Friday, October 12, 2012

The Power of a Brand – Loyalty vs Trust

When is a motorcycle Company Not A Motorcycle Company?
Brand loyalty, whether you are conscious of it or oblivious to it it's a part of our everyday lives. From the products placed into our movies and TV shows through to advertisements on tv, billboards & magazines marketing execs the world over are vying for you, the consumer to buy their shit. If a sale is considered the prize or trophy, then achieving brand loyalty has to be holy grail. The power of a brand could be considered the result of trust plus loyalty. Trust in a brand means you'll make that jump to buy it for the first time because it delivers something you want. This then can transform into loyalty to that brand which means you'll buy it again and again, perhaps when on paper, it may not be the most logical choice. Some brands go balls deep trying to earn trust in an attempt to attract new buyers which I guess translates potentially to brand loyalty. Other brands have the loyalty established so they push the boundaries of what defines the said brand in an effort to generate trust through new customers.

 Where am I going with this pseudo "Sales for Dummies" pitch? Well there has been a lot of chatter firstly about the new Hyper and by association the direction Ducati seems to be headed with its "next gen" bikes. The dry clutch & the trellis frame are on the out and perhaps the most commonly debated question............ is the air-cooled engine on borrowed time? Firstly I'm no purist, a Ducati doesn't need to have certain aspects present to make it a Ducati. Give me an L twin and I'm a happy camper, any features after that are neither here nor there in terms of making the bike a Ducati. Sure there are common features seen across numerous makes and models but for the Ducatisti crying blue murder that the Panigale has a wet clutch or that there are no new air-cooled models don't remember that far back. We've seen motorcycle manufacturers take different directions for different reasons.

Harley Davidson (gasp - I said the H word - don't tell Dan) during the AMF years is a good example of this. Cutting costs and using lesser quality imported parts (ironic considering HD pushed for 40% tariff on imports a few years prior) under the ownership of the AMF (American Machine & Foundry) saw them almost go belly up before Willie and co bought the moco* back and got them on track. Surprisingly with the introduction of a new engine design they spring boarded. Their customer loyalty kept them afloat during the tough years allowing them to generate trust and attract new buys with the new engine.


 So what DOES make a Ducati a Ducati? Is it the L twin engine, desmodromic valves, general styling, red on red on red color combinations or perhaps the sound? It's none of those, it's the name on the tank that makes it a Ducati. Evolution is part of the process of progress and I'm happy to watch Ducati progress into the next chapter. The past few years have seen our engines get longer service intervals, reducing maintenance costs. It was this feature alone, 12,000km service intervals that lured me to the brand. Sure some newer models no longer sport the Ducati stalwarts like the dry clutch & trellis frame. But is it ok to call something introduced in the last 15-20 years of 60 year heritage a stalwart anyway? Audi would be crazy buying a mark like Ducati and taking the "Let's keep all the existing owners happy and make the same models year in year out" approach.

That strategy relies heavily on brand loyalty and while that may work for the likes of Harley Davidson (Oops sorry Dan I said it again) Audi has to be positioning the Ducati brand for growth to get their return on investment. New models in new classes with new technology smells a lot like ways to earn brand trust. But this gets me back to my original question...When is a motorcycle Company Not A Motorcycle Company? Well put simply, it's when a car company owns it. Sure I've bagged HD out a little but you have to give Willie and Co. credit for weathering the storms and still churning out good numbers. The aim of a company is to make money first and foremost, but for a moco it should be to make good motorcycles too. I hope through Audi ownership Ducati remains innovative and keeps making great bikes.

What do you think?

*Editors note of ignorance. Moco = Motor Company

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