Chinese manufacturers marketing departments’ a bit rubbish really.
Report by Sean Kerr and David McMullan in Chongqing
Some months ago I wrote about a Chinese motorcycle company that employed me to help them promote their new model to international markets. I gave them several ideas including one where their adverts and posters showed their bike carrying a family of 4 and a duck! I explained to them that although this was a depiction of rural life, and not the usual flashy ‘rock and roll’ advert that they go for, it was extremely eye catching (to a foreign audience) and demonstrated that their motorcycles were not just stylish, but also robust. Rather pleased with myself I presented a mockup of the advert and was just preparing for a tsunami of praise when I noticed the indignant look on the face of the marketing director. They bloody hated it! 2 months later I saw the advert that they had chosen, a scantily clad beauty draped over their motorcycle with a panoramic backdrop. This was only the umpteenth time a Chinese (or any) motorcycle company had used an advert like this. After a sigh of disappointment I vowed to have a look at the Chinese motorcycle companies that are imaginative and creative with their advertising.
Many years ago Honda proved that the best way to get your brand recognised on a world scale was to participate in world-class racing. Their first foray into that was the Isle of Man TT. Fast forward around 50 years and we now find that the first Chinese manufacturer has appeared at the Isle of Man, hats off to CF Moto and the WK Bikes racing team from the UK that had the vision and ambition to push the project forward. CF Moto are one of the most progressive Chinese motorcycle companies and one of the few that have developed ‘big bikes’ (anything over 600cc is big to a Chinese manufacturer) without a western technology partner (a la Loncin and BMW, Qianjiang and Benelli etc.).
CF Moto’s appearance at the TT was the first participation in a major international race of note since Loncin’s dalliance with MotoGP 125 5 years ago. Chinese motorcycle historian Winston Guo explains “Loncin invested heavily in their MotoGP 125 team, bringing in European experts in R and D and also marketing and team building staff. The problem was that as Loncin hadn’t any previous experience in such a prestigious race series they didn’t realise that the team they employed was amateurish at best. What we had expected to see was a steady flow of Chinese manufacturers involving themselves in high quality racing but after Loncin’s negative experience it didn’t happen. We are all hoping that CF Moto’s experience with the TT (and the expert handling of the guys at WK Bikes) will provide more confidence for companies like Zongshen, Jialing and others to become involved in racing at the very top end of the scale; this would obviously be their best way to secure global brand recognition.”
David McMullan of ChinaMotor Magazine explained to me “As the editor of ChinaMotor Magazine I see several adverts old and new every month. Also, being the organiser of motorcycle exhibitions I witness motorcycle companies’ attempts at marketing through their exhibition stands. Every year, despite my encouragement for the exhibitors to use their imagination, we see pretty much the same display stands; the motorcycle models exhibited may be new but the way of presenting them never changes- a plethora of dolly birds draped over their new models gyrating to blaring music. Almost every foreign visitor I speak to complains that the music played is far too loud and it prevents them from having a decent conversation about the motorcycle model they are interested in. Also, it’s difficult to get a close up of the bikes with ladies sprawled all over them. That kind of thing is okay for the launch but for goodness sake take them away (the girls and the music) to enable trade visitors to do their business. Every year I tell this to the expo staff and the exhibitors but I might as well be talking to myself, they really think this is the way to do it. At the 2014 expo there was an exception; in my opinion a very welcome one. Middle-sized motorcycle company Wonjan took a great position in the main hall, had music on low and offered tea and coffee to visiting viewers. They also had an arcade motorcycle game, one of the sit-on types; this really brought the visitors in. Wonjan also double their advertising for the Canton fair editions of ChinaMotor Magazine with pull outs of the new models they will exhibit there, they have a very non-Chinese view to marketing and it was no surprise to me that their exports and sales were increased by 48% last year. A huge increase that I’m sure was down (in the most part) to their progressive advertising and marketing campaign”
A huge part of any motorcycle manufacturers marketing is the website, when considering buying Chinese bikes (brands that otherwise wouldn’t be recognised) the website is the all-important tool for the first image of the product. First of all there is the issue of position on search engines. If you type ‘Zongshen’ (or any other Chinese giant) in to a search engine you will see it come up around 9th or 10th on the page behind local agents selling Zongshen parts and the like. This is the official site of a multi-million dollar manufacturer! But at least when you see it it looks professional unlike many of the smaller manufacturers and parts exporters who don’t even bother to get a translator in to correct English spelling mistakes and have clearly taken photos from other websites. They also all claim to be ‘the best in China’ and display pictures of warehouses (which they claim to be theirs) that would not look out of place at the end of the first Indiana Jones movie (you remember when the ‘lost ark’ is moved in to a huge government warehouse which seems to be a mile long). The pictures are clearly not those of a warehouse owned by a middle sized Chinese motorcycle or parts company.
Almost all agree that in the last few years China has installed a lot of professionalism in to its motorcycle manufacturing industry, now if they could only learn how to market properly…