Author Archives: John

amazon’s split personality

For Brands, Cure May Be Worse Than Disease

Cycle-World-Amazon-2016-11-30-at-11.31.28-AM.png

Read It Free Helps Subscription Rates How?

As I grow increasingly comfortable with online shopping as an alternative to chasing hard to find items in brick and mortar storefronts, rationalizing clik to add to shopping cart becomes easier and easier as the cost of shipping tumbles. Then came Amazon Prime.

Amazon Prime is by all indications a very effective loss leader in the effort to tether consumers to mega-site Amazon for all their internet purchases. Patterned after the big box membership warehouse experience, Prime, for a modest annual fee, delivers not only free 2-day shipping on most items, but includes a bunch of other perks as well.

The price is right – for as long as it can last.

The included music feed is perfectly acceptable, eliminating having to subscribe to Pandora, Spotify, or Radio for a premium listening experience. Ditto access to online t.v. content, books, and a number of other features that save time and/or money.

I just discovered that a number of familiar, favorite, and free periodicals are available as well, viewable online or as downloaded Kindle content. Which is how I came across Cycle World, Bonnier’s flagship pub in their motorcycle group stable of powersports publications, as a free read on Amazon.

I’m not sure how the business model for offering up your vanguard bike magazine for free reading moves the bottom line needle. It’s not an option you’d expect to find in a typical subscription pitch; “12 Whole Issues For One Year’s Worth of Reading Only Zero Dollars and Zero Cents!”

Since consolidating the spectrum of motorcycle pubs several years ago by purchasing those niche assets from Hearst first, then Source Interlink, the overall health of print continues to circle the drain, excepting a few standouts like Garden & Gun. The price is right – for as long as it can last.

AIMExpo Says Goodbye to Orlando

You Say Goodbye And I Say…

AIMExpo says goodbye to Orlando

After last year’s buyout of the American International Motorcycle Exposition (AIMExpo) from the original owner MarketPlace Events by the Motorcycle Industry Council (MIC), most market watchers assumed that a) the OEMs that form the backbone of MIC would offer ongoing stability for the still young show, and that b) the event would make the jump across Orlando’s International Drive to the more appropriate, and much larger, North Hall, consolidating the outdoor activities while adding a more expansive venue.

Pack Your Bags. Again.

A month out, AIME dropped the first bombshell, announcing that 2016 would be the last show in Orlando as 2017’s event would hit the road for — the Columbus, Ohio, convention center. Which until now has been best known for hosting Arnold Schwartzeneger’s long-running series of body building championships.

That news hadn’t even completed the first lap when it was announced right before Thursday’s show opening that Columbus was a one and done, and that Las Vegas would welcome dealers in 2018 to a Mandalay Bay event, also in October.

A few select exhibitors hadn’t even finished their chorus of reliable quotes on why Columbus’ “500-mile radius” was key to attracting dealers in order to grow the event (it isn’t, given Peoples Exhibit A, DealerExpo) when the Vegas jump came out of the blue. If there was any question that MIC’s OEMs were wielding their muscle, this relocation eliminated any doubts.

Why It Matters

Why this matters involves pure marketing decisions by the show’s owners, and, like every realtor says, it’s about location, location, location. Powersports (read aftermarket) expos have been tried in Vegas before, and they’ve died in Vegas, even during the red-hot 2000s. OEM dealer meetings, on the other hand, thrive in the desert.

The move has all the earmarks of a purely strategic decision by Honda, Suzuki, Yamaha, and Kawasaki to consolidate their dealer programs closer to home and away from the proximate distraction of Daytona’s Biketoberfest.

I can’t say I’m not disappointed. Orlando remains a major international destination, and both venue and weather remain well suited to the outdoor activities which can’t be offered in a resort hotel facility.

Still, H-D was never a participant, and Kawasaki was a big hole in the lineup this year, after drawing plenty of attention with last year’s massive booth. Ducati was another no-show. Ditto BMW. And so it went.

This year’s swan song seemed almost a little melancholy, like the guy who came alone to the dance and stayed too late. Compared to the previous decade, many of the booths looked like they traveled as overhead luggage.

Warn, Pirelli, S&S, and Avon, among others, didn’t bring the A game of years previous. And speaking of others, Western Powersports, Parts Unlimited, Chrome Specialties, Tucker-Rocky, and Drag Specialties were among the major distributors whose absence, in favor of their own one-off shows for the past several years, severely hurts in the buzz building.

