Watson On: Selling The Brand

It’s normally about this time of year, just before the riding season really gets underway, that most motorcycle manufacturers ramp up their merchandise catalogs and start to offer us some very odd items to choose from. But what on earth really goes into selling the brand itself? I'm often left scratching my head rather than make purchase.

Now, I fully understand that motorcycle companies have to make money and it’s a dog eat dog world out there just to remain profitable and in business, but a glance through most of the manufacturers web sites always makes me shake my head and quite often laugh out loud. I simply do not understand what the marketing men were thinking of in the first place, or who is actually ever going to buy some of these peculiar things that are euphemistically called company merchandise.

If you have a well known brand name licensing can truly be big business. The revenue it generates could pull in many millions of dollars of your company. You not only sell a third party the rights to put your company name on its product(s); you also don’t have to make any initial investments in the item(s) being produced with your logo, and or, name affixed to them. The best part? You get a percentage on every single one sold.

From a business plan aspect it makes perfect sense. Someone else takes all the risks and if the merchandise does well you sit back and make a shed load of money.

But where I struggle is when the marketing folk seem to let the company identity appear on almost anything because it might turn a buck. The prospect of getting the company’s name in front of the target audience or a new audience altogether is all to alluring. I understand selling t-shirts and caps with the company name on them, but I don’t understand branded aftershave, tea sets and cologne, as they have absolutely nothing do with motorcycles!

If you don’t believe me take a look for yourself. Almost every motorcycle company has a weird section on its web site offering peculiar merchandise items that have a no connection to its brand. I have no idea who buys these items, but I would dearly like to ask them why they have paid good money for some of these very strange things.

It would be churlish to pick on one manufacturer as they all offer peculiar licensed merchandise but I recently spent a bit of time looking at what you could buy if you really wanted to and came away somewhat bemused from the entire experience.

Here’s a small selection of what caught my eye. For just under $50 you can buy a set of six Ducati espresso cups in the company color with the brand name emblazoned on both the cups and the saucers. When exactly is a Ducati owner going to sit down with six friends and drink espresso from these? If the answer is never then who is actually buying these cups in the first place and for whom?

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