Bridgestone Golf’s new CEO, Dan Murphy, on the future of the company, ball fitting, and Tiger Woods
Dan Murphy, Bridgestone Golf’s new CEO and President, told us the opportunity to “work on the next chapter of this great brand is a great honor.”
And from our brief phone call on day one of Mr. Murphy sitting in the CEO chair, it sounds like he really means it. As a veteran of the company, he was a part of Bridgestone’s growth in the late 2000s, early 2010s, and he’s keen to focus on what worked well during that time: namely the company’s emphasis on ball fitting.
Murphy is hardly stuck in the past, however, as you’ll see from our conversation.
BA: Now, you were with Bridgestone from 2005 through 2014. Can you talk a bit about how the company is positioned as you return and what’s ahead?
DM: The great thing about our company, is we have the fundamentals in place. We have the tools. We make the best product in the world: Bridgestone’s attention to manufacturing excellence, quality, and consistency is unwavering…I think you can go all the way back to the 90s and the Precept product to see that. We’re great manufacturers.
Second is people…we have great people here…and then, the third factor is that we’re part of Bridgestone Tire and Rubber. They want to see us succeed…we have the saying power…both from a R&D resource perspective–we have something like 900 polymer science engineers on staff, who can help us design golf balls as well as tires–but we also have the financial resources to really sustain and make a difference in this business.
As we go forward, you’ll probably see some of the things that made us successful in the first place, perhaps become a little bit more relevant again…such as ball fitting, such as targeting better players…better players make a lot of sense for us because they appreciate the science, and they appreciate the engineering and the product quality. And just from a business perspective, better players are thought leaders. They are the ones that recreational players look to. We still prescribe to the Pyramid of Influence in that respect.
BA: With respect to your position in the ball market, the emphasis on golf ball fitting is both a point of differentiation and competitive advantage. I’m interested in how that’s sometimes been at the fore of marketing and sometimes hasn’t. Can you speak to that?
DM: The market leader does what they do and they do it very well. They have a Tour presence that’s hard to argue with; they have an advertising presence that’s hard to argue with, but there is an opportunity for a brand like us from a customization/fitting perspective to tell the story that we don’t all play extra stiff shafts…we don’t all wear size medium shirts or size 12 shoes. There’s specialization in every area of our lives. Why not address your golf ball the same way? We have different swings, different swing speeds, different needs…choosing your ball based on that rather than, perhaps, an overly simplified process of “play what the pros play.”
BA: Regarding the Tour staff, then, can you talk about your presence on Tour. You have Snedeker and Kuchar, and certainly Bryson playing the ball, and that would seem to fit hand-in-glove…and obviously Tiger.
DM: The Tour is very, very important to the positioning of our brand. Obviously, like other brands, it’s the testing ground to prove ourselves and fine-tune our product…the Tour is both an R&D tool as well as a promotional tool.
But we have to begin our conversation about the Tour with Tiger. We’re so pleased and so proud to have him. And for me to come back to this job with an asset like Tiger as part of the team is amazing. I mean, does anybody move the needle better than Tiger does?…But I believe we have a great Tour team in addition to Tiger.
I do see us mixing him [Tiger] up with the Tour team…His interactions with Bryson or a Freddie or a Matt could create a lot of consumer interest…I think you’ll see more of that. I think you’ll see us use those Tour players, including Tiger, to tell a customization and ball fitting story.
BA: Right. Obviously, Tiger’s incredibly analytical and data-driven in his own right…similar to Bryson’s orientation, and then he has such an affinity with Couples and Kuchar…and he’s been playing a lot of practice rounds with Bryson, so there must be an affinity there as well. So the opportunity there to mix it up from a marketing and messaging standpoint has got to be exciting.
DM: Especially for the enthusiasts that you have as your audience. I think lifting the veil and maybe seeing a little bit of what happens behind the scenes, say, in the locker room between a Freddie and a Tiger, that’s kind of interesting, and I think you’ll see that play out.
BA: Can you talk a bit about the ball and your share of the market? You’d risen in to the No. 2 spot, but to my knowledge you’d slipped.
DM: Well, our goal 100 percent is to get back into the No. 2 spot. We want to get back into that position of chasing down Titleist. We look forward to doing that. We think the Tour team combined with ball fitting combined with delivering better products than anyone else…if we do that in a creative, engaging way, we think we can do it.
There’s a subtlety and a nuance to talking to the golfer. I spent a little bit of time away from golf, and I have an appreciate for golf…it’s a unique niche industry. It’s not the same as a lot of other industries. It requires a certain insider’s voice and insider’s knowledge to talk to golers in a way that makes and that moves them to action.
BA: Right. The marketing and the messaging is delicate…and there’s a high degree of skepticism out there…but then you see certain things gather momentum and they become phenomenons. It’s an odd, maybe sometimes incongruent space, and it’s hard to think of other parallel industries. I’m always interested by the consumer in the golf space.
DM: Yeah. Well, there’s no doubt it’s a business of momentum, and you have to find ways to build momentum and create a brand…obviously the Tour is a great way to do that. But then…sometimes the Tour is, well, the Tour. It’s difficult to predict and control…but I do think within the control of a marketer is shaping the message in a way that really compels folks…to engage the brand, to find enough interest in the brand…to spend time researching the brand. Ball fitting or us is a great engagement tool we think we can utilize again to create that momentum.
Do you know where ball fitting came from, actually?…I’m a marketer from way back. In the 80s, Coke and Pepsi were going at each other and there was the Pepsi challenge. And I looked at that, where they offered people the opportunity to taste Pepsi versus Coke…so back in ‘08 or ‘09…we compared Titleist products to Bridgestone products based on performance…so, the cola wars were about taste. The golf ball wars were about performance. But then, the advantages consumers saw in being fit for a ball gave us the opportunity to talk about that in advertising.
BA: Interesting origin of that effort! Any final words here on day one of job? I’m sure it’s an overwhelming position to be in…
DM: I’m trying to consume massive amounts of information to get up to speed. It’s the old analogy of drinking water from the fire hose…but we have a lot of data, and we have a great team here. They understand our industry and they understand the company…I’m excited about it. Some things I’ve said already probably show which way we’re going to go…It’s not the same industry it was three years ago [when Murphy left Bridgestone], but we’ll move forward tailoring our approach to needs…of the market. But I’m super excited and very, very confident, and ready to rock and roll.
BA: Well, you certainly have some great resources and interesting ingredients, so we look forward to seeing the dish, if you, will that you cook up. I can only imagine the size and scope of the undertaking, so I wish you the best of luck with that, sir.
DM: We’d love to keep in touch as we go. We have tremendous respect for your organization and what you guys do. You play an important part in the industry, so this opportunity for me has been a great honor.
BA: We appreciate kind words!