Have you seen it? The new Ferrari FF. No? Well if not, then you have not been paying much attention in YouTube and auto magazines because it has garnered almost all the global automotive attention in 2011, save for the newly introduced Lamborghini Aventador. Now a FF is out of my price range, as well many small businesses, but there are a lot of things I think a small business can learn from Ferrari’s effort to introduce this revolutionary car.
If it’s radical, give hints leading up to the introduction
Like many car manufacturers Ferrari tested their vehicle under spy photographer scrutiny. A few spy shots revealed tidbits that were expected. The FF replaces the 612 Scaglietti, a 4 seat grand tourer with a V-12 engine, so speculators wrote about what they expected – 4 seats and a 12 cylinder engine. They found both when the FF was officially introduced. But the rear of the car was heavily masked during the development, distorting its shape enough to be a surprise when released. Small businesses may not have an engineering team racing prototypes at the Nürburgring track, but they can think and learn how to tease out details rather make grand silly pitches about a million dollar idea that has not generated a lick of revenue. This is where many wannabe small businesses fail. Sometimes business owners, particular service providers, give too much pitch, instead providing simple ideas that set the right expectation for what someone will get from doing business with you.
Be new, but give a frame of reference
Many car magazines referenced the shape as a shoot brake, which if you’re not form Europe, is essentially a 2-door wagon. There’s hasn’t been any in the US — Chevrolet Vega, Ford Pinto, and AMC Pacer by technicality had 2 doors wagon but far from shooting brake. But a BMW Z3 coupe has that similar shape. And there are blended cars on the market now, like the 4 door coupe Mercedes CLS. These vehicles do not compare to $300,000 sports car, but they do give buyers a frame of reference of what’s comparable.
For your product or service, a frame of reference should be emphasized with a light mention rather than a dramatic buzz that raises expectation but does not deliver. Many small business owners overstate how new something is to the point where customers do not know what the product or service is. A frame of reference removes used-car-salesman clutter in descriptions and lets people focus more on the benefits outlined in your message, be it by blog, video, or tweet.
Pay attention to competition but make a clear spin
Still on the reference theme, practicality has been seeping into other brands long well known for sports cars. Porsche introduced Panamera, its first 4 door sports car, but this was previewed by the Cayenne, its first SUV. This was risky because Porsche buyers can be resistant to product that aren’t “true” Porsche. Today the Cayenne represents half of Porsche’s US sales volume, making it easy for it to decide to build the Panamera. This clued Ferrari that a blend of traditional Ferrari features (powerful engine, sports car ride) and new-to-Ferrari features (all wheel drive, wagon-like body style) would create potentially negative response from a few, but also create an opportunity for overall positive buyer support and sales with a well-exexcuted effort to explain the FF.
For small businesses, the similar idea of paying attention to competition for clues and integrating those clues leads to creative videos, tweets, and blog posts. There may be a vocal few who are negative, and they may be longtime customers, but a careful explanation to blend old and new will have to be used over and over again in advertising and in social media. This is what it takes to let people know what is possible with a radically new product or service.
Stage your product so that images and video reflect the benefits
Ferrari built the FF with all wheel drive, a first for the company. The first official drives were in the snow, and I have seen a few rainy weather videos online. All of these appear in car magazines and online blogs. These images reinforces the benefit of what the FF brings to new customers.
If possible, make your first images show what your product or service can do. For ideas how to measure the response to a video, see this post on video tips.
Educate your followers on the details to continue engagement
Now it may seem funny that a brand as premium and well-known as Ferrari would have to justify anything. But they did make points about why the FF was developed. Customers wanted a vehicle that had traction for inclement weather. Moreover, Ferrari has made sales inroads into China, and the FF was meant to appeal to prosperous families there and in other parts of the world.
Sharing these kind of details with reporters gave more interest to the car. Small businesses can learn to do the same with Twitter, Facebook, and other community sites. Doing so helps keep the story centered on what you want. Apple is another brand that benefits from this, when it uses conferences to make announcements, and further its reach with sites such as AppleInsider. This tactic also helps galvanize followers who unconsciously need confirmation of why it was wonderful to follow your product or service.
Some brands inform with associated information about its product or service. Toyota did a similar approach with its Lexus LF-A, the first limited production sports car meant to showcase its technological prowess (read about what Toyota did to position the Lexus LF-A among elite sports cars).
