Friday, June 1, 2018

Royal Enfield's growth fuels social media backlash

User reviews on Royal Enfield's own website are often from dissatisfied customers.
Their unanswered criticisms are seen by potential buyers seeking product information.
Royal Enfield boss Siddhartha Lal essentially steals the show in this radio interview on the BBC's Business Daily program.

The interviewer is BBC's Ed Butler, and he wants to talk about trends in advertising: the power of social media, businesses that harvest data about consumers by monitoring their on-line activity, and consumer trust in brands.

Brands such as Royal Enfield.

It's a particularly valid subject for Royal Enfield, as the "user reviews" on its own website, and social media networks in general, are clogged with often unanswered complaints against the company, its products and its dealers.

These complaints seem to fall into two categories: Royal Enfield owners in India rue the day they bought a Royal Enfield and would-be owners in the United States complain they can't get hold of a Royal Enfield fast enough!

As my departed father used to say about the human race: "Never happy, never satisfied."

Butler asks Lal about an incident in India where a cricket star hired to endorse a competitor was discovered to be riding a Royal Enfield. Celebrity endorsements, an old-fashioned — and obviously dishonest — form of advertising does not appeal to Royal Enfield, Lal responds.

"We want to do things authentically, we want to do things real," he says.

He goes on to tell once again the story of how Royal Enfield, then "near bankruptcy," decided in 2000 to stick with the sort of middle weight motorcycles for which it already was renown in India. Respect for its own history, going back to 19th Century Britain, would attract consumers.

(He didn't say so, but this is the concept behind Royal Enfield's on-going introduction of models that reference its past, such as the recent debut of the limited-edition Pegasus model.)

It worked because the massive market in India, growing in wealth, saw value in moving up to a brand that offered genuine prestige — not just the say-so of a cricket star.

It's always a compelling story — Lal has told it many times. Butler was bowled over, as interviewers usually are, by the enormous growth in Royal Enfield production in India. Production is 16 times what it was in 2010.

Lal usually goes on to describe his vision of expanding Royal Enfield's global reach by offering honest, middle weight motorcycles that aren't too big or too small — again, the sorts of motorcycles it already makes.

But Butler leaves Lal and Royal Enfield there and goes on to interview others about how legacy brands are failing to reach customers with old-fashioned advertising and might do better with individually targeted messages on social media.

Left unexamined was how can Royal Enfield can effectively expand into regions — such as the United States — where its brand is little known and its long history poorly remembered.

Would different social media strategies help?

I am no expert, but wouldn't it make sense to drop the "user reviews" from the website? Existing owners in India deserve to be effectively served when they contact their dealers. There is no sense upsetting them at the dealer and then giving them a direct channel to turn-off potential new customers who come to the website for product information.

Then talk to potential customers directly on social media channels not specifically formatted to invite attack.


  1. Effective marketing has to be centered around a competitive product. I cannot understand why RE came into the US market without a bike that was interstate highway-worthy. Since then, RE launched the Himalayan while the Interceptor could still be months away from showroom floors. They have got to hustle up their game and they have to do it now.

  2. It's those two powerful blogs from the US that make the difference!


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