By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
Most attendees polled by TWICE at the recent 12-Volt Summit here called the unprecedented car stereo event a success based on its turnout, the level of cooperation and enthusiasm.
Pioneer president Ed Sachs noted, "I believe there were greater than 80 percent of the industry that believed the Summit would never happen. The industry has just concluded an impressive first meeting."
The 135 attendees at the Summit, held July 16-17, determined the 12-volt audience has broadened beyond the young male to a wide demographic, and it empowered a steering committee to decide the next step in creating an awareness campaign.
The steering committee will meet the week of Aug. 11. It could decide on a marketing "plan of attack" by the end of September/early October, with the first phase of a campaign fully launched by International CES in January, said the Acumen Group, which organized the Summit.
"We want to be very aggressive to keep the momentum going. I suppose it is possible [the committee] may have a different perspective but I think, coming out of the Summit, this was the commitment the steering committee made to the attendees. That we weren't going to lose the momentum and bog this down in a lot of process," said Mary Leigh Hennings, executive VP of Acumen.
There is no indication yet of what type of marketing plan the committee will advocate. But at the Summit, Jeff Manning, an architect of the Got Milk! campaign, suggested that 12-volters set a goal of teaching consumers to ask themselves, "Is my car system good enough?" He suggested the industry set a target to halt the erosion in sales and he cautioned the industry to expect to run a campaign for 24 to 36 months, as "you don't solve problems in six months." Still another suggestion was to concentrate on outfitting older cars. He said getting someone to plunk down cash for a stereo system after spending thousands on a new car seemed like a "tough one."
All the advertising gurus who spoke at the Summit, including those behind the Harley-Davidson turnaround and the launch of the Scion, offered 12-volt marketers hope that even a floundering industry can get back on track.
During its two-day gathering, the industry did not attempt to vote on a specific marketing tactic or tag line, but the attendees were asked to define, "Who is your customer?" and "What is your product?" Every marketer who addressed the attendees said the most important rule of thumb in marketing is to know your customer, a task that has proven elusive to 12-volters over the past five years.
Some retailers at the Summit said their core market is now 25- to 54-year-olds, others said 16- to 24-year-olds and still others said 25- to 35-year-olds.
It was equally hard to define car audio's key products. "Audio is now an attachment sale," said Sixth Avenue Electronics mobile electronics director Don Barros, adding, "It used to be the bread and butter of the industry, but now we're selling Bluetooth or Sirius or HD Radio and that's primary now."
But ultimately, each focus group, presenting its findings at the closing meeting, said, generally, the car stereo customer is anyone who drives and the product should be defined in its broadest sense, from Bluetooth kits to subwoofers.
Steering committee members said the event was successful beyond their expectations because of the level of enthusiasm among participants, many of whom asked to continue to help planning the awareness campaign.
Circuit City category marketing manager Jay Schaefer said, "It quickly became apparent that this has to be the first of many steps, and there's no more important than the first one." He said he was struck by the outpouring of support at the meeting.
Many attendees said awareness is only one of only three key challenges facing the aftermarket. The industry's primary advantage over the OEMs, its first-to-market edge, has been compromised recently by Ford's introduction of the Sync last fall. Secondly, many car stereo retailers are still hobby shops that lack professionalism in appearance and installation.
Another Summit speaker, former Harley-Davidson communications director Ken Schmidt, however, noted that Harley-Davidson was no better off in the late '70s. He described Harley dealers as run-down shops with gravel driveways on the outskirts of town and said there were four Japanese competitors making better and cheaper bikes. Harley ultimately improved its quality and opened two state-of-the-art "test stores" that were so successful, the retailers paid to upgrade their shops.
Manning said in the early 1990s milk sales had been declining 5 percent over the previous 10 years, and the Got Milk? campaign effectively stopped the losses and evened out sales. He noted that the campaign was funded on 3 cents per gallon by each of the milk processors.
He added that in a unified awareness campaign, 80 percent of the major suppliers must participate "because no one wants to give someone a free ride."
Summit steering committee members include Pioneer, Alpine, Kenwood, Clarion, Directed, Sixth Avenue Electronics, Custom Sounds and research firm Coyote Insight.
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