VespaUSA, the internets, and missed opportunities

Ex-Vespa-blogger Crystal Waters points out at Girlbike that even the marketing community has picked up on Piaggio’s failure to support the official Vespa blogs. ClickZ’s headline, (“Two Years After Launching Brand Blogs, Vespa Forgets Them,”) is misleading, they were forgotten about ten minutes after CooperKatz patted themselves on the back for inventing the idea. Still, even though both blogs were frozen in time with a depressing lead post about Vespa’s lack of enthusiasm, the VespaUSA site linked to them until yesterday (presumably the links were removed as a result of the ClickZ story).

Another punchline comes from a VespaUSA visitor who requested a catalog online and waited three months for it to arrive. As of today (January 3, 2007), the VespaUSA site launches a pre-Christmas promotion popup page. The front page features four “news” stories, two dating from June 2006 and at least one (possibly two, it’s unclear) featuring an expired promotion. Neither PiaggioUSA nor VespaUSA’s site mention a 2007 lineup, or the most-anticipated scooter of 2007, the MP3 (which amazingly remains without a name for the American market). One has to imagine that the majority of hits to a motorcycle manufacturer website in January are going to be people looking for new model info.

Canadian Scooter Corp. announced their 2007 Vespa/Piaggio lineup in mid-December (featuring the MP3, but no Vespa S!), but their site is also woefully out of date, featuring “news” from May 2006 and nothing about the new models.

If Piaggio as a corporation doesn’t have the reaction time or resources to keep their own sites up to date, (simply a fact of life for some bureaucratic corporations), the two Vespa blogs were a perfect way to spread information –on their terms–in a more timely manner. That’s why it’s even more depressing to see that they couldn’t muster the little effort required to communicate with their own (volunteer!) bloggers. With so many scooter bloggers, “official” and otherwise, doing their work for them, you’d think PiaggioUSA would be able to capitalize on their own hype, rather than abandoning every initiative they start. Once again, I ask, what the hell do Vespa’s marketing people (in-house and at CooperKatz) do all day? There’s very little evidence of marketing at the national level, in the past year they mustered nothing but an occasional PR-fluff newspaper story, the “Open Letter to Mayors,” the Vespetition (their master opus, maybe a week’s worth of work) and a handful of ads in national scooter magazines. Meanwhile, they’re awarding dealerships to anyone who asks, so they can say their “sales” are up. Perhaps their “marketing” is all at the dealer level?

14 thoughts on “VespaUSA, the internets, and missed opportunities”

  1. Ouch! Painfully accurate.

    Vespa gets stung by the news sources it doesn’t feed… but so does Honda. I can understand where Honda “forgets” to supply us with fresh scooter info given the US’s historical blazay-faire attitude toward scoots… but VESPA? You don’t have a sport-bike, cruiser, quad runner, dirt bike product to fall back on!

    Can’t Vespa just get an inside guy with all the info and excitement to deliver it? A scooter version of Nintendo’s Reggie Fils-Aime? Someone to preach the Vespa gospel? Has it not occurred to them or is that just beneath them? They could take some lessons from Kymco.

  2. Well, Kymco got off to a good start by setting reasonable goals, getting involved in the powersports industry, positioning themselves as affordable transportation rather than a luxury item, and building good relationships with dealers. Also, don’t quote me on this but I think I read somewhere that Kymcos ATVs are still outselling their scooters.

    Piaggio did none of those things, and worse, they failed to capitalize on the headstart they had here, totally and purposefully ignoring (nay, agitating) a devout grassroots community and infrastructure already in place and willing to do their work for them.

    And even worse than that, they’ve ignored mistake after mistake that they themselves have made in the past: talking big and demanding too much from dealers while treating the US as a tertiary market with poor supply, old models, little parts and service support, and ultimately going for the quick buck rather than building a lasting presence.

    Amazingly, they have a 50-year track record of interfering with, frustrating, and then abandoning grassroots organizations and media. The scooter clubs and scooter publications of the past all went through this, too.

  3. Furthermore, if Piaggio knows we exist, they probably see us as their enemy, which is silly. If I’m hostile to them, it’s because I care about them more than they usually seem to themselves. I compare it to a sports franchise. I think I’ve made this analogy before, but I do advertising work for a major Chicago sports team. Fans and journalists could not be more hostile to the team, even when they’re doing well (For example, the Chicago Bears (not my team) are headed to the Playoffs in the top spot of their division, they’re the best they’ve been in 20 years and today’s paper has six pages ripping them apart) but our team still advertises in the paper and reaches out to the fans, for the simple reason that they ARE our customers and they’re passionate about our product (team/sport).

