Ducati's Strategy Shift Built Brand Awareness

Street Fighter/DucatiDucati's new Streetfighter motorcycle is a physical embodiment of the brand shift from elitist racing machine to attainable performance brand. The motorcycle is fast and powerful, but with more comfortable upright bars so you don't have to ride it like you're preparing for an unpleasant medical exam.

Like the Streetfighter itself, Ducati wants to appeal to a broader audience. Ducati CEO Michael Lock says the brand wants to be the Porsche, not the Ferrari, of motorcycles. He says Porsche, in fact, is one of the inspirations for Ducati's multi-year brand-sharpening exercise: over the past six years, the company has favored customer experience at dealers over the quantity of dealers; experiential marketing over advertising; and shifted from being merely a maker of high-end bikes to something like a lifestyle brand.



The company has become, per Lock, the fastest-growing motorcycle brand in the U.S. It has simultaneously reduced dealership numbers by a quarter since 2003, going "from more dealers to better ones," says Lock. "If we have two good dealers in Chicago, we don't need poor dealers scattered around the state." In the same period, sales have increased from 4,700 units to 10,000 bikes in 2008.

The company has also shied away from advertising, and began experiential-marketing programs like the "Duc Truck" demo fleet, which tours the country during the summer, visiting U.S. dealerships and offering test rides. "We had high brand awareness, but people thought of us as racing bikes that cost over $30,000," says Lock. "We worked to preserve the mystique, but also say that [a Ducati motorcycle] isn't unattainable."

"We got out of rural markets, out of multi-brand dealerships and concentrated on specific dealers and gave them confidence to upgrade. We had lost consumers who had always wanted to buy, but the dealers were either poor, or super-elitist. We upgraded dealerships to make them more pleasurable," he says.

Ducati New Orleans Lock says retail chains like Anthology and Urban Outfitter--which has no two stores that are alike--inform Ducati's "Ducati Retail Design" program. The in-house team helps dealers tailor the store to the space and locale. Ducati in New York has a Soho-club feel; Ducati Denver is in a Victorian brick warehouse with a museum feel; and the Southern California Ducati has a Milan style with focus on apparel and fashion.

"The stores should have a local clubhouse feel," says Lock. "All have specific areas for customers to come, with a big screen, and we encourage dealers to screen MotoGP and Superbike races. Customers create customers; if we can bring them together, we grow our base."

The company also launched Ducati Island in the past three years, a showroom and brand event at major races like the MotoGP and Superbike--which, per Lock, bring in "tens of thousands" of race-conscious consumers per event.

Ducati's "Ducati Island" event, a branded venue at motorcycle-race infields, has appeared at Mazda Laguna Seca raceway in Monterey, Calif., and during the AMA Superbike, Ducati brought it to Indianapolis for the inaugural MotoPG.

This year, the company will expand Ducati Island, putting it in Daytona Bike Week and Indianapolis.

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