Making Tracks with ASV
Charting the future of public relations
Holmes Report
CEO

Making Tracks with ASV

Dealers and contractors who work in the construction/landscape industry are not known for their casual acceptance of new machinery.

Paul Holmes

Dealers and contractors who work in the construction/landscape industry are not known for their casual acceptance of new machinery. The trade media that covers that industry often casts a skeptical eye on new technologies and at times can be even less accepting than the potential buyers.
 
As a result, Minnesota-based ASV Inc. faced an uphill battle to gain and sustain marketing momentum after the rollout phase for the Posi-Track, a technologically advanced all-purpose crawler, was completed. Through strategic public relations, Carmichael Lynch Spong helped ASV make the Posi-Track a recognized and respected name in the construction/landscape industry. Brand-building efforts have, and continue to play, a vital role in the success of the Posi-Track.
 
BACKGROUND
 
By the end of 1999, ASV was coming to grips with several challenges in selling its line of powerful, yet environmentally friendly, rubber-tracked heavy equipment.
 
The challenges:
1) Dealers and contractors, as well as the reporters who followed the industry, were aware of the Posi-Track, but the vehicle was still not thought of as a legitimate heavyweight in the industry.
2) Equipment giant Caterpillar had bought 8.8% of ASV in Jan. 1999, but many CAT dealers still needed to be convinced to support, buy and sell Posi-Tracks.
 
ASV charged CLS with building awareness and changing perceptions of its equipment line among contractors, dealers, editors and influential consumers.
 
RESEARCH
 
Database search – Affirmed that the Posi-Track was gaining attention, but that much work remained.
 
Contractor interviews – In-person interviews with Posi-Track owners in the Twin Cities, as well as phone interviews throughout the country, confirmed the machines increased profits and efficiency. However, interviews with non-Posi-Track owners showed that they either were not aware of it, or they did not know enough about it to consider it a viable purchase option. 
CAT dealer interviews – Though ASV had many Caterpillar dealers by the end of 1999, interviews revealed a lack of knowledge concerning the Posi-Track and confusion over the machines’ benefits. Industry research – Ordered studies from the Associated Landscape Contractors of America and learned that landscapers’ biggest problems were hiring and retaining hand-labor (which the ASV machines solved).
 
Editorial survey – Affirmed that most in the trade press had never driven a Posi-Track, and wanted to classify it as a skid-steer (wheeled machines).
 
TARGET AUDIENCES
 
Construction and landscape contractors; North American Caterpillar dealers
 
PLANNING
 
Objectives:
1) Increase ASV sales by increasing awareness and understanding of the Posi-Track among the construction and landscape industries.
2) Support ASV in building and expanding a network of Caterpillar dealers selling the Posi-Track.
 
STRATEGIES
 

1)     Build a dominant share-of-voice and change perceptions of the Posi-Track among compact work vehicles in relevant media.

2)     Educate Caterpillar dealers about the Posi-Track’s versatility and salability while enhancing their marketing efforts for the machine.

3)     Establish a new category of work vehicles, all-purpose crawlers, that better defines the Posi-Track and differentiates it from skid-steers, dozers and tractors.
 
EXECUTION
 
Strategy 1) Build a dominant share-of-voice and change perceptions of the Posi-Track among compact work vehicles in relevant media.
 
Story development – Phoned more than 40 ASV district sales managers and dealers to develop stories on the Posi-Track, then followed up with customers. 
Stories written – Pitched and then wrote stories that were published in 15 magazines.  Press releases/interviews – Issued more than 10 press releases and set up more than 20 interviews with ASV engineers/executives. 
Building Relationships– Editors from Grounds Maintenance, Lawn and Landscape, Pro, Equipment World, Construction Equipment and Landscape Management were individually brought to ASV headquarters for a test drive and to meet with ASV management.
 
Strategy 2) Educate Caterpillar dealers about the Posi-Track’s versatility and salability while enhancing their marketing efforts for the machine.
 
Dealer Newsletter – A quarterly custom publication called Posi-bilities was an efficient way to build awareness and understanding of the Posi-Track among Caterpillar dealers.
E-mail updates – Developed regular e-mail updates sent to Caterpillar dealers on recent and expected coverage of the Posi-Track.
Targeted support – Worked with individual Caterpillar dealers to develop customer stories, and then pitched them to regional publications (such as Texas Contractor) in each dealer area.
Press releases – Issued press releases when a CAT dealer signed up with ASV.
 
Strategy 3) Establish a new category of work vehicles, all-purpose crawlers, that better defines the Posi-Track and differentiates it from skid-steers, dozers and tractors.
 
New category – Through letters, e-mails, test drives and application stories, we pitched to editors the idea of a new category of equipment (all-purpose crawlers) devised by CLS (differentiated from other equipment by rubber tracks and low ground pressure).
 
EVALUATION
 
Objective 1) Increase ASV sales by increasing Posi-Track brand awareness and understanding among the construction and landscape industries.
 
According to ASV, the 3rd quarter of 2000 (4th Q not yet released) showed an increase of 20% in sales compared to the 3rd quarter of ‘99, while the 2nd quarter of ‘00 was ASV’s best quarter in its 17-year history, as net sales rose 34% over the 2nd quarter of ‘99. As further indication of brand momentum, in October 2000, Caterpillar showed its confidence in ASV’s continued growth by investing an additional $9 million in the company, thus increasing their ownership stake to 15%. CAT also joined forces with ASV to develop and market a joint product utilizing ASV’s patent-pending Maximum Traction Support System™ rubber track undercarriage. Other companies took notice of ASV as well, as Polaris and ASV signed a licensing agreement in January 2001.
 
 
ASV’s media relations effort between January 2000 and December 2000 landed 42 stories with 75 photographs, resulting in 7.1 million gross impressions and an advertising equivalency of more than $189,873, close to triple the resources devoted to the program.
 
Posi-Track articles ran in 70% of the publications targeted. In all cases, at least one, if not all six, key messages were mentioned.
 
25 articles written about the Posi-Track referred to it as an all-purpose crawler, while 18 trade magazines developed stories on this new category. Moreover, Construction Equipment, the industry’s bible, devoted its April 2000 issue on the category, and placed the Posi-Track on its cover. The Posi-Track also appeared on the cover of the January 2000 issue of Heavy Equipment News and is scheduled to appear on the April 2001 cover of RentSmart!.
 
 
Objective 2) Support ASV in building and expanding a network of Caterpillar dealers selling the Posi-Track.
 
In the third quarter of ‘99, 30 CAT dealers representing 250 locations were selling Posi-Tracks. As of 3rd Q 2000, 52 CAT dealers with 300 locations were selling and servicing Posi-Tracks. That’s a growth of 70 percent in one year.

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