At CSM International, our aim is to provide the motorcycle industry with actionable insights into rider attitudes, needs, behaviors and trends to inform product development, marketing and business strategy. Achieving this requires a multi-pronged research approach that engages riders and industry professionals in the environments where they ride, work and congregate.

Over decades of experience, we’ve found that a combination of in-person interviews, focus groups, phone interviews and online research methodologies provides the richest understanding of the motorcycle consumer. Each approach has its own strengths and role to play as part of a holistic research program.

In this article, we’ll discuss the various interview and focus group formats we employ, including:
– Face-to-face (F2F) interviews at industry events and rider hangouts
– In-depth interviews (IDIs) in professional settings
– Phone interviews
– Online in-depth interviews
– In-person focus groups
– Online focus groups

We’ll examine the unique benefits and considerations of each approach, share best practices, and provide case studies illustrating how these methodologies come together to paint a comprehensive picture of the motorcycle consumer.

 Face-to-Face Interviews

Nothing beats the depth of insight, candid responses and contextual understanding that can be gained from interviewing someone face-to-face in their natural environment. At CSM International, we make it a point to go where the riders are, immersing ourselves in the motorcycle culture at events and locations including:

Trade Shows: Major industry expos like AIMExpo and IMS provide access to a broad cross-section of the motorcycle community under one roof. They attract hardcore enthusiasts, new riders, aftermarket brands, OEMs and dealership personnel. We leverage trade shows to conduct short intercept interviews on the show floor as well as recruit participants for longer interviews and focus groups held in quiet areas on-site. The festive yet focused atmosphere of trade shows tends to put people in a talkative mood and makes them more receptive to participating in research.

Motorcycle Hangouts: Biker bars, popular riding routes, scenic rest stops – anywhere motorcyclists regularly gather is fertile ground for impromptu interviews. The casual, non-corporate environment puts riders at ease and encourages a free-flowing conversation. Plied with a free burger or beverage, most riders are happy to take a break from the saddle to share their thoughts. Of course, it’s critical that the interviewer be able to quickly build rapport and establish their motorcycle bona fides to be accepted.

Dealerships: The dealership is perhaps the most important touchpoint shaping the rider’s ownership experience. Interviewing consumers in the showroom as they browse new models or in the service lounge as they await a repair provides valuable “point of purchase” insights into the thought process behind key decisions and pain points in the ownership lifecycle. Dealership personnel are also tremendously valuable sources of front-line knowledge on evolving customer needs and market trends.

Events/Rallies: From Sturgis to Daytona Bike Week to Rolling Thunder, motorcycle events attract thousands of passionate riders from all walks of life. Immersed in the temporary community that forms around these events, riders tend to be extremely open and eager to talk shop, especially if plied with free swag. The party atmosphere can present some sampling challenges (e.g. overrepresentation of hardcore riders, inebriated participants). But with careful recruiting, events provide unparalleled access to high-mileage, highly engaged consumers.

Races: Road, off-road, supercross – at any given motorcycle race you’ll find a broad spectrum of involved consumers, from racers and their teams to hardcore fans to curious newcomers. Racetracks provide a target-rich environment for intercepting three key consumer groups: 1) current riders in your target market 2) prospective customers who are interested in motorcycling but currently on the sidelines 3) “moto-adjacent” consumers who are into powersports, action sports, etc. and may be ripe for cross-selling. The heightened emotions and adrenaline of a race day tend to generate very passionate, unfiltered feedback.

