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How NOT to do social media: Norton Motorcycles (UK) Ltd

June 20, 2012
Image of Stuart Garner of Norton Motorcycles (UK) Ltd in front a poorly-written Powerpoint slide

Norton Motorcycles (UK) Ltd brand erosion: quality brands need to focus on perfection wherever the brand touches the stakeholder. Alas, not in the case…

Social media today is essential to brand perception, yet get it wrong and all that marketing money goes rapidly down the drain. Here’s a short story about how Norton Motorcycles (UK) Ltd – the company formerly known as Norton Motors – came a cropper recently when yours truly deigned to comment on their marcoms…

Bad detail checks from Norton Motorcycles (UK) Ltd…

As regular readers of A Brand Day Out will know, your author is passionate about marketing truth, credibility and perception. Truth and quality brings forth new and renewing customers. Readers will also know how passionate your author is about British-made products; he has supported British companies through thick and thin over the years and believes others should do the same if they want to see the country prosper.

In the past, and until very recently, he has also promoted Norton Motors on Facebook and, indeed, within the pages of A Brand Day Out. However…

Take a look at the picture at the top of this blog. It’s of Stuart Garner, CEO of Norton Motorcycles (UK) Ltd, pictured at a recent entrepreneur event telling how he rebuilt an iconic brand. Brands are built on all touchpoints readers and see carefully the curious syntax of the slide behind Mr Garner.  Above all, observe an irrelevant comma between the word “iconic” and “brand”.

Passing the (blame) buck…

Cue your author posting some comments about this on the Norton Motorcycles (UK) Ltd Facebook page. Your author (among several other Facebook users) was keen to point out the error and also to suggest that brands are built upon all touchpoints.

It’s worth saying that Norton Motorcycles (UK) Ltd rarely uses Facebook for dialogue with fans and instead, like most companies, simply use the social site as a PR extension. However, in this instance, an unknown Norton employee responded to the issues raised by suggesting that the offending slide was provided by a company called “Real Business”. In other words, the slide was nothing to do with them. Story over. Well, no…

In social media, the first mistake was made. Instead of replying a jovial “mea culpa” fashion, the Norton marketing guru replied by passing the buck. Question: if social media fans hadn’t spotted the error, would anyone at Norton Motorcycles (UK) Ltd have noticed? What does this say about their attention to detail on machines costing upwards of £10,000? German engineers know that quality begins with the smallest nut and bolt.

The second more signficant error was their next one. When your author pointed out that (a) someone at Norton should have checked the slide before Mr Garner went on stage or (b) someone in the Norton marketing team should have chosen to use a different slide, his comments were subsequently removed from the article comment stream.

A Brand Day Out “dissed” by Norton Motorcycles (UK) Ltd!

And then, not happy with this course of action, Norton Motorcycles (UK) Ltd chose then to block your author (a 30 year fan of Norton Motors, a member of the Norton Owners Club, and one time shareholder in a former incarnation of the business) from making further comments.

Is this blog a rant? Yes, of sorts. But the main issue is this: in social media it is not up to the company to assume they know their customers. Dialogue creates dialogue; discourse creates engagement; engagement creates interest; interest creates potential sales.

Image of a Norton Dominator Deluxe

Would you like footrests with that sir? A happy potential customer with a Norton Dominator Deluxe in approximately 1960 (author collection).

In blocking your author from commenting on/about a brand he cares about, Norton Motorcycles (UK) Ltd have alienated a brand fan of 30 years. A fan who has also owned two Norton motorcycles in the past. They have also turned off two potential purchasers in the authors “friend” network, closing the door to essential orders in a time of austerity. They have in fact censored their fans like the Chinese government censors its people.

Old-fashioned management belongs in the ark

 The company has also brought to a broader public the old-fashioned “management knows best” policy still so prevalent in many companies. In the past, when Norton Motors was run by Gilbert Smith, a man famously described as “a foul-mouthed Birmingham businessman”, this style may have been appropriate. But today, when companies need to pay acute attention to brand perception or die, this is unacceptable.

Clearly the slide behind Mr Garner was an error. But the person who put it together needs lessons in perception. The person who stood in front of it should have checked it before he went on stage (or someone should have done this for a respected CEO). The person who posted the article on Facebook should have known better. It is little wonder that companies like Honda, Kawasaki and Suzuki grew to what they are in today’s motorcycle world – by paying attention to everything they did.

And Stuart Garner, I’m a forgiving man. I’m even prepared to work with you on your social media if it means getting this essential marketing effort right. But please have words with your existing social media people – they need to realise that customers come in all shapes and sizes.

And it’s important to remember that even brand fans, who might not be able to afford a Norton, can still engage with the brand and encourage those who have the money to support you in your efforts to make Norton a great name again. Purchasers who are supported by adoring fans help customers avoid the “blues” created by post purchase cognitive dissonance.

OK, rant over. As ever, if you or anyone in your company needs help with: their communications strategy; a review of their marketing communications; training of their marketing staff or copywriting for all marketing materials then please do visit my website and get in touch.

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