Chinese companies not capitalising on marketing
As we’ve seen in the EV industry China only looks for the quick fix, the fast buck. Unlike the motorcycle industry where Japan had a 30 year head-start the electric scooter industry saw all competitors on a level playing field. China has one of the world’s best infrastructures for electronics, as is shown by their successful space programme which will see a Chinese cosmonaut on the moon within 10 years. One could have reasonably expected that the Chinese EV industry would be up their with the world leaders (in terms of quality not quantity) yet it isn’t.
If we transfer this situation to the standard motorcycle industry we see that the trend started there. Chinese motorcycle companies haven’t paid enough attention to brand marketing or quality marketing of any type, and its world-wide reputation is still suffering as a result.
As I write this report my son is attempting a Guinness world record breaking motorcycle tour of China. He is lucky enough to have decent backing from Motorhead Motorcycles and China BMW but not all Chinese motorcycle companies have been far-sighted enough to see what great publicity a long tour could bring to their brand.
Back in 2008 when the Chinese motorcycle industry was suffering the slings and arrows of global recession New Zealander Jeremy Hamilton chose to tour China on a motorcycle. Having already toured India with great support from Royal Enfield he felt assured that he could pick up a decent sponsorship package from a leading Chinese manufacturer. Jeremy picks up the tale “I had a fantastic time in India and great support from Enfield. Everywhere I went I was swamped by media who had been informed that I was coming, and if anything went wrong Enfield had a guy to trouble-shoot my problems. After a great tour I decided I would do the same in China. Now as the only motorcycle brand I had heard of in China was Lifan I flew to Chongqing to meet them about sponsoring my tour of their great country. I shouldn’t be ungrateful, they supplied me a 150cc road bike but the level of assistance and media attention was nowhere near that of the India experience. At that time China’s motorcycle industry had a rather dodgy reputation so I imagined they would have jumped at the chance to market a 20 thousand kilometre motorcycle journey on a Chinese bike. Not so. After receiving the bike (which I had to kit out for the tour myself) I received very little attention. That little bike completed the tour with very little problems. Over mud, grass, sand and rocky roads, blistering heat and freezing temperatures that little beast never let me down and is still running around the streets of Chongqing today. How did Lifan market this success? They didn’t. Not a bit of it. Towards the end China motorcycle industry Taipan David McMullan got to hear of my tour and invited me to a celebration banquet at the CIMAmotor expo; but it was a great opportunity for Lifan to stamp some authority on their brand. The media coverage in China was minimal and non existent globally.
Australian Don Hampson has just smashed the Guinness world record for a motorcycle tour on a sidecar. At time of writing he is still touring and expects to ride in excess of 20000 kms. His story “I’ve done many tours of China for fun then last year Dave McMullan suggests that I go for a Guinness record. I put the word out to many Chinese factories but found that their support for the project was literally non-existent! I would have thought having a world record breaking model on display in their showroom would have been a big feather in their cap but, alas, no one seemed to give it a second thought. In the end I bought a Regal Raptor and fixed the sidecar on myself. There are enough Chinese companies manufacturing motorcycle combinations that you would have expected them to fall over themselves in order to take advantage of the publicity.”
This all too common story highlights the naivety of the Chinese motorcycle industry regarding marketing. With India snapping on China’s heels in many traditional ‘safe seats’ many industry reps in China are looking for big changes. Dustin Liao the new Chief Editor of ChinaMotor Magazine reports “Chinese motorcycle companies have almost no brand recognition because of re-branding. If you asked 100 motorcycle owners to name a Chinese brand they would probably quote the rebranded name that is available in their country. Or say Kymco which is Taiwanese! There are all sorts of ways to boost brand recognition but Chinese companies tend to rely on exhibitions too much. Now that Chinese companies are spending big money on re-styling and new technologies you would think that they had the foresight to adapt their marketing campaigns accordingly. It is not always the case.”
A cursory glance at a Chinese motorcycle magazine advert will reveal a very much western orientated ‘pop culture’ feel. Again, this is a copy. I recently advised a motorcycle company to design an advert in which is displayed one of their motorcycle models with a family of 4 on it. This is a regular sight in China (for our sins) and I think it displays the hardiness of Chinese 2-wheelers as well as being eye-catching and highly original. The marketing director of the company was less than impressed with my suggestion instead plumping for a display advert with a semi-naked girl draped over a 150cc motorcycle! Yawn.
Despite astonishing achievements that belay the legend that Chinese motorcycles are made of pipe cleaners Chinese motorcycle companies are still not using these examples to convince the world motorcycling public that their motorcycles can hold their own in any conditions.