Kawasaki is twisting the throttle all the way and kicking it up to fifth gear this spring with its largest experiential programs to date, as well as a spring promotional campaign supported by national ads and a tie-in to the latest release from the band Green Day (Kawasaki's brand color is green.)
The company -- which says it finished calendar year 2010 as the (photo-finish) second-place Japanese motorcycle brand in the U.S., reporting sales up 12% this year -- is doing more of what it says has been keeping people coming into showrooms even in the depths of the recession: marketing outreach that combines online activity, dealer promotions, and brand-building.
The efforts include the "Kawasaki Good Times Sales Event" and two demo road shows, "Vulcan Nation" and "Ticket 2 Ride" that are hauling truckloads of Kawasaki motorcycles around the country so people can test ride the bikes.
The "Ticket 2 Ride" national demo program brings 33 of Kawasaki's sport and street bikes to 30 locations nationwide while the "Vulcan Nation" program, which is all about Kawasaki cruisers, is going to 13 locations including rallies held by Kawasaki cruiser affiliate rider groups, and Cruiser-Mecca events like Sturges, Daytona Bike Week, and Arizona Bike Week. "Out of the 33 'Ticket 2 Ride' events, 22 are our own events where we worked with local dealers and sales staff," says Chris Brull, Kawasaki Motor Corp.'s U.S. marketing communications director.
Brull says the two new demo programs, which offer rides on a first-come first-serve basis, don't represent a new tactic as much as a vastly expanded program. "Last year, we did a little 'Ticket 2 Ride' program in seven markets. It was more of a test to get back out there and see how it would go; we learned a lot last year." He says "getting butts in seats" is the oldest tactic in the book, but the motorcycle equivalent (swinging legs over saddles?) is hard to do. Offering motorcycle test rides at dealerships presents insurance and liability issues. There are also staffing issues, and the problem with turning a viable market product into a demo bike, immediately lowering its value.
"So we thought, from the dealer side, it would be more advantageous for us to do it ourselves," he says. "We took the entire fleet of street bikes out there, chose key markets and got dealers involved, so they can market and drive traffic back to their dealerships," says Brull, adding that the events are making both big-event stops at places like Daytona and Arizona Bike Week, as well as stand-alone Kawasaki-run events in other markets. "Dealers don't have to work the event. It's our own staff, so it's as turn-key as possible for dealers."
Customers this year are a lot more interested in riding than they were last year and the year before, per Brull. "People are sick and tired of being sick and tired," he says. "They want to get out there. Banks are loosening things a bit, in terms of credit, and we are hoping there's pent-up demand as well."
Brull explains that consumers can go online to sign up for the test rides, and get a free T-shirt for doing so, though signup does not guarantee a time slot. After taking a rest ride, consumers get follow-up emails from Kawasaki and local dealers. The company is touting the program online and via local market radio ads in target markets two weeks out. The company is doing email follow-ups to gauge post-event retail activity and giving registrants $250 to $500 off Kawasaki products -- depending on the event -- even if they don't take a test ride.
Parallel to the experiential efforts is a promotional push involving 813 dealers dangling deals and bikes like the Ninja 250 and Vulcan as prizes in retail draw. The company is running ads to promote it on channels like Speed, and ESPN 2. The effort involves some two million tickets emblazoned with magnetic ink that must be brought to dealerships to be activated. Brull says Kawasaki will direct-mail 700,000 tickets and also include tickets as inserts in motorcycle buff books like "Cycle World." We are also handing out tickets at AMA Supercross and Motocross races around Kawasaki's Team Green racing [program]," he says.
Consumers must bring the tickets to dealerships, which have a Christmas tree style lighting array designed to activate when one's promotional ticket is scanned. The array of lights that illuminate when one's ticket is scanned determines the prize, which could be $250 off any product, 15% off accessories, 10% off service, the band Green Day's new release, or a new motorcycle. Or various combinations of the above.
One also gets a second ticket at the dealership that can be entered online with the number code from the first ticket. That random combination enters one to win the bikes online. "On Aug. 15, we are notifying all dealers who won what product," says Brull. "We found many dealers want to throw a party for the winner, so around Aug. 29 we will do national product-giveaway reveal day."