The Magic 8-Ball Says

It could be that the appeal of an aftermarket accessories driven trade show has passed its sell by date. Without support from manufacturers, dealers aren’t likely to make the investment in time and money to visit when much of what they’re selling is already on offer at the afore mentioned distributor sponsored shows. And without dealer support, manufacturers can’t be expected to continue their investment without a decent ROI. And this year’s announced dealer registration figure of just over 2,000 falls, to me, far short of fulfilling that expectation.

AIMExpo will in the future become a new model year bike show by the major manufacturers with some slots occupied by non-OEMs who either lack a distributor hookup, are doing okay with their own dealer direct and consumer direct programs, or just don’t want one.

Nostalgia for the way things were is notable, but unsupportable. Columbus ’17 looks to be the last real expression of the independent powersports aftermarket event.

bacon for breakfast? mmmmm!

Enjoy Bacon? Of Course You Do!

Here’s why. You didn’t have a chance.

The original Father of Spin, Edward Bernays, who together with fellow publicist Ivy Lee, is credited with founding the profession we recognize today as public relations. Looking back, the ethical morality of many of his wins is sketchy at best.

In the 1920’s Bernays took on the Beech-Nut Packing Company as a client, tasked to salvage their tanking bacon sales as Americans switched their eating preferences in favor of Kellogg’s heavily promoted (as healthier, and more convenient) dry breakfast cereals, toast, and juice.

Cue Homer Simpson.

Bernays was a nephew of Sigmund Freud, and his remarkable marketing insight, gained in large part by studying his uncle’s ground-breaking methodology, allowed him to successfully pitch cigarette smoking to American women as their patriotic duty.

Later, at the height of the Cold War, his campaign on behalf of the CIA influenced United Fruit Company’s banana empire led to the overthrow of the democratically elected Guatemalan government. By then the innovative marketing techniques he’d developed promoting bacon for breakfast were an irresistible force, once that consumers to this day are powerless to resist.

In a modern consumer driven economy, free will isn’t as long as there are marketeers willing and capable of opinion shifting strategies. Pass the pork.

the 1st amendment, defined

Designer, CEO Team Up to Deliver A Powerful Political Statement to Nation

In today’s hypercharged political atmosphere there’s a lot of talk, often uninformed, about the Constitution’s Bill of Rights and what the First Amendment means, depending on the point being conveyed.

One citizen’s bold response to the Republican’s damaged nominee for President.

This is an example of civics and citizenship that combines freedom of speech and freedom of the press in an elegantly crafted statement regarding the Republican party’s 2016 nominee for President of the United States. An important component in the process was the cleanly Spartan design of the full page advertorial.

Agree or not, this private citizen took the time, and wrote a very sizeable check, to participate in a thoughtful, non-commercial attempt to influence public opinion.

ubm shuts down dealernews

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Five Decades of Dealernews Now History

In a stunning announcement that dropped December 16, Jim Savas, VP/GM of automotive at media conglomerate UBM Advanstar, announced the immediate end of Dealernews as of December 23, 2015.

After initially making the case for a robust online presence, well supported by more than respectable metrics, Mr. Savas then set January 1, 2016, as the cessation of Dealernews in print, on the web, and across all digital channels.

As of December 18, there was no mention on either Twitter or Facebook of the decision to shut down what many in the powersports industry considered the Gray Lady of motorcycle aftermarket B2B publishing. Continue reading

defining the retail user experience

calling customer service

The Retail Chain’s Weakest Link

When I want to enjoy a retail shopping experience, Tampa’s International Mall is a perfect destination that’s just 30-minutes away. There’s an Apple store, a Williams-Sonoma, designer label signature storefronts galore, and the pedestrian traffic is an instant education in current style trends.

Parking outside Nordstrom’s, where both the professional display techniques and downright good food of their in-store restaurant are hard to resist, is convenient.

Holiday shopping always includes a visit to Neiman Marcus for their distinctive American Classic box set dessert sampler featuring a variety of six liquor infused cakes.

This year I noticed a big gap in how I, Shopper A, was interpreted. Nordstrom’s personnel were ready to offer immediate help, but not to the point of smothering. If I’d been looking for something in particular, catching the eye of a sales person would have only needed a glance.

First, be able to answer every question about what you’re selling.

Neiman’s, on the other hand, presented a challenge. Because of a change in packaging I did have questions; the ensuing search for help made me wonder if a set of railroad crossing bells would have been useful, and checkout, achieved only after some few minutes of confusion, caused further annoyance at a process that should be anything but.

