Article > Opinion

Where the Rubber Meets the Road

By Jon S. Owens

In the automotive aftermarket, for far too long, parts manufacturers have allowed their products to become commodities.

In a recent interview, Goodyear chairman and CEO Bob Keegan talked about (among other things) the reshaping of Goodyear's corporate culture, its drive to be more aggressive marketers and its need to better align itself with the needs of its dealers.

Upon taking the helm at Goodyear in 2003, Keegan quickly set out to transform the company from an "old-style manufacturer" to an "aggressive marketing company." As consumers we've all seen thousands of tire commercials, some with infants cradled inside the safety of a round, black tire, to others that make it appear as though the tire is actually drinking water off the pavement, spitting it out behind the vehicle. That's all marketing, and Goodyear was right in the thick of it.

However, Keegan's concept of "aggressive marketing" goes way beyond special-effects commercial production - and that's the lesson that needs to be learned by so many parts manufacturers today. For Keegan, aggressive marketing meant driving Goodyear to "become an intensely market-focused company."

In describing Goodyear's many problems, Keegan said, "We didn't have enough broad-based marketing capability." An upheaval of upper-level managers ensued, followed by research to glean customer insights. "Those insights drove a process that allowed (us) to differentiate (our) tire lines so that they were not regarded as commodities," Keegan said.

This is where the proverbial rubber meets the road.

In the automotive aftermarket, for far too long, parts manufacturers have allowed their products to become commodities. An automotive product that has a distinct advantage requires effective communication throughout the channel. This is critical, yet I see manufacturers reduce their communication and marketing efforts, while simultaneously reducing their overall investment in sales and marketing expertise. This phenomenon is the most obvious example of a double-edged sword, and it's killing parts manufacturers and their brands seemingly on a weekly basis.

Keegan took a different approach. Investment in marketing expertise has enabled Goodyear to effectively communicate its products to and throughout its markets. Goodyear communicates to its consumers in one way; Keegan describes this as "very descriptive, very simple, very consumer-friendly." Regarding Goodyear's ultra-important dealer network, Keegan described an important philosophy: "We are not here to 'sell' our dealers tires. We are here to build their businesses and to make sure they can 'sell' our tires." This is pure genius from where I sit, and apparently pure genius from its dealers' perspectives, as sales and profits continue to climb.

This should cause all parts manufacturers to pause and consider the investments they've made in real, thorough, consistent and all-encompassing sales and marketing efforts. Distributors: Are your suppliers increasing their attention toward you? Are they focused on helping you build your business? Are they communicating with you, enabling you to sell more of their new, great products? Are they supporting your efforts to sell their products by communicating to your professional customers and DIYers?

As they chase each other to China, how will company or brand ever differentiate itself from the other? It is Goodyear's great fortune that Keegan realized that marketing was the key. When will parts manufacturers serving our industry realize the same?

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