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Thursday, September 17, 2009

BF Goodrich Runs After the Driving Enthusiast


There is an excellent site for runners that has gained some notoriety. It’s a site from Reebok called “Run Easy”. The site provides a destination where community members can talk about topics interesting to runners.

The “Run Easy” site applies some great practices for a community. It allows people to share their own experiences with other enthusiasts through the use of sharing runner routes. Runners can plot their run on a Google map in full detail, others can rate it and comment. It allows sharing of music playlists people use on their runs. Best of all, the site creates a dialog in a friendly community environment that does not push Reebok products on the participants. Reebok merely picks up the tab and gains some benefit through goodwill with less experienced runners that might some day become hardcore runners, thus possibly repositioning Reebok in more accomplished runners’ minds.

Leaving Runners in the Dust

Nation of Go, a new community site “for people who live to drive”, takes a lot of its cues from the Reebok site. “Imitation is the highest form of flattery.” It’s clear that Reebok is doing some very effective things in its community that could easily transfer to automotive enthusiasts.

BF Goodrich Tires is the sponsor of Nation of Go. Their implementation is about sharing the best drives and connecting with other drivers. Similar to the “create your favorite runs”, Nation of Go features track, trail and road drives for others to share and plot on a Google map. Since the site just launched this week, there are only a few drives on the map and it will be interesting to see if enthusiasts find the site and take the time to share their favorite routes.

The best part of this idea is that there is no authoritative destination for driving roads on the web, at least that I’m aware of. So, there is an opportunity for BF Goodrich to own this space. Owning a space that appeals to your customers and even competitors customers has a highly desirable impact. Even if one doesn’t own BF Goodrich tires, they are welcome in the community and may find tremendous value if road trips and racing is their passion. Down the road, BF Goodrich may become that person’s next tire through positive brand lift from the site.

Plus BF Goodrich is a brand that can be acceptable to all drivers. Having an automotive company do this may only interest its brand advocates and cause others to turn away. Mercedes, Chevy, and Audi drivers can even talk a little trash on the Nation of Go site and share in a common passion without having the barrier of it being a particular automotive company sponsored site (ie it would be odd for Mercedes owners to be frequenting a Chevy site, even if Chevy wants that.) Having this come from a tire company is far more encompassing.

There is a Forum that allows for more open topical discussions. This can serve as a place to discuss best driving music, how-to, and yes even tire tips. The possibilities are wide open and with a strong community it too can serve as great resource on the web.

Media Is Essential to Attract a Significant Membership

Yesterday, the Nation of Go team had invited some social media influencers and media to a marketing launch event. I learned of the site through some people I follow on Twitter who attended. A hashtag on Twitter #NationofGo brings back some insights into who attended and what some initial thoughts were about the idea. There is even talk of NationofGo attending Twitter’s weekly #carchat.

Beyond social media buzz and blogger outreach, it will be interesting to see how Nation of Go is promoted using digital and/or traditional media. I notice today that the BF Goodrich USA site is prominently promoting the Nation of Go on its homepage.

Nation of Go’s appeal is to a very involved automotive enthusiast or racing enthusiast and I expect to see some media from these sites to attract people who will help build such a community. Hopefully, BF Goodrich will not solely rely on word of mouth, though powerful, a community needs a significant amount of members to make it valuable and this will be a slow and arduous process if the company relies only on buzz. They'll need some media and promotion through their product marketing to help grow mass on the site.

What We Need is a Van, Dude

One way Nation of Go is getting their word out is by taking a page from Plaid Nation. Plaid Nation is a small marketing agency in the Northeast that took the road in a van (and later a Ford Flex.) Plaid Nation generated buzz by visiting various leading brands and people who were influencing technology, social media and marketing.

Similar to Plaid Nation's tour, Nation of Go is traveling in a van visiting "well-known shops and drivers" and like Plaid share their adventures on their blog. You can follow their visits via Twitter too at NationofGo. Event based marketing will hopefully gain some ongoing interest in the effort and should help gain some momentum to the story during the 20 plus day road trip.

Effective Communities are Passion Destinations

If properly supported by media, BF Goodrich may be on to something here with Nation of Go. Driving enthusiasts love finding new places to enjoy their vehicle. With some added features like adding photos to a drive, the routes could become more personal and expressive beyond just a map.

Also, right now you can only share a drive by copying a URL's text. A more fully integrated sharing using social media destinations like Facebook, Twitter or MySpace will further promote the site. I'll assume this is probably coming in the future.

It's unfortunate recreational racing isn't as popular here in the States as it is in Europe. Running is very popular, at least lately from what I can tell on Facebook with almost all of my lazy friends (self included) now posting their latest run on their status, but I rarely see a post about anyone going for a scenic drive. Anecdotal examples aside, recreational driving just isn't as big as running (or so it seems, I had trouble finding any hard research numbers.) With a much smaller enthusiast base, attracting the right people to the Nation of Go community is more difficult, not impossible, but does require some effective micro-targeted marketing buys.

All of this is a great way to get people to come to a tire company website. Beyond trying to find out what your warranty is, where a particular tire is sold, or if there is a rebate form for a recent purchase, BF Goodrich may have found a way to make visiting a tire company website a more frequent stop by appealing to their customer's passion - driving. And if they can appeal to the racing crowd and convert them to buy BF Goodrich, that's a great way to become more relevant to frequent tire buyers.
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