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Marketing Strategy from Behind Bars

How riding a motorcycle could improve your brand strategy

[Or, “How I got my MBA (Masters of Biking Analogies)”]


Much of what I know about driving marketing strategy aligns with what I’ve learned while riding motorcycles (in my “other life,” I am a nationally known motorcycle safety expert). Things like the value of having a vision. The need to form a deliberate plan. The importance of recognizing evolving situations and having the flexibility to adapt. Motorcycling and business are both about coming out ahead, and both can be tremendously rewarding rides—or miserable ones—depending on how one plays it.

There’s a yellow Post-It!™ note on my laptop that simply states, “Eyes Up!” I put it there after struggling through a business strategy challenge that became more arduous than it should have been. Fortunately, I thought of advice I’d given to hundreds of motorcyclists … “Get your eyes up! You go where you look!” I envisioned my riding students transforming choppy and arbitrary steering corrections into graceful and deliberate motion. The moment I made that connection, I looked up from the sea of small stuff, focused on where I needed to go, and the marketing strategy began to gel. That sticky note remains a daily reminder to stay mindful of the bigger picture.

That “aha” moment led to exploring other connections between successfully riding a motorcycle on the often-merciless streets, and helping a brand come out ahead in a brutally challenging market. Here are a few professional motorcycling tips I’ve provided through the years that apply directly to business and marketing.

Identify your threats. Proficient motorcyclists read the road, pick up on the behavior of other drivers and predict what they will do next. The skilled rider also learns which drivers can become allies, protecting him or her from more aggressive threats. Good marketers do the same. Make it your business to study your market’s players and know them well enough to anticipate their every move—and distinguish friend from foe.

Establish a power position. On the roadway, establishing a unique strategic position in traffic makes you more visible, sets you apart, and gives you the best chance of being untouchable. In marketing, we look for ways to give our clients a unique position in their marketplace—something that differentiates them from competitors and gives them the edge they need. Whether you’re taking on business competitors or motoring through traffic, it pays to carve out an advantageous position.

Expect the unexpected. Skilled road riders never allow themselves to be surprised and forced to react. They proactively anticipate nearly every possible scenario—including things they may not yet see—and prepare themselves to respond confidently. Skilled marketers aggressively contemplate activity that could be developing in their industry and customer environments and have a strategy ready for each. Don’t wait. Anticipate what may be waiting to blindside you. And be ready with a Plan B. When the skies suddenly darken or the hotels are all booked, smart riders have a backup plan. When a marketing initiative suddenly changes direction or a competitor changes the rules, be flexible and willing to shift gears to an alternate path.

Don’t fixate. On a motorcycle, it’s easy to fixate on a perceived threat while completely missing another that is more immediate. In marketing, we often identify a target customer and then stop looking for other significant customer opportunities that may be lurking nearby. The person that influences a purchase decision behind the scenes may be the better target than the more obvious end user. Look beyond your target—there are sure to be others.

I could wallpaper my computer screen with dozens of sticky notes to remind me of all I’ve learned in the saddle that is apropos to the business of marketing strategy. But for now, my “Eyes Up!” sticky note on the monitor is just the trigger I need to put things in perspective when the professional journey gets daunting. As for taking it to the street, for now I’ll place one sticky note on my motorcycle dashboard about safety that reminds me to, “Make it your business.” And maybe one more that reads, “Schedule more vacation time.”

Eric Trow is a veteran marketing strategist and the Chief Brand Strategist at Rebel Fox, a strategy-driven creative agency. In addition to his years helping clients establish stronger competitive positions, he is also a life-long motorcyclist, renowned motorcycle safety expert, a monthly columnist for Rider magazine, and recipient of the American Motorcyclist Association’s “Outstanding Road Rider Award” for his contributions to the motorcycling community.

Copyright © 2023, Eric A. Trow

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