Monthly Archives: December 2009

8 ski industry case study from BNBranding

The difference between a new product launch and the birth of a brand – A Ski Industry case study.

ski industry case study from BNBranding

The author, enjoying freshies. Head skis with Knee Bindings.

It was the kind of day ski bums live for…  Ten inches of new snow, 18 degrees, calm winds. And the sky was clearing.

The experts were queued up before the first lift, chomping at the bit for fresh tracks. But for intermediate skiers accustomed to the forgiving comfort of groomed corduroy, it posed a bit of a problem. See, all 10 inches fell in the early morning hours — after the grooming machines had manicured the mountain.

There would be no “groomers” that morning.

A lot of people struggle in unpacked snow. So once the hounds had tracked up the runs and moved on, into the trees, the masses were left to flail around in cut-up powder on top of an icy base.

There were a lot of yard sales that day — tumbling falls where skis, poles and goggles were strewn all over the run. One guy I know broke a rib. Some snowboarders had broken wrists. And there were plenty of knee injuries.

Always are. Any ski patrolman will tell you it’s knees and wrists.

Modern ski binding technology has almost eliminated the broken leg from skiing. Helmets have reduced the number of head injuries, but knee injuries are common. Scary common. In the U.S. 70,000 people blow out their ACL skiing every year. On the World Cup circuit, you rarely find a racer who hasn’t had some damage to an ACL.

But now there’s a new binding brand that aims to put the knee surgeons and physical therapists out of business. So this is a ski industry case study featuring KneeBinding – the brain child of John Springer-Miller of Stowe Vermont.

While all modern bindings release up and down at the heel, KneeBinding also releases laterally. The product’s patented “PureLateral Heel Release” is a huge technological leap in binding technology. In fact, it’s the first substantial change in 30 years and it promises a dramatic decrease in the number of knee injuries on the slopes. They really can save your ACL in the most common, twisting, rearward falls. And they don’t release prematurely.

BNBranding how to choose the right message for your ads

KneeBinding has the potential to blow the ski socks off the ski industry. But will it?

If the company’s early advertising is any indication, they don’t have a very good handle on their brand strategy. This may, very well, be a ski industry case study of an under-achieving company.

Springer-Miller has been quoted saying, “This is a serious company with a serious solution to a very serious problem” And it’s true: It now costs an average of $18,000 for the initial  repair of a torn ACL.  That makes ACL injuries in skiing a $1 billion-a-year medical problem.  Plus, it takes eight months, usually with intensive physical therapy, for an ACL to heal well enough for the victim to get back on the slopes. One-out-of-five never skis again.

So why, pray tell, would you launch KneeBinding with goofy ads featuring a pair of 3-glasses? “Just tear them out, put ‘em on, and see the world’s first 3-D binding.”

I get it.  The idea of 3-D Bindings might have merit, but 3-D glasses? C’mon. It’s a gimmicky idea that will, unfortunately, rub off on the product. And the last thing you want is people thinking KneeBinding is just another ski industry gimmick.

It was an unfortunate move for a potentially great brand.

The tagline/elevator pitch is also problematic: “The only binding in the world that can mitigate knee injuries.”

First, it’s absolutely untrue: All modern bindings mitigate knee injuries to some degree. If we couldn’t blow out of our bindings there’d be a hundred times the number of ACL injuries. Plus a lot of broken bones.

Granted, the KneeBinding mitigates a specific type

of knee injury that the competitors don’t, but the line just doesn’t ring true. It sets off my internal BS meter and puts the credibility of the entire brand in question.

ski industry case study marketing

Besides, it sounds like

something an M.D. would say. Not exactly the stuff of a memorable, iconic brand.

KneeBinding is a perfect example of a company that’s led by an engineer/inventor. Springer-Miller has developed a great product, and hats off to him for that.  But the brand will never become a household name if the marketing is also driven by the engineers. (Is Too much information killing your adveritisng?) 

Even the name is a marketing nightmare. It’s so literal it excludes the most important segment of the market.

“Knee Binding” won’t appeal to fearless, indestructible 20-year olds who star in the ski films and drive the industry trends. It’s for the parents of those kids. The 40+ crowd who have been skiing long enough to see a lot of their friends on crutches.

That group — my peers — will buy the KneeBinding to avoid injury and maintain our misguided idea of youth. And we might buy them for our kids, as well. But that’s not the market

ski industry case study brandinsightblog.com

Springer-Miller needs if he wants to build a lasting brand in the ski industry.

And guess what… KneeBinding won’t appeal to either audience with technical illustrations of the binding’s components, or with 3-D glasses, like they have in their current advertising.

It has to be way more emotional than that. Not just the advertising, the brand itself. It needs a hook that goes way beyond engineering and orthopedics. (Three logical reasons why brands need more emotion.) 

I hope this product succeeds. I really do. I hope the KneeBinding technology becomes the industry standard. But I fear that the company and the current brand will not survive unless they get a handle on their brand strategy and their marketing program.

Launching a great product does not always equate to the birth of a lasting brand. KneeBinding needs to build a foundation for the brand that’s as good as the product itself. Right now, the quality of the marketing is not even close.

With the right marketing help and adequate capital, KneeBinding could give the major manufacturers a run for their money. Knee Binding was first in the market, which is big. They’ve won some industry accolades. The product stands up to performance tests. And they’ve established some degree of national distribution.

But this is not the first time someone has tried lateral heel release, and the older target audience remembers those failed attempts. The younger crowd doesn’t think they need it. They’re the most expensive bindings on the market. Plus, bindings have been a commodity product for the last 20 years. They’re not even on the radar of most skiing consumers.

