FULLERTON, Calif.—Participation in motorsports serves a three-fold purpose for Yokohama Tire Corp., which is pursuing a stronger emphasis on grassroots racing this year.
The old adage—“Race on Sunday; sell on Monday”—doesn't hold true anymore, according to Fred Koplin, Yokohama's director of marketing communications, but there are still many benefits that come with race sponsorships. These include raising brand awareness, demonstrating the latest technology and connecting with “very loyal and dedicated consumers.”
Tire makers primarily use racing as a test bed for new technology, but Yokohama also views motorsports as an opportunity to develop relationships with aspiring racing champions and influence consumer decisions at the retail level.
“This is the first year we have stepped up a concerted effort (in grassroots racing),” Koplin said. This is being accomplished through “better training of our field people on tire technology and the nuances of the technology and how to translate that to enthusiasts.”
“We want to touch local motorsports enthusiasts more than in the past,” he said.
Motorsports fans and racecar drivers appreciate getting advice about tires and how they impact driving performance. The tire maker will train its salespeople on how to impart this knowledge to enthusiasts.
For tire dealers, “it's important they recognize the enthusiast as a very dedicated customer who is willing to pay a premium price,” Koplin said.
So it is imperative for tire dealers to also be educated on the technology of the tires and be able to explain why one tire is better than another when talking with an enthusiast. “An informed dealer can better serve this knowledgeable and picky customer,” he said. “That customer becomes the ally for the dealer.”
These enthusiasts tend to be very vocal—talking to friends and co-workers about their experiences and knowledge—and they are the “experts” friends, neighbors and co-workers often seek out for advice on which brand of tires to buy and where to buy them.
Another aspect of grassroots motorsports involvement has to do with developing relationships trackside. “That's where it all starts. That's where the drivers get their start,” said Mark Chung, Yokohama's director of corporate strategy and planning.
At the grassroots level, “we are able to get in front of them and develop a partnership and as they get older and move to higher levels, we hope they continue to use our product,” he said.
“There is a strong emotional connection when you work with people as they start out. The initial experience is very key in developing a lifelong bond. We want to attack that market and believe we can.”
Motorsports activity provides a test bed for latest innovations, such as Yokohama's orange oil technology used in its tire construction, according to Chung.
“It's our drive to achieve better results on the track. ... The great thing is we use the technology in racing tires to make consumer tires.”
But testing can be a long process. For example, Chung said, the orange oil technology used to help rolling resistance was first tested 20 years ago. “It shows how long we have to test and break some key barriers.”
Dealers need to stress that “the technology they find in tires is gained through good ol' research”—a great deal of which is done in racing where Yokohama develops the technology and learns from its experiences, he said.
“Enthusiasts truly appreciate the technology of motorsports,” Chung said. “For the novice, they can find trustworthiness or credibility of the performance tire backed by its racing experience.”
While Yokohama's spokesmen declined to discuss the company's motorsports budget, Koplin said although its budget is less than its bigger competitors, “it is a core part of our budget.”
Motorsports spending is on par with last year but has dipped a bit from where it was a few years ago. “It's a function of opportunity,” he said, noting that in evaluating its financial commitment to racing, Yokohama must ask itself: “Is there a great opportunity to warrant spending money? Will it help our long-term marketing plans?”
Next year Yokohama is looking at increasing its racetrack sponsorships and racing schools. “We'll manage and nurture our motorsports relationships and continue our sports marketing and do more mainstream sports,” Koplin said.
Chung added that racing sponsorships “require a lot of effort and resources. But that's the cost of doing business in the industry. All manufacturers participate aggressively in motorsports. We want to set ourselves apart.”