Ducati is a pretty old brand. It was founded in 1926. As my friends at Ninja Marketing write, the company was close to folding when Federico Minoli, representing Texas Pacific Group, a US investment fund, bought it in 1996. Minoli, a former McKinsey consultant, increased production from 12,000 to more than 40,000 today. The company is located in Borgo Panigale, near Bologna.
Minoli, who left Ducati in 2007, bet on the concept of tribe, appointing a tribe director vs. a marketing manager, who oversees a staff of 30.
Knowing that a mass marketing approach would have been too expensive for the niche brand, Ducati engaged word of mouth from tribe members. The company organizes events -- Ducati Weekends and the World Ducati Week -- with a real tribe of 200,000 Ducati owners and a virtual tribe of 12 MM visitors yearly to the site Ducati.com.
Tribe members, fans, spread the word about the brand. Ducati received front page media coverage on the weekend edition of the Daily Telegraph for a gathering of vintage Ducati, for example. The noteworthy part of the coverage is that it was not obtained through a public relations effort. The journalist is a member of the Ducati Tribe.
With 600 Ducati owners clubs, 40 of which have been around for more than 5 years, you have owners and people passionate about the brand weighing in on the brand experience. All unique, they are part of Desmo Owners Club, DOC. Fans can create Ducati t-shirts, and the Internet gives them an opportunity to gather in person. For example, many from the club in Rome participate to the meet up in Dayton, Florida.
Ducati's community is useful for communications and for crowdsourcing. Recently they asked what makes a Ducati authentic and noted there are four elements:
- the L-shapes cylinders
- the trusses on the steel pipes
- the engine's roar (patented)
- the Desmodromic drive (a Ducati exclusive)
These are the elements common to race Ducati. There is another consideration when you have such a passionate community.
As Gianluca Diegoli explained in a recent interview (Italian), fans may hijack your brand. When the community contributes to the creation of the brand, they may get upset when the company makes a decision that in their eyes contradicts the traditions the community built around it.
Many of the community boards and forums are managed and created entirely by fans without intervention from the company. If you search for Ducati social media outposts, you will find many accounts with a local flavor, especially in the US.
However, Ducati has an official blog, Desmoblog, and official outposts on Facebook, Twitter, and a YouTube channel, where it is gathering velocity. The Facebook fan page has 100,000 fans, who are truly engaged, as we learned a few months ago through a study by FrozenFrogs. These outposts, when well integrated with company digital assets, can indeed generate greater impact on sales with observable metrics.
As Diegoli explains in the interview, the company has a mechanism to involve the various verticals inside the organization, so they can respond to questions and join conversations. It's also good to let your engineers see what issues customers are facing, so they can think about how to improve models.
If you want to learn more about the secrets of Ducati, you can visit their plant in Borgo Panigale. The museum Minoli built helps showcase the craftsmanship of their beautiful rides and is there for fans to learn about the story of Ducati, which is what differentiates the brand beyond pure technology.
Many of the tribe members are Ducati employees who have the opportunity to get a seat at a Grand Prix Motors race -- where 600 out of the 4,000 the company seats are taken by staff. This is critical for building a tribe with customers, you need to have an internal team that is as or more passionate about the product than they are.
Right now, that team includes a few who blog, participate in forums, and in other social media outposts. Eventually, the whole organization will be well served by integrating listening and participation or collaboration with fans as part of their work lives.
It's easy to see what made this customer tribe tick. I don't own a Ducati and I could see myself as member of the tribe. The key here is passion for riding a high performance -- and if I may say so -- beautiful motorcycle. The organization is on the way to catching up with its fan base online.
What elements of your product or service would engender this kind of passion and loyalty? Are you still resisting the call to participate in social media outposts by providing content to your fans, or highlighting their content?