Do you know why what happened to Honda in the 1960s is still a great business lesson today?
Back in 1958, Honda took the bold step of venturing into the U.S. motorcycle scene. During that era, the Harley Davidson, Indian, and Triumph brands reigned supreme in the American motorcycle market. Enthusiasts associated these bikes with the archetypal image of a rugged, leather-clad biker—an outsider.
Honda, however, aimed squarely at this iconic biker demographic upon entering the U.S. market. The Japanese company crafted sizable motorcycles designed to rival the offerings of Harley Davidson.
Surprisingly, the initial foray by Honda into the U.S. motorcycle realm fell flat. The grand vision didn't quite match reality; their larger bikes struggled to attract buyers. In the early 1960s, die-hard Harley and Indian aficionados showed little inclination to switch to Japanese models.
However, amidst the struggle, a peculiar trend caught the attention of the U.S. Honda team. It wasn't the leather-clad rebels but rather city-dwelling, unconventional motorcyclists who were drawn to Honda's diminutive 50cc Super Cub.
In Japan, the Super Cub had already amassed a fervent following among the urban, younger demographic. Surprisingly, Honda had initially overlooked this market segment in the United States, opting instead for a different approach.
Gradually, Honda redirected its strategy toward targeting this urban demographic. Rather than chasing after traditional motorcycle enthusiasts, they focused on attracting young buyers uninterested in the stereotypical biker image.
This fresh approach aligned with the preferences of those in the Japanese market – individuals seeking affordable, practical transportation for short urban trips.
The iconic "You meet the nicest people on a Honda" advertising campaign emerged from this shift.
The monumental success of the Super Cub in the U.S. paved the way for Honda's expansion into the conventional motorcycle market. Within a short span, they captured an astounding 63% share of the U.S. motorcycle market.
Honda teetered on the brink of becoming a mere footnote in US automotive history due to their initial misunderstanding of their target audience. Fortunately, they recognized this misstep and made a crucial pivot before it became irreparable.
Had Honda initially honed in on their most receptive audience, they could have avoided squandering resources by marketing to an audience unlikely to embrace their motorcycles.
Effective marketing and design parallel constructing a pyramid. The audience serves as the foundation; understanding them thoroughly is the essential starting point before formulating strategy or execution. Strategy forms the second layer; it can only be developed upon a comprehensive comprehension of the audience.
Execution represents the pinnacle. Without a sound strategy based on audience understanding, execution falters. Regrettably, it's common to invert this sequence, a mistake Honda fell victim to.
The pressure from external forces—bosses, CEOs, and colleagues—often triggers this misalignment. The urgency for immediate results can overshadow the necessity of audience comprehension. It's tempting to succumb to shortcuts touted in blog posts promising miraculous outcomes for Facebook ads. Yet, falling into this trap is perilous.
Let's dive into the process of understanding your audience now that your boss is onboard. Here are some valuable avenues I recommend exploring:
There's a deliberate omission from this list: surveys. While surveys provide data, truly understanding your audience involves more than statistical information; it requires intuition and genuine human connections.
If you opt to include surveys in your research, by all means, go ahead. Just remember, your audience comprises real people, not just data points.
Throughout your audience research, focus on several key aspects:
Audience research isn't limited to specific roles within an organization. From top-tier executives like the CMO to entry-level marketers, investing time in understanding your audience is crucial. Even after years in a company, periodically revisiting and reassessing your audience ensures your marketing strategies remain relevant and effective, leading to overall better outcomes.
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