Product Performance Rules
Snowmobilers demand good products, not catchy phrases
Story by Jerry Bassett, Photography by Jerry Bassett, Created Jun 05, 2008
Maybe it’s an age thing. But when you get to a certain level of experience in your field - be it auto mechanic, plumber, snowmobile writer, whatever - there is only so much inanity you can take. Call it being grumpy, call it being a curmudgeon, call it whatever you want. But a few weeks ago the limits of my very limited patience were tested by the nonsense of marketing hypesters.
In the course of my snowmobile-publishing career, there have been moments when it seemed that the ever bubbly, ever sincere and occasionally idiotic young marketing and advertising types needed a serious time out to listen to themselves and realize just how silly they sound. They throw out hip-sounding phrases with the relish and inanity of modern educators. There seems to be a belief among the young, up-and-coming marketing types that a cute turn of phrase or just the right descriptor will magically turn a poorly conceived product into a record-seller.
Let’s look back in recent snowmobile history - take Ski-Doo for example. The success of the Ski-Doo REV had less to do with advertising slogans than the simple fact that the concept of rider-forward was not merely novel, but a true benefit to snowmobilers. But even that grand design took a bit of time to win over enough snowmobilers to make Ski-Doo the best-selling sled brand in snow country.
Indeed, if you look at the success of the REV platform, it was a success because it was innovative and gave snowmobilers something new that truly made their snowmobiling experiences better. It was light, nimble, easy steering, fun to ride. And yet, the first REV models came with a rear suspension that had been maligned by some media members as recently as the season before. In fact the REV suspension wasn’t all that different from the previous year, but the way to ride the sled was substantially different and mitigated the suspension’s deficiencies. The overall product was good.
Was the REV a big success because of the advertising folks, or was it a hit because it gave snowmobilers a better way to ride?
Many years ago, there was an advertising meeting in Duluth, Minn., between the staff of a certain snowmobile magazine and what had once been the No. 1 snowmobile manufacturer. The sled maker brought along its marketing whiz, its advertising agency contact and the vice president of the firm. Many things were discussed at that lunch, but I can’t forget the response of the company’s so-called marketing genius and the man responsible for promoting new sled sales. When each of us was asked what we thought of snowmobiling and its future, he said: “Snowmobiling is a worthless sport.”
What catch phrase captures that attitude? Not surprisingly, that company’s sled sales dwindled for years. There was little innovation, but much copying of technology from other brands. Once the industry’s top dog, that company went through some trying seasons, despite some rather creative advertising campaigns.
From the ‘Red Hot Deals’ to the current ‘REVolution’, Ski-Doo has combined very good strategic thinking with winning product and strong marketing support. Ski-Doo found that if it provided a better product, it sold — with or without catchy phrases.
A 4-Stroke Advantage
We look at Yamaha, too, as a company some would say has used strong marketing skills to rebuild its brand. We will admit that Yamaha has come on strong with its 4-stroke option. Is it marketing of a 4-stroke advantage that has revived Yamaha’s fortunes?
To us, what really gave Yamaha its boost wasn’t 4-strokes, it was the snowmobile built around the 4-stroke and Yamaha’s commitment to producing exceptional quality. Yamaha earned a reputation for building well-engineered, durable and sporty snowmobiles. Unlike its competition of the time, Yamaha didn’t just drop a 4stroke engine into any old snowmobile. Yamaha designed an all-new snowmobile that used a 4-stroke powerplant. That powerplant wasn’t just any old powerplant. It was a bona fide proven powerplant with a multi-valve head, four cylinders, electronic fuel injection and a reputation earned powering one of the then fastest production motorcycles in the world!
The RX-1 snowmobile set Yamaha apart. It wasn’t what every other snowmobile maker offered — a sled with a 4-stroke engine. The RX-1 was a true high-performance snowmobile that happened to be powered by a 4-stroke engine. That sled established Yamaha as the 4-stroke leader. Not marketing. Not advertising. The product was the leader. It proved that snowmobilers would accept 4-strokes if they were better than what they had before.
Today, virtually all sleds have some degree of ‘rider-forward’ engineering. All sled makers offer some form of true performance 4-stroke in their lineup.
Breakthrough Product Ideas
When we talk about snowmobile breakthroughs, we talk product. Not marketing. To me, what sled marketers fail to understand is something quite simple and basic that most all snowmobilers get: Build a better product with features snowmobilers want and will use. Lead with product and product innovation and the marketing will follow.
After years of riding new sleds, we have seen too many clever slogans support poor product that failed to catch on because snowmobilers cut through the bull and found the faults.
Today’s snowmobilers - even the younger 20-something crowd - can usually claim10 to 15 years of experience with their favored sport. Mere catch phrases and a holistic marketing approach to snowmobilers aren’t going to rule their snow. The product and good product ideas rule. Ask Ski-Doo. Ask Yamaha. Ask Polaris how the heavily hyped Fusion worked for them versus the Indy? Good product with good word of mouth is what ultimately makes a sled marketable.
Call me grumpy. Call me a curmudgeon. Just give me good product and skip the clever phrases. Let me be the owner of my own terrain!