BUFFALO, N.Y.-Dunlop Tire Corp. believes in its products. Of course, that doesn't do the Buffalo-based tire maker much good if consumers don't agree.
But convincing tire buyers can be a tall order. So Dunlop has decided to enlist a core group of consumers to expand the company's brand identity, according to Patrick J. Logue, Dunlop vice president of marketing.
Dunlop's ``Grass Roots: Spreading the Word'' campaign targets a personalized marketing program at automotive and light truck enthusiasts who are seen as ``opinion setters'' by their peers, Mr. Logue said.
Those enthusiasts will then do much of the work promoting the benefits of the Dunlop brand to consumers in other segments of the replacement tire market.
``We want to focus on the enthusiast. Someone that is an opinion setter,'' Mr. Logue said. ``His friends look up to him as a knowledgeable person. If he says these are good tires, they will listen to him.''
It's called word-of-mouth advertising, and its success depends upon how convinced that core group of customers becomes of Dunlop product quality and performance.
To target enthusiasts, Dunlop has become a participating sponsor of the American Sport Truck Association (ATSA) and a supporting member of the United Four Wheel Drive Association, an organization of 4x4 clubs in the U.S. and Canada.
Both affiliations will allow the tire maker to display advertising, marketing and product demonstration materials and information at association events, Mr. Logue said. The ATSA, itself, sponsors more than 50 shows each year.
But more importantly, the sponsorships have opened up opportunities for direct communications between Dunlop and club members throughout North America.
That avenue already is being exploited through direct mailings of product information to club members in the sport and utility vehicle market segments.
The initial mailing from the company included a response card asking club members to tell Dunlop what other kind of information they would like to receive and how they would like to receive it.
Possibly the greatest benefit for Dunlop and independent dealers will come from ride-and-drive sessions the company is planning to schedule in selected cities. Those events will allow local dealers to come into direct contact with enthusiasts test-driving Dunlop products.
Specifically, Dunlop plans to use the campaign to push its SP Sport 8000 Z-rated performance tire, its all-season variant, the SP Sport 4000 A/S, and two performance light truck lines-the H- and T-rated Rover GTX and the Radial Rover A/T.
The end result of the Grass Roots program should be additional business in local dealerships carrying all types of Dunlop tires, Mr. Logue said.
``We hope to improve the flow of traffic (in independent Dunlop dealerships),'' Mr. Logue said. ``If dealers start saying they are seeing increased flow, we'll know (the campaign) is working.''
In support of the marketing program, Dunlop will begin running ads for its performance tire lines in Corvette Quarterly, Mustang Monthly, Mazda Miata Magazine, Porsche Panorama, Camaro Enthusiast, United's Voice and ATSA News.
The entire Grass Roots marketing concept could last for years, Mr. Logue said, adding: ``We have to be careful that we don't look for instant gratification. This is something that builds (momentum) over the course of three to five years.''