    Just like a sports team, Vespa’s true fans love the product and the legacy, but feel the pressure for quick profit by the business end is hurting both the current product and the long-term success of the product. And in both cases, they’re probably right.

    Sure, you can’t usually keep a company running on love and tradition, but if there’s anywhere that’s possible, it’s Italy, home of corruption and government bailouts. Piaggio is teetering between the old school and new school of Italian business, with Colaninno trying to wash his hands of his somewhat shady past, but he can’t have it both ways anymore. in the same fashion, they need to make a real committment to America, by ending the musical chairs at PiaggioUSA and focusing on a real plan that will work in America. That will involve looking at their past and future and coming up with a heartfelt *and* professional plan for sustained growth rather than half-assed marketing gimmicks to appease dealers while they dump as many last-model-year scooters on showroom floors as they can.

  4. >>>That’s why it’s even more depressing to see that they couldn’t muster the little effort required to communicate with their own (volunteer!) bloggers. With so many scooter bloggers, “official� and otherwise, doing their work for them, you’d think PiaggioUSA would be able to capitalize on their own hype, rather than abandoning every initiative they start.

    Rage, Bryan, rage! Becky and I just saw Who Killed the Electric Car. Talk about depressing. GM invests a gajillion $s building an electric car (supposedly a good car too!) while simultaniously sabotaging the project.

    It was so weird for me to listen to Bajaj officials tell me that the scooter was dead in India while literally watching them build, right in front of me, a scooter to compete with the hugely successful Activa. And their new model the Krystal is specifically design for the “ladies” while 95 percent of the Activa riders I saw were guys. Corporate “group think” at its worst. Clearly some corporations are more susceptible to this than others.

    On our way to India, Becky and I spent a day in Paris. We saw a number of MP3s on the road and at a Piaggio dealership. It was a real thrill to see this thing taking a corner in real life and getting regular daily use.

    dave

  5. Yeah, Dave, Bajaj is killing me. They themselves pronounce the scooter dead just as it’s surging worldwide, then race to restart production. If you’re going to have random loudmouth convictions, even if they’re wrong, stick to them, especially if you’re a world leader who can actually dictate the market. Piaggio at least does that well (internationally, not in the US, and ignoring their little PX150 relapse in 1995).

    I’ve said this soooo many times but I want everyone to say “Bryan was totally right” when it happens: Bajaj will announce a “New Chetak” before the end of 2008.

  6. Hey Piaggio USA.. I’m looking for a job. Hire me and I’ll be sure to supply timely updates to your web site :)

  7. Kymco=Honda in the late sixties
    Piaggio/Vespa=Harley Davidson in the AMF days

    Personally I think Vespa’s name is like gold. Unfortunately they keep pissing off their customers and dealers. The electrical problems with the LX150 and the exhaust problems on the GTS would have been immediately recalled by any other company, but Piaggio chose to ignore them. Forcing scooters on dealers just to make it look like sales are up before their stock offering was pretty shady as well. Now how about bringing in some parts for all those scooters?

  8. We’ve heard from a couple dealers about their dealings with Piaggio and they’re not happy. I’d love to find some more to talk to. I’m thinking that this is a good story for the larger dealer community. Anyone care to talk?
    BTW, I’m an editor at Dealernews magazine, we’re a trade mag that covers the motorcycle/powersports industry specifically for dealers.

    Last year Paolo Timoni announced big plans to expand Vespa dealerships out of the boutique model. We’re looking into how that’s going and what’s happening with the efforts to reestablish Moto Guzzi and Aprilia as viable brands. Hmmm.

  9. Piaggio/Vespa must be aware at some level of their deficiencies. I’m guessing it’s run like many business’s where what really matters is the profit margin. As long as there is a healthy return or their investment, there’s no real necessity to invest or reivest in the various clubs, or even the dealers. There’s no profit in having a recall. Put as little money in and get as much out as possible. I understand that perspective, but I don’t like it.

    There’s obvious profit in new models like the MP3 or LX60, so that seems to be where any investment money goes. But it seems it all went into the engineering and design with only minimal cash going into promotion.

    I would think that even a great North American marketing executive who understands the issues you brought up and the value in resolving them would bring would still be impeded by the mothercorp back in Italy.

  10. Hey Dennis, I know some people you can talk to. You can email me at alatscootdotnet for details.

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