You probably saw this commercial for the iBike iDash computer during the Tour de France, and/or the USPro Cycling Challenge, and/or the Vuelta:
If you're one of our customers, the ad probably didn't make you want to run out and buy an iBike. After targeting racers for a long time through sponsorship of a domestic pro team and then by sponsoring Footon-Servetto in Europe, the company that makes the iBike (called Velocomp) pulled a 180 and aimed their new iPhone integrated hardware and software package directly at Freds. Look how they make the guy from the drop bar set look like a bumbling idiot in the ad, while the smart hybrid riding, latte sipping, gas station air compressor tire inflating guy basks in the mastery of his (rather anemic) ride data. It ends up being a pretty polarizing ad. A large number of the Tour de France TV roadie audience in the states will see the ad and say, "Eww. Do they sell it with a free Camelback?" And yet many people - perhaps more - will identify with the recreational cyclist and start to envision how much better their rides, lives and sense of self worth will be if they had such a miracle product.
The iBike, by the way, is a pretty remarkable product. In its earlier iteration, the iAero, it was particularly well suited for racers, collecting data in unique ways when used as a head unit on a direct force power meter like a Quarq or a PowerTap. You can then use the iAero's wind-based power measuring features to fine tune your position on the bike in real time when you ride, seeing how much time you gain or lose when you move to the drops or zip up your jersey. And the unit also collects data other power meters don't using the wind sensor, allowing you to look at your analytics after a race and see how much time you spent in a draft, helping you determine if you did more than your share of work in a break or weren't aggressive enough on the front.
Yet the iPhone version, while it has the same functionality, never caught on with racers, owing largely to the size of the unit needed to bolt onto the front of your bike, and the racers' propensity to crash. It's bad enough losing a $500 wheel in a fiery spectacle on turn 4 - sacrificing your iPhone to the same jackass who divebombed a lane that didn't exist is more trauma than most racers can bear. So my guess is that the Velocomp folks realized that the iDash may be the right product aimed at the wrong market. Instead of trying to position the iDash as something that any cyclist could use, they took a stand and made the difficult decision to wilfully alienate a sizable chunk of their prospective market. It's a decision I agree with, but it doesn't mean it's an easy one to make. Turning your back on potential customers is never ever easy.
And yet, it's the only way a company can ever differentiate. Everything to everybody is not a differentiation strategy. Providing a unique solution to a clearly defined audience is what differentiates, and unless you're importing marketing dollars by container ship from the Far East, differentiation is the only sustainable way to make sure your message reaches the right audience, and then resonates with them.
I've written about Volagi here previously, and they're another example of a company wilfully not pleasing everybody. This is the part of the blog where I would rattle off another dozen companies in cycling who successfully differentiate. Only I can't think of another dozen, or even a good representative sample. Most companies in this industry are pretty formulaic, and are quick to pick up on others' differentiations, cancelling them out. Niner used to be a good example of product line differentiation, but now everybody has a 29er so their position is no longer unique. Moots stands pretty well on their own, as their level of expertise in titanium is not something another brand can pick up through a correspondence course. Chris King also differentiates, as much through their company as their products. I'm struggling to find more.
Differentiation is important to us because our model is to make it easy for customers who groove on our philosophy to find us. Someone told me today that he wouldn't be surprised to see a big November Bicycles ad splashed across a 2-page spread in Bicycling within the next 5 years. He meant it as a compliment, but I told him that if that ever happens it's because we've failed. The day we try to appeal to everyone who likes bikes is the day we've given up on trying to be the best possible solution for the market we know we can serve best - those of you who want to Race Smart. So when someone told us on Twitter yesterday, "not a fan of the name of the cross bike, though I did think it looked great at DCCX" my first reaction was not, "Oh crap. We lost somebody." Maybe we did, but that's an inevitable casualty of positioning integrity. Rather, what I thought was, "Well calling it the HOT BUNS certainly worked - it elicited a response." Don't get me wrong - we're not trying to turn people off to our products. You know that saying about making omelets and breaking eggs? I bet you never heard a saying about omelets and vanilla. That's because there's no vanilla in omelets, and vanilla is not a differentiation strategy. Whenever we get confirmation that we're more flavorful than that - be it more spicy, sour, savory, sweet, umami, or even rancid - we know we're headed in the direction we aimed. We don't know if it's the right direction, but it's the one we chose.