episode 92: Bob Wheeler, Airstream

“[Many of the future challenges and opportunities] are enabled by digital tools primarily. It’s opened up this whole new world of opportunity for us to drive that customer experience in the right direction, and inspire more and more people to do the same kind of thing.”

– Bob Wheeler, CEO of Airstream

EPISODE PREVIEW:

How many brands from the 1930s are you looking to for social media and content marketing leadership? Not many, I would think. But Airstream, the iconic brand that never seems to go out of style, is not typical in any way. And it is leveraging its loyal fan base and driving content and training like few others!

Airstream is a legacy, consumer-centric brand – a description many would consider to be an oxymoron. In testament to both the quality of workmanship and the devotion of Airstream owners, 75-80 percent of all Airstream trailers ever made are still on the road. But don’t let “legacy” and “iconic” and “1930s” lead you to assumptions about their customer. There’s a wide range of demographics and consumer profiles in the Airstream owner community.

Today I speak with Bob Wheeler, president and CEO of Airstream. For all the vintage aesthetics and nostalgia in the Airstream universe, this company is demonstrating leadership in training, digital marketing, content creation and marketing, leveraging user-generated content, events…the list goes on. The brand also works with a network of independent dealers, which presents its own set of challenges and bonuses.

Bob is incredibly candid and engaging—and you will not be disappointed. Enjoy!

GUEST PROFILES:

Bob Wheeler

Bob Wheeler is President and CEO of Airstream, Inc., manufacturer of the world’s most iconic recreational vehicle. Bob has guided Airstream through one of the worst economic downturns in industry history and lead the company to record sales fueled by product innovation, cutting edge marketing, and the public’s renewed appreciation for Airstream’s authenticity and quality.


An engineer by training, he has a deep understanding of the Airstream product and manufacturing process. He is also noted for his positive management style, which emphasizes inclusiveness, encouragement, and creative thinking about the future of the brand.

TOPICS COVERED:

Harnessing brand devotion, user-generated content, social media for legacy brands, dealer training and educated consumers, exclusive and non-exclusive dealer networks, training and certification programs, content marketing

SELECT QUOTES:

[Back in 2002, when Bob arrived at Airstream] “The brand was” very stale, but what we had here was this enormous asset: this brand power that went back decades, which people associated with travel and adventure and freedom and community and fellowship, so we knew we had a lot to work with.”

“Consumers now are showing up ready. They know what they want, they’ve done all the research, and we’ve done a pretty good job of giving them every tool they need to figure out what kind of travel trailer or motor home they need, how big, what they’re going to use it for, what they need to tow it with. They’re showing up very educated at our dealerships, and that’s provided a challenge to our dealership personnel in some cases.”

“We try to load [our dealers] with high quality content. If we can get their attention and get them to put a process in place to pass this stuff on, then the brand message is very consistent, and they’re really tapping into this investment we’ve made in creating these high quality tools.”

“It doesn’t matter where you go. It could be a coding conference or something automotive, or outdoor, but you see that spark in people’s eyes when they look at the Airstream, and they have the same reaction. It’s the same look…I just love that reaction. The people that get it, they see this thing and they’re inspired – thinking, ‘I could really have an adventure with that thing.’”

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