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Business Management

The BIG 4: What’s The Difference?

Seems like the powersports industry has been dominated by “The Big 4” for decades!

Seems like the powersports industry has been dominated by “The Big 4” for decades! However we are not talking about Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki and Yamaha.


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The real big four that make a difference to your dealership are marketing, advertising, public relations and branding… if you have to ask what’s the difference, then you need to read this column!


Sales and marketing people have been pimping products for thousands of years, yet many of us still don’t differentiate between these “Big 4” major forms of exposure. It’s all just “sales” for most of you because it’s mashed into the same P&L budget column. Assuming you invented, engineered, invested in, built or bought some kind of inventory, you now must sell it in order to make a profit. Because you have placed yourself in a position of “risk,” it’s time to get busy “pushing” your products so you can reap the “reward,” right?


Not exactly! Too many of you still think in terms of the 20th century where we had to “sell” products to bewildered customers who meandered into your brick and mortar retail store. The rules are different now. Technology has advanced. Shopping habits have changed. Choices are everywhere. Distraction is rampant. Search engines answer everything. Human behavior has been permanently altered to the point where acquisition is no longer a form of “hunting and gathering,” but is a “filtering and focusing” process. Customers are confused, so show us the light instead of selling us candles.    


Your task now is not necessarily to sell your products, but to help your customers buy your products. This about-face thinking is more interactive and organic than when we simply told ignorant, non-smart-phone-carrying-customers “buy my stuff!” To make this switch, you need to become more “relevant” in the customers’ world… which isn’t the same world when you built your business. This rapid evolution of shopping and consumer behavior requires you to have an even better understanding of buying fundamentals. If your business is the “lover” in the illustration, how do you get to the lower right hand panel?


Stop thinking “Push” (top 2 panels of the illustration) and start thinking “Pull” (bottom 2 panels) as you read through these fundamental Wikipedia definitions. Start looking at your business through your customers’ eyes so more of them can truly discover you.


Marketing is communicating the value of a product, service or brand to customers, for the purpose of promoting or selling that product, service, or brand.

Comment: The emphasis here is on “value” to the customer and not necessarily the technical features and benefits. Value can mean many different things to different customers, so be sure to ask what they mean.



Advertising is a form of marketing, communication used to persuade an audience to take or continue some action, usually with respect to a commercial, political or ideological offering.

Comment: The “persuasion” of paid advertising is no longer as powerful in this world of reviews, forums, social media and the Internet. It still gets the word out, but it is nowhere as effective as it used to be. Focus more on the other three fundamentals now.


Public relations (PR) is the practice of managing the spread of information between an individual or an organization such as a business, government agency, or a nonprofit organization and the public.


Comment: The keyword is “spread” because your potential customers are more distracted and time constrained than ever before. Your name brand (like fishing lines in the water) needs to be spread out across more platforms.


Branding is the art of aligning what you want people to think about your company with what people actually do think about your company.

Comment: This is the Big Daddy! Most businesses get this wrong because people still think about pushing their product onto customers. Branding is emotional – not logical. Make buying your product the customer’s idea.



  1. Put more focus on organic PR and branding efforts.

  2. Ask customers what they really think your “brand” means to them.

  3. Take the Brand Diagnostic at

  4. Encourage/incentivize customers to participate more in your social media. Free T-shirt? Win a discount coupon?

  5. Build up and use more “keyword” listings to maximize cyberspace relevance (SEO).   

  6. Ask customers what they think “value” means relative to your store’s shopping experience.

  7. Become a source for more than just products – sell the lifestyle.

Galleries of ideas, rider training, track days, navigational aids, tech training, etc.   


Marketing and advertising are about the self-centered businessman – me – and come from the mind. Branding (and some PR) is more about the customer experience – you – and come from the heart. The illustration on page 16 simplifies the POV of the “Big 4.” Wouldn’t you prefer your business to be the “lover” in the bottom two panels instead of what you are doing now in the upper two panels?

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