How the engineers address all those issues could mean the difference between a safe, successful run and a marketing face plant.

 

1 Better survey questions — Avoiding the common pitfalls of market research.

I’m a big proponent of market research.

I’ve seen, first hand, how it can be integrated seamlessly into the operations of a rapidly-growing start-up. (They tracked customer satisfaction every week, in every new store, and grew into a billion-dollar brand.)

I’ve seen how research insight leads some brands in profitable new directions, and others back to their roots. And I know that some of the greatest ad campaigns of all time were built on tidbits of information from surveys and focus groups. Can you say, “Got Milk?” Continue reading

3 Five things Iconic brands have in common.

Simon Edwards, Brand Manager at 3M, recently started a lively online discussion around this question: “What are the common attributes of iconic brands?

He opened it up on Brand 3.0 — a Linkedin Group that includes 4,363 branding consultants, practitioners, creative directors, gurus and wannabes. It was an intelligent, worthwhile discussion that hit all the hot buttons of the branding world.

But we were preaching to the choir.

So in an effort to reach a few business people who aren’t completely “inside the bottle,”  I’d like to cover the high points of the discussion and add a few examples…

•  “An iconic brand plays a valued role in a consumer’s life. It delivers a feeling that the consumer just can’t get from any other brand. That feeling may be security, safety, familiarity, excitement, satisfaction, indulgence or many others.” – Andy Wright

Here’s an example: I’m a loyal Audi owner. Over the holiday weekend I had to drive the Q7 two and half hours on a narrow, icy, highway that’s sketchy even on a clear, summer night.  I felt all those things… security, safety, familiarity, excitement, satisfaction, indulgence.  The trip wasn’t exactly fun, but it reinforced all my beliefs about the brand. It played a vital role in that little part of my life.

I couldn’t have felt safer in any other vehicle, short of a semi truck.

“The 5 criteria of iconic brands are:  relevancy, competitiveness, authenticity, clarity of promise, consistency of communication. The hard work is the proactive management of the brand (including product development) to ensure the five criteria are delivered.” – Ed Burghard

I particularly like Ed’s point here about proactive, ongoing brand management.

Many people seem to think of branding as a one-time event. — do it and it’s done. But that’s not it at all.  You won’t stay competitive long enough to become iconic if you’re not constantly minding your brand. It’s a never-ending effort that should be intertwined into your day-to-day business.

“One element that has not been discussed is success. No brand can reach iconic status without being successful in achieving it’s purpose. Part is creating these wonderful brand connections – authentically, emotionally, as an experience. Part is communicating with clarity and consistency. Part is delivering on the promise. But a vital component is to have delivered results and exceeded expectations… yes?’    – Ed Holme

Patagonia is a brand with a very clear sense of purpose and a compelling story to tell. When that story is told over time, it establishes that intangible, emotional  connection that inspires people and fuels success. What is the purpose of your business, beyond making a profit?

• “I would like to add ‘Leadership’ to the list of attributes already mentioned. ?It’s not about market share, though; iconic brands play by their own rules. These brands tend to break the preconceived notion of function, service, style or culture, catching the competition off guard and finding unprecedented loyalty”… – Stephen Abbott

This was a contribution that really stood out. I believe leadership is a highly overlooked component of branding. If you don’t take a genuine leadership position in some aspect of  your business, your brand will eventually flounder. (Can you say GM?)

You don’t have to be the market leader to have an iconic brand. Look at Apple. The iconic leader in the computing world only has 9.6% market share in computers. What’s more,  an iconic brand does not guarantee business success. Farrells Ice Cream parlors were iconic in this part of the country, and they went belly up.  Was Saturn iconic?  Certainly for a few years in  automotive circles. What about Oldsmobile and Plymoth? Many icons of industry have fallen in the past year.

To build on the ideas related to story telling…  Iconic brands often align with an archetypal character and story which is instantly recognizable, psychologically stimulating and meaningful. Coke embodies the Innocent archetype as expressed through their advertising from polar bears to Santa Claus or the classic ‘I’d like to teach the world to sing’ campaign.” – Brenton Schmidt

Executives at Coke shattered that innocence when they changed the beloved formula to “New Coke.”  Probably the single biggest branding screw up of the last 50 years. One woman, who hadn’t had a Coke in 25 years, called to complain that they were “messing with her childhood.”  Now that’s brand loyalty!

“Some underlying attributes  tend to be focus, clarity and authenticity. However, all iconic brands tend to connect customers with an overreaching philosophy that fosters emotional connection between the customer and the brand.

Examples of brands and the emotions they foster:

– Nike = Performance. “I feel like I can run faster or jump higher when I wear my Nikes.”

– Target = Affordable Design. “At Wal-Mart, I get the best price. At Target, I get style and price.”

– Apple = CounterCulture. “I want style, simplicity and usability. My Mac says to the world that I’m different and unique. In short, I hate Windows and everything it represents.”

– Jason Milicki

I’m writing this blog on a MacBook Pro, and I’d add the word Contrarian.  Proudly contrarian, even. (My kids helped make sushi for Thanksgiving, and my son dubbed it a “Contrarian Turkey Dinner.” I think I’m handing it down.)

Finally, here’s one parting thought on iconic brands, from yours truly:

You don’t have to be  a multinational company, or even the biggest player in your niche, to become a successful icon in your own right. Gerry Lopez is an icon in the world of surfing, yet unknown to the general public and to Wall Street.

If you want to build an iconic brand — even a small one — start with passion, purpose and focus. Then work your ass off.

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