Case Study: Yamaha's Conversation with Their Customers


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It’s been two years since Yamaha Motor launched its corporate blog ( Sled Talk debuted in March 2007, but what has happened since? In this engaging case study, Chris Reid, National Manager, Product Planning and Research, Yamaha Motor Canada and Maggie Fox, CEO of Social Media Group, one of the world’s largest independent social media agencies, will walk you through the process of doing it right: getting executive buy in, proper planning and pitfalls to avoid. They’ll also share some of the many benefits Yamaha has realized across their organization as a result of their brave decision to be one of the first companies in Canada to open the doors to conversation with their consumers:
• Changing the rules of engagement: how establishing a blog dramatically changed consumer expectations, as one of Yamaha’s competitors found out, the hard way
• Knocking down barriers – how bypassing the traditional platforms and systems of communication has significantly reduced negative chatter among consumers around recall
and other issues
• Product development: how product development insights have been generated, and acted
upon, via interaction on Sled Talk
• How to do it right: Chris will share insights into addressing the issues that trouble most
executives: negative comments, legal issues and, of course, ROI
We’ll also explain how Yamaha established benchmarks for consumer engagement on the blog,
measured against them and established a value for the program that far exceeded the initial
investment – ensuring senior executive support for many years to come.

Published in: Sports, Business
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  • Chris
    Chris Reid, National manager, Product Planning & Research, Yamaha Motor Canada
    Maggie Fox, Founder and CEO, Social Media Group (
  • Maggie
    This is a quote from The Naked Corporation: How the Age of Transparency Will Revolutionize Business, written in 2003 by Don Tapscott & David Ticoll
    The reference means that if you’re going to engage in a dialogue with your market, your business and products had better be good – because they will now need to stand up to scrutiny you cannot control. If they cannot, the change in your corporate reputation will be very public
  • Chris
    Yamaha Motor is the world’s largest manufacturer of snowmobiles and the world’s second-largest recreational vehicle manufacturer.
    We have a Canadian national parts distribution centre, seven product warehouses, a coast-to-coast network of employees, and over 500 dealers.
    We offer hundreds of model variations in seven different product lines.
  • Maggie
    What we’ll cover:
    What Chris wanted to do and why
    Considerations and risks
    How we made the case
    The process for ensuring success once we got the green light
    How did the program do?
    What was/is the business value realized?
    Lessons learned
  • Chris
    Snowmobilers in Canada are an incredibly active with strong online communities in places like the forum
    Chris has been participating for some time in these online communities, but under a pseudonym, and when he did identify himself as an employee of Yamaha in order to address an issue or correct a misconception, forum members would often not believe him
    One of the biggest sources of negative chatter for Yamaha was around product recalls - because of the engineering process it could take months before product issues that individuals raised could be communicated by the company and months before they could be concretely addressed
    Establishing a Yamaha platform online wouldn’t speed that process up or change it, but it would allow the company to acknowledge the issues and answer the questions that they could - hopefully reducing the anger and frustration that would occassionally bubble up from their customers
    Chris thought about using their existing website, but it was not flexible enough
    He met Maggie Fox of Social Media Group and started thinking about establishing a corporate blog in October 2006
  • Chris
    Yamaha Motor Canada is the satellite distributor of a large global company
    Corporate cultural issues revolved around what head office in Japan would think as well as what the U.S. would think, and whether they might try to stop the program
    Did Canada need to get permission in order to set up a corporate blog?
  • Chris
    The other major concern was mitigating risk
  • Chris
    As a recreational vehicle manufacturer, Yamaha is in a high-liability business
    Chris was concerned that establishing a company-sanctioned conversational platform could expose Yamaha to risk
    The fear was that something written on the blog or in the comments would find its way to court as part of a lawsuit
  • Chris
    One of the other major concerns was warranty issues. There were fears that users of these high-ticket, extreme machines would use the blog as a place to raise potential product warranty issues and conflict with the pre-existing customer service process
    There was also a lot of concern about volume - knowing what a passionate community Canadian snowmobilers are, there were concerns that opening any door to the market would unleash a flood of comments that would be totally unmanageable - potentially triggering a backlash
  • Chris
    We identified all of these key risk factors - the things that were most likely to stop the project in its tracks. It was time to make the case
    Recognizing the value and importance of outside expertise, Chris brought in Maggie and Social Media Group to help him make his case to management
  • Maggie
    Social Media Group has a very established process for ensuring success in social media program deployment
    The first thing we do is make sure the big idea is the right idea
    Chris had thought about a blog, and after doing market research, discovering that so much of the community existed on forums, we recognized that whatever they did needed to be complimentary platform. A blog fit this bill
    The second thing we did was establish clear goals - what was it that we were trying to accomplish with the blog? How were we going to measure success? How wer ewe going to join the community and be welcomed?
  • Chris
    Chris also conducted something called “nemawashi” - it’s a Japanese concept that essentially means laying the groundwork, letting key stakeholders know what he wanted to propose and answer their questions in advance of any formal meeting
  • Maggie
    The next step was to establish a formal meeting with senior management to pitch the idea
    It was a two-part process. To bring everyone up to speed Maggie presented a “social media 101” session (keep in mind that in 2006/07 we couldn’t assume that everyone knew what a blog was, let alone how many of them there were)
    We also presented clear and applicable case studies on how other companies were successfully using blogs to deliver business value
    The second part of the presentation was an outline of what we wanted to do, what our goals were and how we proposed measuring it
