Marketing’s Role in the Performance Industry

Dec 2, 2009

In any company, the sales and production staffs must ask themselves, “What must I do today to make today better?”

Meanwhile, marketing and R&D departments must ask, “What must I do today to make tomorrow better?”

So, what does marketing do today to make tomorrow better?

Marketing has two primary strategic responsibilities, with all other tasks being secondary and/or tactical.

  1. Marketing must work to “culturalize” its brand.
  2. Marketing must explore and develop ways to make the product as easy to buy as possible.

Culturalize the Brand

If you want to sell cowboy hats, you have to walk and talk like a cowboy. Remember the picante sauce commercials where the cowboys would look at the label of the competing brand and exclaim, “New York City??!!” as if that was an insult. That is an example of culturalizing the brand.

Make It Easy to Buy

You’ve heard it said before that we operate in a “want” product category — no one needs the performance products we deal in to survive. People want it, and when people want something, they want it now.

If we make them wait or if we make it difficult to obtain, they will change their minds or circumstances will change and we’ll lose the sale, possibly forever. We need to make sure our products are available and easy for the consumer to purchase.

As an example of how marketing can benefit your daily business, let’s take a look at some successful industry suppliers.

Each of the following manufacturers set specific marketing goals of culturalizing the brand and making it easier to buy. Each company went through the process of identifying specific goals and doing the research to identify the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (S-W-O-T) to their objective. Each company then devised a methodology and timing for the process of establishing their brands in the distribution and consumer categories.


Situation: Carsound Inc. was a manufacturer of catalytic converters supplying a large segment of the aftermarket. The company wanted to diversify its business while utilizing the existing manufacturing processes and the established distribution systems already in place.

It was decided that the effort should focus on the performance aftermarket, and particularly cat-back systems. The problem was that the specialty exhaust distribution and installation facilities that made up Carsound’s established distribution system avoided pre-manufactured exhaust systems because of installation problems due to the poor fitment situations of the available brands.

Additionally, the cat-back market was flooded with companies of varying sizes and established brands, so there was no real vacuum drawing in a new supplier into the existing performance distribution system.

In order to proceed, the product had to be easily obtainable by consumers, and to do that, the current distribution system had to be made aware of the profits and the simplicity of a new approach to the performance exhaust aftermarket, specifically pre-manufactured systems.

In order for the project to succeed, the new brand, Magnaflow, would have to be considered in the purchase decision by both the installers and consumers.

Solution: Magnaflow decided to manufacture products that would more precisely fit the intended vehicles, thus relieving the installers from undue modifications, in order to penetrate the specialty exhaust distribution and installation businesses, and establish a marketing plan that would bring attention and context to the brand within the important market segments.

Solving the installation paradigm allowed Magnaflow to penetrate the most convenient place to purchase exhaust systems, the specialty exhaust installer. The branding culturalization created a consumer interest and brand preference situation that created the necessary vacuum to draw the brand into other distribution systems, making the products easier to buy.

Magnaflow felt that if it could get into the selection process, it would win its share of the purchase decisions. Signing Mario Andretti, Ivan “Ironman” Stewart and Boyd Coddington as company spokespersons attracted attention and established a presence within the general domestic performance, truck and hot rod cultures, respectively. It brought attention to the brand within the selected cultures and the brand became part of the purchase selection process.

Result: Magnaflow has established itself as a recognized supplier in the performance exhaust industry, not only within the exhaust distribution system, but across the board of automotive component suppliers and moved to “front of mind” with performance automotive and truck consumers.

Through the understanding of brand culturalization, both as part of an industry and with the performance-minded consumer, Magnflow has achieved its goal of being in the selection process when it comes to the process of brand selection for specialty exhaust products.


Situation: Royal Purple was a specialty lubricant company that recognized the emerging market for premium synthetic lubricants by vehicle-aware consumers who appreciated the significant advantages of the product. Current offerings in the field were focused on the large general-interest premium consumer segment and certain compromises were being made in order to price-point the product for the general consumer.

The Royal Purple guys felt that there was a somewhat narrower, but highly motivated market for a superior, less-compromised product in the synthetic lubricant market. At the time, their specialty lubricant focus did not entail a larger retail distribution system. The industrial-based brand lacked the consumer awareness factor and the large refinery-backed budgets of the existing brands.

Royal Purple had to culturalize the brand to the super-premium, non-compromising automotive consumer and make the product easier to purchase. This process, because of budget constraints, would require a relatively slow and methodical approach.

Solution: Emerging media platforms such as Web sites and broadband programming, combined with extensive online forum presence, were all facilitated in a constantly optimized process. This proved to be very effective when combined with a unique use of product placement through online contest processes connected to high-profile movie releases.

The company’s activation and leveraging of those properties separated Royal Purple from typical marketing efforts in this industry.

Result: The unique brand-building exercise combined with an extensive effort to expand its retail presence provided Royal Purple with a disproportionate expansion in an otherwise predictable market segment. A 200-percent increase in retail shelf space, combined with constantly expanding media development has provided the company with a substantial sales expansion in an otherwise challenged marketplace.


Situation: John Levitz began Airaid as a response to requests from his customers in his speed shop for more than just a performance filter. They wanted a complete intake system free of the cost and sound restrictions placed on intake systems from the OE manufacturers.

At first, he bought the filter units from a leading filter manufacturer, but eventually he felt marketing pressure and competition from this supplier and deemed it necessary to build the entire unit intake tube, box and filter.

A major obstacle in expanding sales was the long history and brand-awareness by the consumer for the dominant brand in the filter business and the likely transfer of that brand awareness into the intake systems that Airaid was focusing on. When your competitor has been building its brand for 20 years and is 10-times larger, it makes it challenging to establish a new brand.

One area that Levitz felt was missing from both his approach and one that was created by a change in the competition’s marketing efforts was a strong viral and social connection to the distribution system for performance parts. He felt that if he could personalize his relationships with the distribution it would help get his product into specialty and speed shops, and through that process bring an authentication and brand awareness and make the product easier for the consumer to locate and purchase.

Solution: Since Airaid needed a disproportionate presence in the established performance distribution system in which Airaid was not particularly well-known, it occurred to Levitz that one individual of the correct status in the industry could do more for the brand than any other effort, at least with the budget available.

What Levitz did was something rarely seen in today’s numerically controlled marketing environment he hired a top-notch professional that would, with credentials gained from years of experience in the industry, compel the brand further than normally warranted by the budget available.

On the basis of personal relationships, Chris Thomson was able to attract the attention of the Performance Warehouse Association, and by reacting positively to that opportunity, he was able to show the distribution that Airaid could provide valuable marketing results.

Results: Airaid has become a respected player in the highly competitive air intake market, and Thomson was honored as PWA/SEMA Man of the Year. In this case, the two important goals of marketing were accomplished with the hiring of a single person.

Marketing You Can Use

Each of these companies successfully complied with the following list of strategic elements to culturalize the brand and make it easier to buy.

  • Objective: What do we want to do?
  • Research: S-W-O-T.
  • Methodology: How are we going to go about this?
  • Timing: When are we going to do the things that need to be done?
  • Establishment: How are we going to maintain our achieved success?
  • Expansion: How are we going to expand on success?

Their efforts were likely on a larger scale than what is needed for a specialty speed and performance shop. But by utilizing the same type of thinking and a similar approach, retailers and builders can focus marketing efforts that will make tomorrow better.