Tips for Effective F2F Interviews:
– Use professional yet disarming small talk to quickly establish rapport
– Let the participant lead you to a spot they’re comfortable (e.g. their bike, campsite, etc.)
– Keep it casual and conversational, even if working from a guide
– Ask to hop on their bike, have them walk you through add-ons, etc.
– Go off-script and probe on salient points
– Calibrate length based on situation – 5 minutes for an intercept, 30-60 min for a scheduled sit-down
– Offer an incentive commensurate with the depth/length of interview
– Bring a wing man to capture notes, hunt down candidates, work the camera
– Record video if possible, with the participant’s consent, for later analysis

Section 2: In-Depth Interviews
While short intercept-style interviews are valuable for broad consumer understanding, there are times when a research objective requires us to go deep with a more select group of participants. In-depth interviews (IDIs) typically involve 30-60 minute one-on-one conversations with hand-picked participants in a more controlled and private environment. At CSM International, we conduct IDIs in a variety of settings depending on the project:

Conference Rooms: For B2B research with industry professionals like product managers, dealership principals or C-suite leaders, we often schedule IDIs in conference rooms either at their workplace or an off-site location. The corporate setting encourages a more focused, professional conversation and demonstrates that we respect the participant’s time and role. A neutral off-site location can be preferable when the topic is sensitive or we want participants to feel less inhibited.

Focus Group Facilities: When conducting consumer IDIs, we take advantage of the Interview rooms available at focus group facilities in major metros. These spaces provide a comfortable yet controlled environment for one-on-one conversations. The presence of a two-way mirror allows stakeholders to observe the interviews live without being in the room. Video recording equipment captures each session for later review.

Participants’ Homes/Garages: When the research objective involves delving into riders’ relationships with their machines, there’s no substitute for visiting them on their own turf. Interviewing a rider in their garage or “man cave,” surrounded by their bikes, gear, memorabilia, projects, etc. provides an intimate glimpse into their motorcycle life. Having them physically walk you through their bike, explain each modification, relive key moments via photos on the wall, etc. adds invaluable color. In-home IDIs are also ideal when the research calls for input from family members on key decisions.

Tips for Effective IDIs:
– Thoughtfully recruit participants based on the research objectives
– Use a discussion guide but be flexible and probe freely
– Schedule at least 30-45 minutes per interview, 60+ for in-home
– Provide a significant monetary incentive ($100-$300) for the participant’s time
– Send an advance homework assignment (e.g. bike photos, ride map, etc.) to prep for the conversation
– Visit participants in their natural environment whenever possible
– Have participants sign an NDA and video release form
– Record video and take photos of the participant with their permission
– Include 5-10 minutes at the end for capturing the participant’s personal background

Phone Interviews
While face-to-face will always be the gold standard, phone interviews play an important role in motorcycle research by allowing us to cost-effectively gather insights from participants across a wide geographic area. CSM International leverages phone interviews in a few key scenarios:

Geographically Dispersed Participants: When the research calls for a national sample or coverage of far-flung markets where travel would be cost-prohibitive, phone interviews are a great solution. For example, in a study examining the unique needs of rural riders, we supplemented in-person interviews in several rural regions with phone interviews of riders across the country. For a project exploring the impact of new tiered licensing laws, phone interviews allowed us to efficiently include participants from multiple states with differing regulations.

B2B Research: Dealership personnel and industry professionals are often easier to recruit and schedule for a phone interview vs. an in-person meeting, especially if travel is required. A 20-30 minute phone conversation can be accomplished during a quick break in their work day. Especially for our syndicated industry studies, we find dealership principals and personnel are very receptive to a “quick phone check-in” on relevant issues.

Hard-to-Reach Participants: Some rider segments are simply tougher to pin down for a face-to-face conversation. Millennials are notorious for last-minute cancellations/no-shows. High-mileage touring riders are frequently on the road. Racers and off-road riders often lack a consistent schedule. In these cases, a scheduled phone interview can be a good fallback to an in-person meeting. We also use phone interviews to include the perspective of former riders who may have transitioned away from the sport.

