BLOG POSTS are now finding their way into the marketing strategies of motorcycle makers. What started as platforms to share passions and frustrations of bikers are now being tracked by corporates to fine-tune their offerings. Instead of tedious market surveys and data crunching, companies now get reviews within hours of product launch, courtesy blogs. "The first review of our latest Pulsar was on our table within three hours of its launch in Chennai thanks to bloggers," Bajaj Auto VP (marketing-two wheelers) S Sridhar told ET. A dedicated team at Bajaj Auto now regularly tracks discussion-boards and review section of blogs and online biking groups and provides feedback to company's marketing and product development group.
The influence of internet is maximum in case of premium bikes such as Bajaj Pulsar, Hero Honda CBZ and TVS Apache, Being a lifestyle product targeted at 18-25 year old urban college goers or those in their first jobs, premium bikes is a hot topic on the internet. Pulsar and Apache in fact have their own fan clubs and groups on the internet.
Some of the popular internet sites and blogs on the radar screens of bike marketers include xbhp.com, mouthshut.com, bikenomads.com, bajajpulsar.org, and yahoo groups for Royal Enfield, Hero Honda Karizma group and TVS Apache. "Online groups and product review sites are now the first point of reference for a prospective Apache buyer. If he reads a positive review, there's a great probability of him purchasing our product or vice-versa. As such, we have to be alive to the reviews and discussions posted on these sites and incorporate these in our product features and brand communication," says Mr Narasimhan of TVS Motors. The strategy seems to have paid-off. Apache is now India's second largest selling premium bike.
Taking a cue from Apache's success, Hero Honda incorporated internet feedback while marketing its 150cc CBZ. Prior to its launch, the company ran a teaser campaign asking prospective consumers to email their expectation from a high-performance bike. The idea was to give consumers a say in product development. Post-launch, Hero Honda created a dedicated website for CBZ to gather customer feedback on the product. "Giving the demographic profile of premium bike customers, internet has emerged as a powerful tool to connect with the consumer. Our internet initiative is still at a nascent stage and as we gain experience we will ramp it up," says P S Sunder, head marketing, Hero Honda Motors.
Corporate interest in blogs may be rising by the day, but it doesn't translate into tons of advertising revenues for owners/creators of these sites. This is because any corporate sponsorship will compromise their biggest assets - credibility and frankness of discussion. "Advertisement will kill the impartiality and frankness of these sites. So we remain a distant observer and don't get involved in any manner," says Mr Prasad Narasimhan, vice-president marketing of TVS Motors.
Some, however, discount the influence of blogs and internet groups on customer's purchase decision. "Internet blogs are still a niche medium in India. My own calculation is that not more than 1% of the bike owning population refer to internet before making a purchase decision. May be its higher for performance bike customers, but they are still a minority," says Atul Gupta, vice president Marketing, Suzuki Motorcycle India.