By Scot Harden
The following is from the March Issue of Dealernews
Our industry is tripping over itself these days to find solutions to the challenge of remaining relevant in a rapidly changing social and economic environment. We are looking under every rock; throwing program after program together, all in an attempt to find new riders; drive customers to dealerships, attract the attention of younger audiences. The MIC, AMA, IMS, Harley Davidson and even grassroots efforts like my Plus 1 Rider Initiative are doing their best to shake things up and turn the tide of declining ridership. While all should be commended, I realize now more than ever that something is seriously missing. What’s missing you say? An overall strategic plan! The more I think about it, the more I realize that what’s needed now more than ever is an overall strategic plan for promoting motorcycling; a plan that ties everything together; a plan that applies structure to the programs and campaigns that our industry currently supports, a well-defined campaign that allows our industry to speak with a collective voice. Without it I’m afraid we’re pissing in the wind, diluting our efforts with token efforts and falling far short of the critical mass we need to attain to have the impact we desire. What is needed right now is an overarching communications plan that presents motorcycling to the masses much like what the RV industry has been doing through its GoRVing campaign.
You’ve seen their advertisements on TV, in print and on the Internet, the compelling images of friends and families enjoying the great outdoors, getting away from it all in an RV. Formed in 1994 GoRVing is a partnership between America’s RV manufacturers, suppliers, dealers, campground hosts, and affiliated trades. GoRVing debuted as a national campaign in February 1997. The goal:
Phase I of the GoRVing campaign generated 2 billion impressions over three years from three different TV and five print ads. Over the next 20 years, the RV industry continued to invest launching Phase II, III, IV, V and on with increasingly sophisticated marketing campaigns taking advantage of developments in social media and expanding digital communication platforms while at the same time refining its message and reaching out to an ever-expanding demographic including Millenials. Nationally recognized celebrities like Tom Selleck and Jenny Garth served as the face and voice of the campaign. By 2015 GoRVing's media budget had grown to $15M and was generating more than 4.2B impressions a year. Through good times and bad the RV industry has never stopped investing in GoRVing and is currently reaping the rewards for having the foresight and commitment to bet on its future.
Despite the recent drop in RV sales (the result according to industry analysts of recent trade wars with China) the RV industry as a whole has been growing steadily since bottoming out in 2008. More importantly, they are having success reaching out to younger audiences including millennials. According to GoRVing Vice President Karen Redfern who said in a July, 2017 interview in USA Today, “We have been targeting the millennials over the past few years in an effort to help them understand how RVs fit with what they already enjoy doing and that RVs aren’t the stereotypical vehicle they might imagine ... and it’s working."
CNN corroborated their success, in November 2017 they reported, “Millenials are driving the growth in camping in America, totaling 38% of active campers”. First-time buyers made up 34% of RV purchases in 2016, according to the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association. A typical RV owner is now 45 -- down from 48 in 2015 -- the group found. "The current expansion has been driven largely by new consumers adopting the RV lifestyle," Thor said in an investor release at the end of 2017.
More recently GORving launched an all-new campaign called “Unexpected” focused on using smaller and more versatile RVs as basecamps for active outdoor lifestyles and adventures. As a demonstration of this new campaign, Go RVing commissioned professional adventure skier, Brody Leven, and filmmaker, Adam Clark, to produce a four-part video series featuring four RV types. What better ambassadors and spokespeople to speak to fellow Millenials than millennials. Currently their 2019 campaign “Kick Off to Camping Season” is in full swing with a full media blitz including digital and traditional ads, RV dealer point-of-purchase materials, public relations, and local tie-ins to amplify the message and further increase consumer awareness.
How great would it be if some of these success stories were ours? Which brings me to back to my original point. When is our industry going to get its act together and put together a strategic plan designed to communicate our value proposition and start selling motorcycling as a lifestyle to the masses? The time has come for our industry to stop the fragmentation and develop a coordinated campaign that promotes motorcycling on a national level using the latest in digital communication platforms, PR and broadcast channels to reach Gen Z, Millenials, GEN X, ethnic and female audiences. I fear the time and money currently being spent by all our independent campaigns won’t move the needle to the extent required and, more importantly, since its not part of a coordinated, long term effort designed to shape perception and preference won’t have the desired effect.
I realize the U.S. RV industry is about twice the size of the US Motorcycle industry; roughly $55B in economic impact compared to $23B annually according to estimates, and without question has more resources to throw at the problem. This doesn’t mean we can’t still have a significant impact if we pool our resources. What if we added a $5.00 surcharge to each new motorcycle sale? By my math, that would add up to approx. $2.5M in revenue in the first year alone. What could we do with $2.5M? Well, a lot if we ‘re smart. The big question is who is going to take the lead. While I admit this question is above my pay grade, as I look around our industry, the only association capable of speaking for motorcycling and managing such an undertaking is the MIC. The MIC is the only organization that currently serves manufacturers, dealers, and the aftermarket and quite frankly has the infrastructure to lead such an effort. Yes, a campaign of this nature would require additional staffing and some guidance, and I might also suggest would benefit from locating a great media partner to develop the campaign, but if adequately funded could be done.
Time is against us, but fortunately, a roadmap already exists; a roadmap with a proven track record that has reinvented another industry that was also coming very close to aging out. I know I’m not alone thinking this. Recently I held a conversation with a long-time industry associate and friend, someone I deeply respect about this issue. We both came to the same conclusion. The motorcycle industry should borrow a page from the RV industry and start the process of reintroducing itself to the American public. We have such a rich and compelling story to tell. (For goodness sake, we aren't selling soap). Let's sit down and start putting a strategic plan together, one that five years from now we can all look back on and the only thing we will ask ourselves is, “What took so long?”