, you better have your messaging as well your product pretty dialed in, or they will essentially disregard you.”
Besides identifying the enthusiast as its main marketing target, Kawasaki also approached dealers about what kind of marketing elements they were seeking and how that could tie in to the new retail zone approach.
“For years we would just send them (Kawasaki dealers) a bunch of stuff that people in our company thought would be appropriate,” Brull said.
Kawasaki changed that approach with its zone marketing program, knowing if the company wanted to successfully target the enthusiast then it would have to first hook the biggest enthusiast of them all, dealer personnel.
“If it doesn’t play with the dealer staff,” Brull said, “it probably won’t play with the consumer.”

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