We’d like to take a break from our regularly scheduled all things Rogue programming to deliver this interesting bit of industry news: Bridgestone Golf has just announced that 2017 was its best year ever in North America for dollar sales, sales volume, units shipped and just about any other metric you’d care to analyze.
It would appear Tiger still moves the needle, even when he doesn't play.
All kidding and cynicism aside, there’s no way to put a negative spin on this. Yes, they’re still in third place overall in ball sales behind Titleist and Callaway, and yes, their equipment sales remain trapped in the Other market share category. But growth is growth, and the company that has proclaimed on more than one occasion that they “sell the truth” is entitled to a little chest thumping.
Bridgestone Marketing Manager Elliot Mellow tells MyGolfSpy that while Corporate won’t let them disclose actual numbers or percentages, 2017 was a wild ride in the upward direction.
“We had a record-setting first half of the year,” says Elliot. “And then June was actually the largest month in company history - our largest single month.”
How Did This Happen?
It may have seemed under the radar compared to the regular bombardment of product releases, industry news and other golf-related hubbub, but Bridgestone was pretty busy in the months leading up to 2017, as well as in the early part of the year. Bryson DeChambeau was signed to an endorsement deal, the new e6 balls were released, the company released its BFIT ball fitting app.
And then there was Tiger.
Woods signed on with Bridgestone in December of 2016 to great fanfare, and immediately starred in Bridgestone’s Don’t Follow the Herd commercials. Another back surgery put Tiger on IR, but Mellow believes the Tiger Effect certainly was part of the puzzle.
“When we signed Tiger, we signed him to be an influencer and an endorser of the brand,” says Elliot. “We signed Tiger to validate our product superiority and to get people to look at Bridgestone in a different light.
“Tiger peaks people’s interest and gets them looking at Bridgestone. Ultimately, the trial is on the course, and once you realize you’re hitting your Bridgestone farther than your Titleist, and you’re hitting more fairways and you’re making more birdies - that’s the icing on the cake that gets people to stay with us.” - Elliot Mellow, Bridgestone Golf
While the Tiger move was a headline grabber, he's only one piece of the puzzle. Mellow says Bridgestone upped its marketing game in 2017. I know we all think marketing is an evil thing, but when done well it works. An OEM, particularly one in a challenger position, needs to tell its story, and more the effectively - and credibly - it can tell that story, the better the results. It’s clear Bridgestone told its story effectively in 2017, with targeted digital campaigns that reached 400% more golfers than previous years.
“We don’t look at innovation as just the product,” adds Mellow. “We look at innovation as how can we market the product to better reach the end consumer. How can we change our selling program to ensure our products are on more shelves for the consumer to buy? How can we change the way we conduct our outbound messaging so we can reach more eyeballs than we’ve ever reached?”
Win, Place or Show?
Bridgestone is still Number 3 in overall market share, behind Titleist and Callaway, but Mellow says Bridgestone did flip the market share game a bit during the second quarter.
“March through June we the number two selling golf ball, as reported by Golf Datatech,” says Mellow. “As of the end of the year, Datatech had us reporting at number three.”**
For the year, Mellow says Bridgestone sales were up compared to 2016, so Bridgestone does feel that even though it’s number three, it’s grabbing a bigger chunk of the ball market.
“What you’re seeing is the erosion of the Titleist share,” says Mellow. “And that share is going to various competitors. We’ve been lucky enough to pick up some of that.”
We should note that while Datatech does a great job of tracking green grass sales, there are sales channels (some big box stores, direct to consumer and other e-business) that it does not cover. Mellow says Bridgestone had a banner year in that department, as well.
“For 2018 we want to continue the momentum, obviously leveraging the Tiger relationship. We’re excited to have Tiger back on the course and raising awareness of the brand. Our business partners are excited - they’ve been taking pre-books of the product and are loading their shelves in anticipation of a phenomenal year.” - Elliot Mellow, Bridgestone Golf
Mellow says Bridgestone will be expanding its product portfolio in the coming weeks and months, including new balls for what it's calling a traditionally underserved segment of the market. Mellow also says to expect some new Bridgestone clubs this year, and he’s teasing a new way for you to be able to buy those clubs.
“We have some exciting innovations in the pipeline,” he says. “I don’t want to reveal too much, but it’s going to be very disruptive to the way people are used to acquiring their new sticks.”
Oh, and one more thing: Mellow says to expect additions to Bridgestone’s Tour Staff, perhaps very soon.
The Better Mousetrap Theory
You’ve probably heard the adage: He who builds a better mousetrap finds that the world will beat a path to its door.
Ralph Waldo Emerson, among others, is credited with that saying. The Better Mousetrap Theory says that if you make something so good, it’ll sell itself.
It’s poetic, it’s earnest, and a lot of people believe it.
It’s also largely bullshit.
And that's why we have marketing departments. You can argue good marketing vs. bad marketing, and you won’t get an argument from us that some marketing - in the form of hype - can feel downright criminal. But one can argue that marketing done correctly is the best way to educate consumers on innovative product features and the real world, practical benefits. For business to happen that story must be told.
“At the end of the day we can have the best product in the world,” says Mellow, “but if nobody knows how it benefits them and how it impacts their game, there’s no point in introducing it. We know we have the best ball, but there was a time where that story wasn’t told effectively. What we’re really doing now is driving home what the end benefit is to the golfer and how it helps him on the golf course.
“That’s our message and we’re reinforcing that with competitive data; that we’re longer than the leading competitor, that we’re straighter than Titleist, and it’s really resonating with the consumer.”
**Point of clarification: Bridgestone achieved #2 status in units - in this case balls - sold in 2Q of ‘17. No doubt one of the reasons for this climb was ongoing sales promotions, including a Buy 2-Get 1 Free promotion on B330 balls.