Circles Of Influence

Dec 2, 2009

Generalizing about people is a dangerous business. Categorizing them is problematic. Every time you try to do this you are, by rule, incorrect.

Still, for me it’s helpful to think of aftermarket consumers in what I call “The Circle of Influence.”

To understand how the circle works, I think it helps if you visualize a smooth pond of water. Now, throw a pebble in and watch how the circular ripples radiate out from the center. The ripples grow in area, but shrink in height as they proceed from their source.

Think of the height as an indicator of interest, and the area as numbers of consumers. As the circles grow in area, or numbers, they lose intensity

In terms of the aftermarket, if you think of the pebble as a recognized figure in a particular aftermarket segment, and think of the rings as consumers, you’ll begin to get the idea of how the circle defines our industry.

The Path of Influence

Here’s an example: Magnaflow Performance Exhaust was a catalytic converter company with highly sophisticated manufacturing capability and a deep understanding of exhaust technology and the business of the aftermarket exhaust industry.

In order to break into the performance exhaust market, the company needed to attract attention to the brand. Magnaflow needed to get into the selection process of consumers.

What it did was create a relationship and an endorsement agreement with the iconic Mario Andretti. Metaphorically speaking, Magnaflow wrote Andretti’s name on a pebble and tossed it into the aftermarket exhaust pond. This process sent ripples through the industry, influencing certain segments of the aftermarket exhaust consumer market.

Certain consumer segments are influenced by what others are doing. Those that chose the Magnaflow brand were soon influencing the choices of others in the segment.

This happens because of an unusual circumstance in our industry and can be illustrated if you consider that all eyes of the circle are looking inward to see what the person who is just a little more intently interested is choosing to buy. Thus, the value of the source—in this case Mario Andretti—radiates out far beyond any direct contact a consumer might have.

To more clearly understand how this works, imagine a young guy with a Mustang. While watching Horsepower TV on Spike he sees that AIRAID makes an intake kit for his car that makes additional power at a reasonable cost. Because that’s what he is looking for, he buys it.

Now, imagine some time later he’s in his driveway with the hood open, servicing the filter element when a neighbor walks up to see what’s going on. The neighbor inquires about the activity, to which the Mustang owner explains his reasons for the modification.

The neighbor has now been exposed to the message delivered by the advertising, even though he himself never watched the program on Spike. And, because the Mustang owner is a little savvier about cars than the neighbor, he, the neighbor, is likely influenced to think about and maybe join the Mustang owner in becoming an AIRAID guy.

Multiply this scenario by thousands of influencers, at multiple levels, and you can see how the Circle of Influence contributes to our industry’s success.

Know Your Circles

I have attempted to identify the various circles in this process. Please understand that the process is fluid and, as such, consumers can move or migrate from one circle to another over time.

Starting from the center of the circle, I have chosen to identify five categories and partially define their attitudes and what methods are best to reach them:

Professional: Makes a living racing or otherwise is employed full-time in the performance or automotive industry.

  • This category of consumer will use a particular brand only if it performs better, has a better service system or if he is paid to use it.
  • Almost always requires direct contact for sales activity.
  • Highly influential on other consumers.

Aficionado: This consumer may be a UPS driver, but he has a vehicle that is dedicated to, or at least modified with, a specific vehicle-oriented activity or competitive function in mind. It could be a Saturday Night Special or a show car, but it is modified to do some particular function.

  • Heavily influenced by professionals, but relies somewhat on print and online information sources.
  • Purchase decisions can be influenced by endorsement and performance claims.
  • Print and online advertising are very important in this category.
  • A significant influence on other consumers.

Enthusiast: Feels a strong identity connection with the vehicle he drives and spends an inordinate amount of money on it.

  • Somewhat influenced by both professional and dedicated consumer groups, but has little direct contact with them.
  • Relies heavily on print, online and television for information.
  • Purchase decisions can be influenced by endorsement and performance claims, and many times the features of a product outweigh practical benefits.
  • Somewhat influential on other consumers.

DIY Vehicle Aware: Generally aware of the mechanical functions and condition of his/her vehicle. Does some or most of the non-warrantee vehicle maintenance.

  • Buys few aftermarket parts unless some utilitarian benefit is perceived.
  • Somewhat influenced by inner-circle groups when contact is available.
  • Relies on TV, online and occasionally print sources for information.
  • Benefits must be clearly explained in order to generate sales.
  • Does not as a rule influence others.

Indifferent Motorist: Considers his/her vehicle a transportation appliance and feels little if any connection beyond the financial and utilitarian aspects. Repair and maintenance is totally outsourced.

  • This group has a high spillage rate when considering media options and for all practical concerns, does not exist.

Understanding these Circles of Influence can help you better-understand your customers, offer insight into your optimum product mix and allow you to target your marketing efforts for maximum results. Learn from them where it’s best to throw your pebble to have the most impact.