  • Chris
    Management was confident we had thought the program through, understood the risks and presented an opportunity to deliver business value - we got the green light.
  • Maggie
    As part of the process to launch the blog, we scheduled 1:1 interview sessions with key internal stakeholders from compliance, product HR (we also made recommendations on HR blogging policy), sales, customer service and marketing
    Each 45 minute session focused on what the individuals felt were the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats around Yamaha starting to use social media to communicate with the marketplace
    They not only provided valuable insight into the business and business problems, but also allowed us to conduct a little post-nemawashi; offering individuals the chance to ask questions and reassure themselves that the program was well thought out and of value
    End result: organizational buy-in
  • Maggie
    To address product liability and customer services issues, as well as corporate reputation concerns, we wrote very clear Terms of Use (available at ) that stated the blog was not the venue for comments that described dangerous use of snowmobiles, were profane, spam or off-topic, or that really should be directed to customer service.
    Comments are moderated (a best practice in corporate blogging)
    The TOU, written very conversationally, were reviewed by legal and compliance and approved
  • Chris
    Finally, Chris also conducted soft community outreach, personally emailing key forum administrators to let them know what the company was planning to do
    He also re-joined the top forums with the username “Yamaha Sled Talk Blog” and included his name in his signature
    He made it clear that this was not a competitive move, but rather Yamaha wanting to talk to its customers
  • Chris, launched March 1st, 2007, to coincide with new models being made available to order for delivery in the fall
    We received 27 comments on our first post
  • Chris
    Community reaction was very positive - including very prominent posts put up by admins in the major forums announcing the blog launch (the forums are still the largest source of traffic)
  • Chris
    Comments on the first post were enormously enthusiastic - and many people asked where the other manufacturers were
    However - they have discovered that there is a core group of enthusiasts that just don’t trust marketing. They figure Chris is being paid, and that everything he says is to benefit the company. It may well be that there’s a hardcore group that no marketers can touch
  • Maggie
    With approximately 200,000 hard-core snowmobiling enthusiasts in Canada, we estimate we’re reaching about 5% of them on a monthly basis
  • Maggie
    One of our major goals was to give better visibility into the complexity of the recall process and reduce negative chatter in the marketplace when there is a recall
    Chris did a post exlpaining how recalls happen and the forum admins on Totally Yamaha linked to it and made it a permanent post under the heading “Are they listening?”
    This has helped the market understand better that complaining to each other doesn’t work, but that if they applied pressure to their dealers around reporting they could speed up the process
  • Chris
    Chris got over 500 responses to a survey of Apex/Attak owners in less than 36 hours
    The data was packaged up and sent to Japan within 48 hours of the survey being opened
    It was a huge sample size, generated valuable insight for the product development team and it was FREE
  • Chris
    An enthusiast named Yellowknife had decided NOT to buy a Yamaha machine because it did not have a trailer hitch available as an accessory
    Chris worked with the accessories development team and had a $200 prototype manufactured, and invited Yellowknife to test it
    It worked and he went on to purchase a $15k machine (as others, who didn’t necessarily speak up, likely did as well)
  • Chris
    Doesn’t sound like much?
    Yellowknife is a key opinion maker who opened a thread on a competitor’s forum in 2006/07 in which he compared the performance of the rival machine and the Yamaha. It generated over 60,000 views
    In the end, in part because of his relationship with Yamaha via the blog, he sold his competitive machine and now owns two Yamahas
    He continues to actively post in the competitor’s space and has a regular audience of thousands (over 100k views on his annual mileage threads)
  • Maggie
    The blog changed the rules of engagement for corporate communications
    Started with this post, which was a veiled shot at the competition’s claims - they had launched a negative campaign slamming Yamaha’s products
    Yamaha could have gone toe to toe and spent thousands on media to counteract the campaign
    Instead, Chris wrote a blog post about it
  • Maggie
    The competition responded to Chris’ blog post in their own community - a forum dedicated to owners
    However, they did not leave the thread open to comments - it was simply an announcement
    The community, now used to an open dialogue with Yamaha, responded with outrage
    There were dozens of threads within the forum criticizing the other manufacturer for not being open to hearing from their customers and engaging with them directly
    The other manufacturer has not posted to this particular forum since
  • Chris
    An important thing to determine first is what your “R” is
    Globally, Yamaha has something called their mid-term plan, which is taken very seriously as a mandate from Japan, to increase direct contact with their customers. The blog allows the Canadian president to report in to Japan and tell them how many customers they have reached directly, meaning they meet our corporate objectives.
    Obvious savings/increased accuracy due to large sample sizes around survey results
    The blog has allowed them to catch things like the trailer hitch - opportunities that would have fallen through the cracks otherwise, and likely resulted in probably a dozen or more unit sales over the last year
    They have also been able to deal with corporate and reputation management well in advance of them affecting sales - if you notice you have an issue when you get your sales numbers, by that point you have a BIG problem
  • Maggie
  • Chris Reid, National manager, Product Planning & Research, Yamaha Motor Canada
    Maggie Fox, Founder and CEO, Social Media Group
  • Case Study: Yamaha's Conversation with Their Customers

    1. What we wanted to do.
    2. Making the case.
    3. Community outreach
    5. Metrics: 8 weeks post launch • First page of Google results for new product • Traffic up 61% over week one • Witnessed a viral event = valuable insight • Engagement metrics double our benchmarks • Comments: • 43% positive • 48.5% neutral • 8.5% “negative”
    6. Market intelligence
    7. Market intelligence
    8. Engaging with key influencers
    9. Changing the rules of engagement
    10. Changing the rules of engagement
    11. ROI?