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The Many Hats of the Bicycle Product Manager

Part 3: Marketing: Everything Has Changed

by John Neugent

Tech articles | Commentary articles | Product Manager series part 2

John Neugent probably knows more about bicycle wheels than anyone else alive. Maybe more about bikes as well. He's spent his life in the bike business, at every level. He now owns Neugent Cycling, a firm devoted to delivering world-class equipment at the lowest possible price. If you are in the market for a set of wheels, please, check out John's site. He really knows his stuff. —Chairman Bill

John Neugent

John Neugent

Product managers normally aren’t responsible for marketing but they need to have a complete understanding of their brand's market. In small companies product managers are either a part of, or are responsible for the marketing.

For the road bike market, if you are going to be a major player, it’s very important to be on a world tour team. Scott Montgomery, who at the time was in charge of marketing at Cannondale in the early '90s, told me that sponsoring the top professionals in Europe put Cannondale on the map. He also said, all of the lower level sponsorships really never paid off.

But rider sponsorship is only one piece of the puzzle because you have to let customers know who you are – not only who uses your equipment.

In the old days, pre-Internet, it was fairly simple. Magazines, shows and events were the primary method. When I ran Sachs USA in the early '90s our small team either exhibited or attended about 50 events a year. Back then, word of mouth was word of mouth. The Internet changed everything, or more directly, big data changed everything.

When the Internet started many magazines quickly developed web sites and for a long time they were good places to advertise. Then “big data” came in. Big Data is currently one of the buzz words in programming. Google and others now record everything we do online (your gmail has long been mined for information on your interests). The result is that they know an enormous amount of information on everyone and sell it to advertisers who use it to show you ads wherever you go online.

I, for one, liked it when I went to a cycling web site and saw cycling ads. They were a chance to learn about new products. The last thing I want to see are ads for fingernail polish that my girl friend looked online for yesterday. Or, if I am thinking about spending a few grand on a new bike I don’t want her to see those ads when she goes on my computer.

BikeRaceInfo.com is one of the few sites who still pretty much keep the ads to cycling related and I give them a lot of credit for it.

But now, maybe on par with big data, is social networking. I am not social and I don’t network – I am not on Facebook or Twitter which makes me, to put it nicely, old. That being said I network on my terms with a newsletter. The power of networking is twofold. It multiplies and it allows customers to refer you. Everyone knows advertisers lie about benefits and probably even the actual features, but if a friend says it’s a good product they have credibility. Let’s say, for example, that I send out 10,000 newsletters with a special offer. If it’s a real special offer anyone who reads it who knows someone is in the market for the product I am offering will often forward it to them. The person forwarding it has the advantages that it’s fast and it does a favor for a friend.

Another new concept brought on by the Internet is crowd funding. Sites like Kickstarter.com and others make it possible to fund a new product before production. Not only can this fund a new company but even well established companies can test the waters on a new product before they fully commit.

So pretty much most of the tools you use to introduce new products have changed dramatically in the last 15 years and I would say for the better.

One of the biggest misconceptions people have about new product development is they believe most companies want to do something very new and exciting but in reality the vast majority of new product development focuses on reducing risk and that’s true in the marketing, sales, and product management side.

Part 4 will focus on product design.

John Neugent was was one of the first to establish quality hand building in Taiwan around the turn of the century. He now owns Neugent Cycling, a firm devoted to delivering world-class equipment at the lowest possible price.