Keep these steps in mind and you’ll see how your brand will grow faster than …. well, a Ferrari.
Need a little more information on using analytics within your organization? There are three great books that I have had the pleasure of reviewing at Small Business Trends, an award winning small business blog started by editor Anita Campbell. Written by the leading experts in web analytics and business intelligence, these can help develop an organization around the timely use of analytics tools.
- Web Analytics 2.0 (Avinash Kaushik) explains how organizations can implement a web analytics mindset as well as advanced analytics reporting/analysis concerns.
- Analytics At Work (Thomas Davenport, Jeanne Harris) — focuses on analytics within an organization. Differing from their first book, Competing on Analytics, Analytics at Work is for medium sized organizations that want to incorporate business intelligence tools for operational efficiency but not as a leading advantage in a given industry.
I have also reviewed other business books with Ivana Taylor, founder of DIY Marketers and the book editor for SBT. We try to review business books we genuinely like and that have great use for small business owners. A great one Ivana did is called Success Made Simple which featured perspective from Amish small businesses
Small Business Trends covers a number of great small business subjects and tips. Definitely a must follow for any small business owner.
What other business books have been a great aid to your business or outlook?
One of the most anticipated vehicles in years is the Lexus LF-A, a 550 horsepower, V-10 engined, 2 seat wonder, built from carbon fiber and aluminum. Taking seven years to develop, only 550 LF-As will be built, at a price of $375,000 each.
But the price, far above the most expensive Lexus (the LS Hybrid), is not the most striking aspect of this product. Toyota’s effort to market this special vehicle gives the most pause.
Lexus has one challenge ahead — creating a brand worthy of commanding the $375,000 price tag. While Toyota has been successful with marketing the luxury division, Lexus is not considered in the same league as Ferrari, Rolls-Royce, and Lamborghini, where customers are willing to pay for not only a luxury car but a luxury car maker heritage. Thus the goal of the LFA is to be a halo car for the brand.
First, Toyota released video of the LFA being driven on the Nürburgring race track. The video was meant to display the sporting aspects of the car and reinforce the special development of the vehicle. Nürburgring is a very technical handling oriented race track on which many manufacturers have used for race car handling “cred” for vehicles as well as engineering development (Cadillac’s CTS-V is an example).
Second, Toyota took a few plays from Chip and Dan Heath’s Made To Stick (unexpectedness, concreteness, credibility) by integrating its carbon looming history into the car’s background. Little known fact: Toyota owns one of two looming machines in the world. These looms weave carbon fibers into complex shapes. Toyota has decades of experience. So for the LF-A it used an unexpected fact (Carbon loom) as a sticky point to enhance the technology and experience that is built into the car, qualities that luxury buyers seek about brands like Aston Martin and Ferrari (Hand built quality, racing heritage, and race car-level technology trickled down into production road cars).
Next, Lexus wanted to ensure that its customers benefit from the LFA, not speculators who would only display the cars instead of actually drive them. Having the vehicles seen on the road strengthens the brand, with a special quality given the rare production. So the decision was made to only offer leases on the vehicle (save for Europe), with an option to buy. Moreover, Lexus will court influential customers to sift out speculators. In Automobile magazine Paul Rohovsky, National Manager of Advance Business Development at Lexus, states how Lexus is relying on its customer database, having a call center asking questions and developing a relationship experience.
If this sounds familiar to segmenting and developing strategy using analytics, you’re getting a gold star. Lexus has created exclusivity and excitement through energizing its customer base to help expose its brand to new customers (for more on an example of segmentation, see the Zimana blog post on segmentation and the Orient Express). There are also hints of a shared customer-service provider experience – a leasing program can lead to further customer interaction with specially dedicated Lexus service and sales professionals. This controlled experience mimics online social groups that discuss specific products, such as Facebook Fans.
You can also see a great discussion video by Editor-in-chief Jean Jenning of Automobile with Brian Bolain at Lexus — Brian’s Lifecycle Manager position implies cross function responsibility for managing a great experience for the customer throughout the product usage.
All in all, Lexus’ approach for the LF-A contains solid ideas of marketing, analytics, and customer service detail from which all businesses can learn.