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Honda Rider's Club Effort Accelerates

American Honda Motor Co. is relying on direct marketing to rev up interest in the Honda Rider's Club of America, a 500,000-member organization for Honda motorcycle, ATV and scooter owners.

The automaker reports a positive response to a non-coded postcard sent in June to those members to encourage club registrations or renewals on the site at http://hrca.honda.com. Another mailer is planned in a couple months targeting the same audience, supported by e-mails to house files and banner ads on auto-related sites.

“The campaign operates on a short- and long-term scale,” said Ian Bogost, vice president of technology at Honda agency Media Revolution, Los Angeles.

“On the one hand,” he said, “we want to increase member renewals for the HRCA but, on the other hand, we want to deepen the HRCA's members' relationship with Honda Motorcycle and the Honda brand as a whole.”

Honda so far promotes its club site mainly through print ads and cross-marketing with other Honda sites. Articles in a members-only magazine called Red Rider and event appearances also plug the online presence.

New marketing will ask members to revisit the club if they have been inactive or if they did not know they were members. Honda also will remind them of the club's benefits, asking them to exploit the benefits and keep participating with the brand's events.

In a sense, Honda's efforts to generate owner loyalty are not unique. Harley-Davidson, for example, is a master at this with the Harley-Davidson Owners Group, also known as HOG.

What sets the Honda Rider's Club site apart from others — but less so from Harley — is that it caters to a diffused audience. Its enthusiasts are a diverse lot, with ATV owners, scooter riders and motorcyclists of all hues: cruiser owners, sport bike fans, touring riders, trail riders and racers.

Still, few automakers are ready for an online, interactive relationship with customers. The few sites operating mostly are fan sites kept alive by individual owners or groups.

“We're offering a higher level of community than most sites,” Bogost claims.

Instead of standby message boards and chats, Honda tailored its services to the rider's lifestyle. It has live chats and Webcasts with Honda Red Riders, racers that Honda sponsors. There is an instant-messaging capability for member-to-member communication as well as member directories, product development stories, riding impressions, technical features and event calendars.

The club also cultivates interest in Honda through local and national events, the bimonthly Red Rider magazine and a members-only area called the Clubhouse.

The Clubhouse offers membership management and communication tools, games, contests, trip-planning features and exclusive Honda-related content. In addition, there are special discounts and benefits on select merchandise, activities and services.

“One of the goals of the Clubhouse is to reduce that dependence on mailing,” said George Harmon, product manager in Honda's e-business customer experience team in Torrance, CA.

Online communications are to replace that new emphasis on mail and cut advertising costs, he said.

Club membership for the first year is complimentary. Thereafter, members pay $24.95 yearly, or $39.95 to include roadside assistance.

The club has a separate marketing budget within American Honda's motorcycle division. The company's e-business and the club share the budget since they jointly market the site.

Essentially, Honda's marketing aims to give club members tools to improve their riding and overall Honda experience. The bottom line is generating lifetime owner loyalty while maintaining communication with them.

Harmon said the site is experiential and not intended as a direct sales tool. The best marketing of the club occurs through the 1,200 Honda dealers nationwide, he said. At the time of a product sale, club membership and full benefits are provided to the customer as an added bonus.

But giving is one thing and taking another. Honda's challenge, Harmon said, is “making sure our dealers and their staff properly explain and introduce the new customer to the HRCA, especially where there may be a high staff turnover rate or multiple product lines.

“Another issue is encouraging folks who are great Honda customers and HRCA members, but may not be computer enthusiasts, to visit the site, become involved and return frequently.”

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