BRP navigates through uncharted digital territory

The launch of a navigational app is the latest step in the company's five-year strategy to transform the rider experience.

BRP GO

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Only a handful of years ago, Bombardier Recreational Products (BRP) was still a product-centric company whose laurels rested on strong engineering and product design.

“They were extremely good at creating products,” says Matyas Gabor, VP of digital customer experience for the Valcourt, Que.-based company, whose portfolio includes major brands like Ski-Doo and Lynx snowmobiles, Sea-Doo watercraft, and Can-Am On- and Off-Road vehicles. But, Gabor says, “they were not a marketing organization.”

That began to change with the arrival of Anne-Marie Laberge, SVP of global marketing and communications, in 2016. Laberge opened the door to a whole new way of doing business, and BRP became about “making people live experiences,” he says.

Today, annual sales have reached more than $6 billion, making BRP one of the global leaders in powersports vehicles, though it faces stiff competition from rivals Polaris, Yamaha, Honda, Arctic Cat and Harley-Davidson in certain product categories.

Sales have also been strong during the pandemic, as people think less about travelling and more about local experiences, resulting in a “phenomenal” year for the brand, according to Gabor. For the quarter ended Oct. 31, revenues were up $31.1 million, or 1.9%, from a year prior. North American retail sales alone increased 23% since the beginning of fiscal 2021, aided by increases in market share, and the company expects this trend to continue into the next quarter.

Matyas GaborWhile it has made important strides, BRP still has far to go to become the experiences-driven brand it aspires to be. That’s where Gabor (right) comes in.

Hired in 2018, the digital agency founder and former BBDO Montreal managing director and chief digital innovation officer laid the groundwork for a five-year digital transformation plan that is meant to help connect the BRP fan community and elevate the customer experience “before, during and after the ride.”

Gabor says the first priority for the BRP digital team, which has grown 14-fold over the last two years, was to create a framework for a digital ecosystem that could deliver a “seamless and enriched” experience for customers.

That planning work finally began to pay off in 2020 in what the VP describes as the “year of the [minimum viable product]” for BRP. New technologies deployed this year will eventually be connected and integrated in ways that will enhance customers’ interactions with the brand.

For example, last month, the company launched BRP GO, a new app for snowmobile riders available on Apple and Google devices currently available in Quebec, Nova Scotia, Manitoba, New Brunswick and Saskatchewan, as well as several U.S. states – with plans to expand to additional parts of North America in the future.

BRP GO helps users navigate snowmobile trails, identify gas stations and points of service and to connect with other riders during an excursion, so that they may track each other’s whereabouts. Users can also pair the app with their vehicles so that navigation appears on their dashboard, preventing them from needing to manipulate their phones in minus 30 degree temperatures.

The end goal is to have BRP GO serve as the “one-stop shop at the end of the day – your concierge, your best friend, the way for you to enable your ride,” Gabor says.

In the near future, BRP’s priority is to bring the app’s navigation “to the next level.” One day, it hopes to map the snowmobile trail systems in the more than 120 markets in which it has customers – a massive undertaking that will require much time and effort. Currently, no single app has access to the data needed to map the world’s trails, according to Gabor. Unable to piggyback on the data of mapping giants like Google and Waze, BRP must partner with individual snowmobile associations on integrating their data sets into the platform; meanwhile, many regions use different kinds of data, and crowdsourcing is not an option for reasons of safety and responsible riding.

As the company evaluates the benefits of expanding the app to its entire lineup of vehicles, Gabor says it remains focused on where it can bring the most value. In the three-wheeled, on-road category, for example, users are likely to already have a navigational app. “Should we recreate a Waze? I don’t think so,” he says.

Looking ahead, BRP sees potential in using BRP GO to pull in data that can help generate sales, either through suggesting apparel or accessories based on rider behaviour (such as a pattern of riding in extreme temperatures) or to inform them when a vehicle part is in need of maintenance or repair.

BRP GO Community

In the end, the launch of BRP GO represents a small but significant milestone in the company’s journey to becoming an experiences powerhouse. “We have tons and tons of different touchpoints that we need to improve or even create for making the experience better,” says Gabor.

This year, the company also began rolling out a new ecommerce experience across all its different brands, starting with its off-road and Ski-Doo websites. According to Gabor, the entire digital ecosystem is connected through a “harmonized architecture,” meaning it will eventually be able to connect each touchpoint.

With the five-year plan now in play, Gabor says the next two years will be focused on “unifying the purpose” of the strategy. This will require working collaboratively with every aspect of the organization to augment the experience even further. For instance, the digital marketing team is currently working directly with product engineers and designers to “fully integrate the digital experience within the product itself.”

From there, it will be able to leverage the data stemming from all these different touchpoints to create hyper-personalized experiences for customers.

The end goal of all these efforts, according to the VP, is to harness “pure innovation [across] the entire customer journey, using not only AI, but deep machine learning in order to create the next experience before, during and after the ride.”

As of Nov. 25, the number of downloads of the BRP GO app had exceeded company targets by around 200%. Within a few days of launch, it reached number three on the Apple Store, behind only Google Maps and Waze. And BRP put limited resources into promotion, relying mostly on a PR push in February (when it first announced the app) and social and digital posts.

Rather, Gabor believes the app’s early success indicates it has addressed a real customer need.

When developing a new product, it’s imperative to design it based on the needs of the customer. “That’s how you will become a success,” he says. “If it’s not a success, it’s because you didn’t listen to your customers.”

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