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Company “SunEarth” prepares to penetrate the intensely competitive but lucrative institutional and residential markets for grass mowers. Given an R & D breakthrough with a power train that runs completely on bio-fuels and features other environment-friendly innovations, the marketing plan must now address itself to deciding on the most promising target market segments, value proposition and positioning alternative. The company also wonders whether the timing is right since a weak domestic housing market has already depressed demand in what is otherwise a mature product category.
The lawn mower emerged, surprisingly enough, in the middle of the Great Depression. While inventor/entrepreneur John Deere convinced initially-skeptical farmers about the virtues of working the fields with his tractors, Americans already venturing into a suburban lifestyle readily embraced the first rotary-blade, push-type lawnmowers and gave up forever the crouching and bending that attended keeping lawn grass trim with handheld scythes and machetes.
The product category began the long-run growth phase of its product life cycle when the post-World War II Baby Boom generation arrived and with it, demand for housing not just anywhere but in suburban housing tracts with plenty of greenery.
Explain the components of a marketing strategy
The components of a marketing strategy for a new line of lawnmowers rest on engineered product attributes, a situation analysis to spotlight opportunities and constraints for a late entrant, formulating strategy that leverages strengths against opportunities while neutralizing weaknesses or rendering them irrelevant, and formulating the appropriate marketing mix. (Armstrong and Kotler, 2006).
Today, the lawnmower industry has grown into a robust $15 billion business that has attracted dozens of domestic brands and a number of imports as well. The basic design has evolved greatly from the 1930s to include safety housing, “dead man” safety switches, gasoline-powered engines that made almost as much noise as the early rotating-blade models, ride-on models and lately, battery-powered carts.
The traditional spectrum of positioning strategies have included brand equity, price, functionality, safety, cutting height adjustable down to 1 centimeter from ground level, comfort and ergonomic features, the latter two applicable to ride-on models.
Leading brands John Deere, Briggs & Stratton and Toro are highly established. Having been responsible among themselves for all the innovation since stringent blow-down and other safety features were introduced by the federal government in the 1960s, they have a solid hold on the institutional, premium- and moderate-price tiers of the market (Outdoor Power Equipment Institute, 2009a). Hence, producing a parity lawn mower with a few cosmetic enhancements and opting for direct-comparison advertising and sales materials is not very promising.
Safety and functionality do not look to be viable platforms for a marketing strategy either. The risk of flying pebbles, twigs and other debris went away with the introduction of collector bags and directing cut grass straight down. Now is functionality likely to draw much attention, if only because the garden and lawn upkeep business is cluttered with a wide array of tools and equipment that need to address functionality in media advertising and merchandising materials in home improvement stores. Examples of these complementary or competing products are: leaf blowers, lawn and garden-type chippers and shredders, powered, lawn and garden-type, cultivators, powered mowers, electric and powered hedge trimmers, powered lawn edgers, lawn mulchers, seeders, spreaders, lawn tillers, lawn and garden-type tractors, yard and garden vacuums, and of course the ubiquitous (U.S. Census Bureau, 2003).
Import proliferate at the low end of the market. Nonetheless, domestic manufacturers do seem to hold their own and even enjoy a positive balance of trade exporting overseas. Taken together, these twin facts argue against price leadership as a viable marketing strategy.
The aging of the Baby Boomer generation, leading cohorts of which turn 60 year or in 2010, is vital important demographic fact for the lawn mower market. First of all, older consumers are generally more affluent since they have reached their peak earning years and boast a median income of $36,713 as of 2007. With the family nest mostly empty by now, this very large segment of the population have both the disposable income and the time to take up leisure pursuits, among them home upkeep and gardening. Behe and Dennis (2006) confirmed this differential propensity for gardening on a cross-section of American adults, besides finding that the middle-aged and elderly derived more personal satisfaction out of their lawn maintenance and gardening pursuits.