Tips for Effective Phone Interviews:
– Provide a significant monetary incentive ($50-$100) to secure the participant’s time and commitment
– Schedule a specific day/time for the call and send a confirmation email
– Prepare a discussion guide but keep the conversation fluid
– Establish rapport quickly since you lack the benefit of face-to-face small talk
– Use a reliable conference call line that can record the conversation
– Have the participant email you relevant photos beforehand (e.g. their bike, moto trips, etc.)
– Limit the interview to 20-30 minutes to avoid phone fatigue
– Speak clearly, smile, modulate your voice and inject energy to keep the participant engaged

Online In-Depth Interviews
In recent years, the emergence of online video conferencing platforms like Zoom and Google Meet has unlocked a powerful new research methodology – the online in-depth interview (IDI). Online IDIs replicate many of the benefits of in-person interviews while reducing travel costs and expanding geographic reach. At CSM International, we’ve successfully used online IDIs for several research initiatives:

Product Concept Evaluation: Online screen-sharing allows us to get detailed feedback on new product designs, innovations and marketing concepts from riders across the country or globe without the travel expense of in-person interviews. In a project for a major helmet manufacturer, we conducted online IDIs with riders evaluating new graphic designs and 3D models. They were able to zoom in on fine details and provide precise feedback.

Longitudinal Research: For research that involves checking in with the same group of participants over an extended time period, online IDIs provide consistency and efficiency. In a year-long study tracking the experience of new riders, online IDIs allowed us to catch up with far-flung participants on a quarterly basis to see how their riding journey was progressing. The online environment established a comfortable familiarity and made ongoing participation turnkey.

Online Focus Group Recruiting: When conducting online focus groups, 1×1 online IDIs are a valuable tool for screening potential participants, evaluating group dynamics and identifying “red flag” personalities prior to the group. A quick 10-15 video chat with each candidate provides a feel for how they’ll engage in a group setting and helps the moderator build rapport ahead of time. We often conduct a similar post-group online IDI with standout participants to dive deeper into interesting topics that emerged.

Tips for Effective Online IDIs:
– Choose a user-friendly platform participants will be comfortable with
– Do a tech check ahead of time to avoid wasted interview time
– Pay a $50-$100 incentive to ensure participant shows up on time and stays engaged
– Conduct the interview in a professional setting with good lighting and a closeup camera
– Use screen-sharing to walk through visual aids and allow the participant to share their screen
– Unmute the participant’s line and hide your own video thumbnail to minimize distraction
– Keep interviews to 30-45 minutes to maintain attention and avoid technical glitches
– Follow up with a personalized thank-you note and invitation to participate in future research

In-Person Focus Groups
When it comes to quickly gauging consumer reactions, uncovering new angles and building consensus, nothing beats the dynamic interaction of an in-person focus group. At CSM International, we’ve been running motorcycle focus groups for over 20 years and find them invaluable for:

Exploratory Research: When tackling a new consumer segment, trend or business issue, a series of focus groups is often our first stop. Group discussion and activities are great for efficiently surfacing the full range of attitudes, needs, behaviors and vernacular around a topic. We’ll typically run 4-5 groups in different markets to scan for regional differences. The freewheeling conversation often unearths angles we hadn’t considered.

Creative Testing: Focus groups are a staple of our work in testing new products, ad campaigns, brand positionings and other stimuli. Exposing a group of riders to new creative work and having them discuss their gut reactions highlights common themes and helps separate the breakthrough ideas from the duds. Careful moderation is required to dig beneath surface responses. But the “wisdom of the crowd” is a powerful tool for pressure-testing ideas before millions are spent on development and media.

Projective Exercises: Getting riders to open up about intimate, subconscious or aspirational aspects of their motorcycle experience can be challenging in a one-on-one interview. But focus groups allow us to use projective and expressive exercises that get people out of their heads and tap into underlying emotions and motives. Having participants collectively plot their “Dream Ride” on a map, build their “Perfect Bike” from a pile of parts or roleplay their “Ultimate Moto Adventure” quickly breaks down barriers and gets the creative juices flowing.