Two top-tier stores. Two totally different outcomes. Know your products. Recognize your customers. Create an experience that doesn’t lead to a comparative blog post.

aimexpo 2015 continues growth curve

Motorcycle Industry Council members Tim Buche (left) and Larry Little detail MIC's purchase of AIMExpo event.

Motorcycle Industry Council members Tim Buche (left) and Larry Little detail MIC’s purchase of AIMExpo event.

AIME Opens Year Three Under New Ownership

In just its third year, the American International Motorcycle Expo proved it’s in it to win it, with an exhibitor’s list topping 560, a shortened format making it easier for manufacturers to massage the combined trade plus public components, more OEMs, the revival of the MIA V-twin Made In America® contingent, and another successful round of cross your fingers and hope for yes! the best! weather Central Florida can muster in what we casually refer to as “fall”.

Read more about the powersport industry’s only domestic combined event here, including analysis of format, audience, and the challenges facing retail event marketing in an increasingly online world.

aimexpo 2015 on flickr

AIMExpo 2015

AIMExpo 2015 On Flickr

Now in its third year, the American International Motorcycle Expo has grown in size, and 2015 saw nearly 600 exhibitors make the trip to Orlando for the four-day combined trade-retail event.

Included were motorcycle OEMs, off-road vehicles, personal watercraft, aftermarket manufacturers, apparel retailers, and electric vehicles. For a better visual experience view my images on Flickr.

the forgotten paper cabinet

Paper cabinet

Paper Cabinets A Relic Of Times Past

As a freelancer for most of my career and an agency and publications creative director on several occasions, having a paper cabinet wasn’t just an item of convenience. It was a necessity.

Cabinet wasn’t a euphemism either. More carpentry than not, they were close to one-offs assembled out of board stock and covered in turn with a premium stock, intended to house that company’s product line. My favorite for functional storage was from Zellerbach, then a Mead company, that served as home to a wide variety of samples from various manufacturers.

When it was time to present, the swatchbook (and a couple of alternates) was pulled from the cabinet and joined the comps at the conference table, along with PMS swatches in a separate pile. All in all a formidable display of design competence.

Paper reps called on a regular basis, loaded down with their employer’s latest sample swatchbooks that needed a home in your paper cabinet. They plied you with gorgeous printed spec, and swayed you with stacks of examples that were often graded by sheer weight and mass.

Coated, uncoated, text, cover, specialty, premium – these were just part of the extended lexicon of labels that described the various functions of unique products produced by a number of paper manufacturers both domestic and imported.

Pick Paper First, Then Design For Effect

From basic newsprint to duplex card stock, creative directors, art directors, and designers would often reach for their samples box first, then design a project to match the latest product.

Champion Colorcast and Kromekote were two such unique surfaces that in turn dictated a design that could best address the visual properties of the paper. It wasn’t quite cart before the horse, but close enough.

One metallic coated paper I wanted to use wound up being printed as a spot color using a silver metallic ink to good effect.

A side benefit of the competition between what were then independent paper manufacturers was the deluge of design aids in the form of spec books filled with examples of an endless variety of techniques to enhance the paper used for demonstration.

It’s Time To Pitch

When it was time to present, the swatchbook (and a couple of alternates) was pulled from the cabinet and joined the comps at the conference table, along with PMS swatches in a separate pile. All in all a formidable display of design competence.

And then came digital, and web ordering, and overnight shipping, and print-on-demand. Today’s paper cabinet like this version from Neenah is a nifty app – technically superior, but lacking the warmth of tactile feedback.

Ideas and progs are these days mostly presented digitally (PDFs) – faster, cleaner, and ready to finalize. Physical comps are themselves more a vestige of bygone days, having given way to the export from a close to final design document of a ready for approval two-dimensional screen display.

Most of what’s printed today – defined by ink on paper – is arrived at without the messy necessity of one-time, handmade comps created by pros.

Desktop publishing’s local democratization of the process has dumbed down the workflow to a couple of barely considered steps: crappy, template driven layouts, cheap looking overused fonts with applied effects, and a couple of paper choices. Presto! Everyone’s an expert!

Truthfully, I wouldn’t want to go back to the way things were. And truthfully, I’m glad I was around for the experience.

the power of graphic design

Eiffel tower peace sign

How Visuals Convey Meaning

Jean Jullien is a French graphic designer and illustrator. Following the murderous November 13th attacks on Paris civilians, he did what he does best – illustrate.

The simple graphic that emerged from his brush and ink rendering was instantly adopted by social media as the world’s rallying symbol against the horror unleashed by lunatics intent on carnage. Recognizable, emotional, symbolic, evocative. Follow your heart.