With respect to social trends and the frequently-publicized concern about inexorable global warming, the Outdoor Power Equipment (OPEI, 2009b) realizes that member-manufacturers have yet to show any meaningful corporate social responsibility initiatives. Doubtless, consumers would feel reassured they are doing their part if mowers with significantly reduced “carbon footprint” were to become available. For the industry, the path of least resistance seems to lie with following the lead of the automotive industry in reducing emissions that contribute to global warming. Similarly, power mower makers look to ethanol (because it is biofuel and infinitely replaceable) but are timid about going beyond commercially-available 10-90 ethanol-gasoline blends because of the re-engineering required to cope with the higher combustion temperature of higher ethanol blends. So OPEI members hedge and vaguely promise to develop “flexi-fuel” engines at some vague point in the future.
Our client SunEarth undertook transfer of technology from the Brazilian government because the latter had already solved the problem of running cars on even 100% ethanol. Six months ago, company R & D fielded the first prototypes with a long-developed chassis that was so sound-dampened outsiders perennially mistook the mowers as battery-operated. At the same time, the engineers took care of end-user discomfort with sizzling summer temperatures by constructing an air-conditioned, enclosed cab; the AC unit drew power from a roof made of solar panels and a dynamo powered by recycled exhaust heat.
Marketing Mix – Given the pioneering effort of the car assemblers, mainstream advertising can be used to communicate the “100% green engine” breakthrough and even the great reduction in noise, given clever ad copy. Nonetheless, it is likely that receptive consumers will want verify quiet operation for themselves and, as when buying a car, check comfort and cooling power with a test drive. This means that units must be put on display – both in the company’s nationwide chain of gardening equipment stores and in mall parking lots – in order to hasten the process of moving from awareness and interest to “trial” and enthusiastic adoption.
The target market
By virtue of volume, homeowners deserve to be the prime prospects. The secondary target shall be the institutional market, since this will give SunEarth plentiful opportunities to showcase implied endorsement by golf, sports and resort complexes. Alliances with this secondary audience will likely be a vital component of the marketing mix. On one hand, the otherwise obscure manufacturer creates inroads into the domestic market. For their part, institutional customers will be extremely pleased to show further evidence of corporate social responsibility in point of cutting back noise pollution,
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Value proposition with differentiation
COMPUTERIZED The SunEarth line of hand-operated and ride-on mowers will be positioned on both functional and eco-system friendly operation. New muffler systems and exhaust recycling will make this line almost as quiet as electric/battery operated models. The value for both homeowners who do their own mowing and grounds maintenance staff who spend virtually their whole working day trimming golf courses and resort lawns is that they need not risk permanent hearing damage anymore.
The really newsworthy breakthrough, however, is SunEarth’s success at engineering the first flexi-fuel engine that can use up to a 50-50 ethanol-gasoline blend. This is a significant step-up from presently-available automotive and lawn mower engines that, unmodified, can use “E-10”, commercially available gasoline blended with 10% ethanol.
Product positioning in the market
Accordingly, the SunEarth will be positioned as the first home gardening and landscaping equipment brand that satisfies the desire of families, golf and resort owners to make a solid contribution to a sustainable, environmental friendly lifestyle. At the same time, it is designed to run quietly and thus
Lawn mowers fill an enduring need. The ride-on type will evidently gain more traction as America’s Baby Boom generation reach their golden years and have more leisure time to tend the “ol’ homestead” where they can look forward to spending retirement. Startling product innovation at SunEarth strongly positions the company to carve out more than a fair share of the domestic market by guaranteeing prime prospects a no-nonsense way to reduce their carbon footprint.
- Armstrong, G., & Kotler, P. (2006). Marketing: An introduction. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall.
- Behe, B.K. & Dennis, J.H. (2006). Age influences gardening purchases, participation, and customer satisfaction and regret. ISHS Acta Horticulturae 831: XVI International Symposium on Horticultural Economics and Management.
- Ogg, J. C. (2008). Slow housing equals slow lawn mower market (BGG, TTC). 24/7 Wall St., cited in Market Watch.
- Outdoor Power Equipment Institute (2009a). Commerce/Trade.
- Outdoor Power Equipment Institute (2009b). Commerce/Trade.
- U.S. Census Bureau (2003). 333112 Lawn and garden tractor and home lawn and garden equipment manufacturing.
- U.S. Census Bureau (2008). Historical income tables – People. Web.