B2B Research: While focus groups are often associated with consumer work, we frequently convene groups of dealership personnel, industry and community influencers, marketers and other B2B audiences to understand industry trends and dynamics. The value is in the interaction – uncovering shared experiences, points of contention, differing approaches to common problems, etc. Business professionals tend to come alive when surrounded by respected peers and often stay after the group to network and trade notes.

Tips for Effective In-Person Focus Groups:
– Carefully screen and recruit 8-10 participants per group based on gender, age, riding experience, bike type, etc.
– Choose a central facility with a comfortable room, A/V and catering
– Provide a $100-$150 cash incentive to ensure show-ups and engagement
– Design a tight discussion guide with prioritized objectives and exercises
– Include at least 2 hours for each group (3 with B2B audiences)
– Have participants do a relevant homework assignment to get them engaged
– Assemble a back room team including the lead researcher, client, note-taker, etc.
– Over-recruit by 20% to allow for no-shows
– Run at least 3 groups per market to see consistent themes emerge
– Take copious notes and produce a same-day topline report capturing key takeaways

Online Focus Groups
In 2020, the traditional in-person focus group was turned on its head by the COVID-19 pandemic. Stay-at-home orders and travel restrictions forced researchers to move their groups online. At CSM International, we quickly pivoted and discovered that, with a few adaptations, the online focus group can be a powerful tool for motorcycle research. Advantages include:

Expanded Geography: Online groups allow us to pull participants from across a region, country or even the globe without travel costs. This is especially helpful for hard-to-reach B2B audiences like dealership principals or race teams. In an online group, we can have voices from New York, LA, London and Tokyo all in one “room.” It also allows us to capture more rural and far-flung riders who are often left out of in-person research centered on major metros.

Cost Efficiency: By eliminating facility rental and travel costs, online groups can be executed at a significantly lower price point. This allows for more groups on a tighter budget. One recent project for a major motorcycle brand involved 12 online groups with riders from across the US – something that would have been cost-prohibitive to replicate in-person. The savings are even more substantial for international projects.

Comfort/Candor: Let’s be honest – walking into a strange office building to spend two hours discussing intimate topics with complete strangers is not most people’s idea of a relaxing evening. But logging into a video chat from the comfort of home with a favorite beverage in hand is a different story. We find the online environment puts many participants at ease and encourages a level of candor and personal sharing that can be harder to achieve in person.

Multimedia Capabilities: Most online focus group platforms come with a range of built-in features like real-time chat, polls, whiteboards and screen-sharing that allow for highly engaging and interactive discussions. We can have participants watch a video of a new bike, react in the chat, answer a quick poll, jot down their initial thoughts on the whiteboard, then jump into the discussion. Standalone products like Miro and Mural add even more creative possibilities. When well-utilized, these tools can make online groups more dynamic and insightful than the in-person variety.

Tips for Effective Online Focus Groups:
– Choose an online platform that balances simplicity with rich features (e.g. Zoom, AdobeConnect, etc.)
– Carefully pre-screen participants for tech savviness and on-camera comfort
– Pay a premium incentive ($125-$150) to boost show-up rates and keep folks engaged
– Limit groups to 60-90 minutes to avoid going over the “Zoom fatigue” tipping point
– Send instructions ahead of time for easy login, technical setup and participation expectations
– Open the “room” 15 minutes early to onboard participants and troubleshoot tech issues
– Lay ground rules around cameras on, muting mics, using the chat, etc.
– Design the discussion flow to maximize engagement and interactivity
– Weave in polls, whiteboarding, chat prompts and screen-sharing every 5-10 minutes
– Have participants raise their (virtual) hand to speak and call on them by name
– Leverage breakout rooms for small group discussions and activities
– Have a tech producer managing the backend so the moderator can focus on the conversation
– Record the group for later analysis and clip pulling
– Follow up with a personalized thank-you email and links to any outputs created

Case Studies
To illustrate how these various research methodologies come together in practice, we’ll walk through three recent case studies from CSM International’s work in the motorcycle industry:

Case Study 1: The Future of Motorcycle Ownership
Client: Major European Motorcycle Manufacturer
Objective: To understand evolving consumer attitudes and behaviors around motorcycle ownership and identify opportunities to reshape the product offering and ownership experience for the next generation of riders.

