If I Were Testing the Waters on a New Motorcycle…

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Making a new motorcycle is a tricky business. Despite the image that motorcyclists are these rebels without a cause and offshoots from the so-called mainstream of society, the truth of the matter is that as a whole, motorcyclists are just about the most resistant group to change as you can find. When a manufacturer wants to release a new motorcycle, it has to take into account that if it strays too far away from what has been previously proscribed, the motorcycling community is likely going to hate it (or at least say it hates it).

This is why manufacturers now make bikes by committee, consult with focus groups/experts, and tease concepts (or spy shots of actual bikes). These processes give motorcycle manufacturers valuable feedback into how their product will be received in the marketplace, and this concept extends to markets outside of motorcycling. If I was a new manufacturer, and I was about to launch a whole new motorcycle, I’d be very careful on how I introduced the bike to the painfully orthodox members of the Church of Motorcycling.

In launching the bike, there’d be the build-up of course. I’d make sure I had plenty of content to slowly feed out to media outlets, maybe picking a few that I had close ties with, who would in-turn get special materials, thus ensuring the information hit favorable ears first – this is of course a standard operating procedure for PR savvy marketers.

I’d want to keep the technical aspects of the project vague for as long as possible, not only does this allow you to keep the product relevant by slowly releasing that information (again, keeping a steady trickle of information to keep the buzz meter up), but it also allows you to change the product development goals on the motorcycle to meet the expectations of the consumer. This also allows you to preform what I like to call “the late hit.” Under-promising and over-delivering not only hooks your would-be buyers, but also is another avenue to create some last minute buzz on the bike  – if you liked it at 140hp, you’ll love it at 160hp, right?

Next comes the soft launch. Really more of a staple in the hospitality industry, the idea is that you open for business before you’re “open for business,” thus allowing the kinks to be massaged out before you have a tremendous amount of skin in the game, and keeps the first impressions of your product or service favorable (something that can make or break you in the motorcycle business). The soft launch in motorcycling serves two big purposes, and really only requires a company to build one or two motorcycles to pull off effectively.

The first benefit of the soft launch is that it gives consumers something tangible about my project, something that they can assess and give feedback on (this part is huge). Second, it enables my motorcycle company to give consumers, and more importantly investors, something that they can see and touch that makes my motorcycle project feel “real” to them and quiets questions on product feasibility and business execution.

Once I have my soft launch bike(s) ready, I would wheel them out in front of as many people as possible. If my company was based in the United States, I’d target places where “American bikers” are (in Germany, where German bikers are, etc), all the while listening very closely to what these bikers liked and didn’t like about my creation. If I had multiple motorcycles for my soft launch, I’d make sure I had some differences between them. This is a great way to see what’s really sticking to the market.

This is called A/B testing, and it allows you to track the responses or changes over multiple variations. Do customers like the bike with upgraded suspension? Wheels? More power? A different look? If I make bikes that differ on these axes, and see how people respond, then blamo! I’ve just done some A-grade market research (some would call it crowdsourcing), in conjuction with some damn fine demand marketing. That’s called a win/win sir, and now I’m cooking with fire.

Having a more fully developed understanding of what my consumers are looking for in a motorcycle, I’d take the feedback I’ve received, and use it to refine my bike, maybe collecting some of ideas that are outside of my core concept, and using them for derivative second model. If I was on the fence for doing the latter, I’d make sure consumers knew that if they were interested in that iteration, to make their voices known, thus helping prove the market. I might even drop the hint to some more publications, since motorcycle journalists are basically employed to wet the appetites of motorcyclists.

In the end, the people who buy my motorcycles will see the changes and ideas they voiced in the bike(s). Some of these ideas I probably already planned from the get-go, but it doesn’t matter as my buyers will be empowered by the idea that they had a hand in their motorcycle’s final design. My company would be known for listening to its riders, and giving them the bike they wanted…even if it’s the bike I planned to build all along.