– Secondary research scan to frame key generational trends and model innovations in analogous categories (e.g. car subscriptions, e-bike sharing, etc.)
– Online survey of 1,500 US motorcycle owners to size attitudinal segments and quantify demand for new ownership models
– 12 online focus groups (4 per region) with millennial and Gen Z riders to understand unmet needs, reactions to new ownership concepts and design the ideal future experience
– 10 ethnographic “ride-alongs” in major metros to observe the ownership experience and identify pain points across the journey
– Virtual IDIs with 8 innovative dealerships already piloting new models to capture best practices and learnings

– Debrief workshop with client team to share learnings and align on opportunities
– Future of Ownership Playbook with recommendations and roadmap
– Video highlight reel of ethnographies and focus groups to socialize findings internally

Case Study 2: Launching a New Electric Motorcycle Brand
Client: Major Asian Powersports Manufacturer
Objective: To inform the brand positioning, product specs and go-to-market plan for the launch of a new line of premium electric motorcycles under a standalone sub-brand.

– Category immersion phase including industry expert interviews, EV test rides and participation in online EV forums
– 6 in-person focus groups with premium motorcycle, e-bike and EV owners to understand the white space and shape the positioning territories
– 1×1 buyer persona interviews (in-person, phone and online) to build out key psychographic profiles and needs
– Product concept co-creation workshops at the client’s R&D center to iterate on the bike design and specs with lead users
– Dynamic pricing survey to determine willingness to pay and quantify pricing power
– Stakeholder workshops to align on the brand positioning, value proposition and GTM strategy

– Recommended brand positioning and value proposition
– Detailed buyer personas and journeys
– Product features and specs aligned with user needs
– Pricing and go-to-market strategy
– Set of starter assets including name, logo and brand guidelines

Case Study 3: Revitalizing a Legacy Cruiser Brand
Client: Iconic American Cruiser Brand
Objective: To diagnose the brand’s decline with younger riders and reposition the brand as a relevant choice for millennial cruiser buyers.

– Sales and share trend analysis to quantify erosion among younger buyers
– Social listening and semiotics analysis to understand current brand perceptions and imagery online
– Focus groups with millennial cruiser buyers to map the category landscape and identify white space
– In-depth interviews with recent young buyers and rejecters of the brand to understand drivers and barriers
– Cultural safaris to new-generation hangouts (coffee shops, barber shops, etc.) to spot trends and identify brand-building opportunities
– Creative design sprints with lead customers to co-create new brand executions
– Quantitative survey to pressure test the new positioning and measure potential lift

– Insight-driven brand repositioning and go-forward comms strategy
– Refreshed visual identity and brand guidelines
– Suite of omnichannel activation concepts linked to millennial passion points
– Recommended influencer and partnership strategy
– Measurement framework to track brand progress with priority segments

As these case studies illustrate, understanding today’s motorcycle consumers requires a multi-faceted research approach that meets them where they are – in person, online, on the phone and on the road. By combining ethnographic immersion, in-the-moment feedback and digital analytics, we can paint a holistic picture of riders’ functional and emotional needs.

Of course, these methodologies are not just tools to be pulled out of the toolbox ad hoc. The real magic happens when multiple streams are orchestrated to flow together into an insight. The aha moment from a weekend of rider interviews sparks the killer concept in next week’s workshop. The online photos shared in a focus group become the hero image for the brand repositioning. The post-COVID rebound in RV sales convinces the skeptical client to take a bet on monthly subscriptions.

At CSM International, we understand that powerful insights come from the intersections -between methodologies, between data points, between researchers and stakeholders. We connect the dots that others miss. Because in the rapidly changing world of motorcycling, one thing is certain: the future belongs to those with the insight horsepower to outpace the pack.