Spring 2011. We’re barely into the new year, but in the relentless pursuit of progress and better gear, the windsurfing companies are finishing up their line-ups for their 2012 gear and busy here on Maui right now with photo shoots of their team riders on the new gear.
If you’re an internet-surfing windsurfer you’ve no doubt already stumbled upon photos and video of 2012 sails and boards in action at Hookipa or Kanaha – some here on this website, many more on other blogs, websites and Facebook pages.
That’s great for you the windsurfing consumer. You get a sneak peak at new windsurfing gear, months before the products hit the stores or are even released in product brochures. You get to share photos and videos of that new 4 batten wave sail from brand X with your windsurfing buddies and speculate on the new material and panel layouts of sail brand Y or the new octo-fin wave boards from brand Q.
But did you know that this internet-fueled bonanza for you, scares and frustrates the hell out of many, if not most of the sail and board makers? How the hell are they supposed to control their marketing and branding if all of us bloggers, photographers and videographers are posting their new gear online months before they’re ready to promote it?
To be fair to the windsurfing brands, the problem isn’t unique to the windsurfing industry. It prevails across all industries in this internet age of social media empowered consumers. But the reality is that there really is no way any brand is going to be able to control what their customers and market are saying about them in this day and age. (For further reading on this check out: You No Longer Control Your Company’s Brand and Let Go, Customers Control Your Brand). So, the only alternative is to go with the flow, embrace and leverage it.
Why am I rambling on about this? Because, over the seven years I’ve been writing this blog, I’ve received feedback from some brands requesting that I take down or not publish some content that I get at the beach. When this happens, I usually comply, but end up just shaking my head, bewildered that sail and board makers, for the most part, haven’t accepted, much less embraced how the internet and social media has changed the game for them.
So, here’s the challenge to any windsurfing brand managers who may happen to stumble upon this little tirade of mine. Most of you need to rethink your whole marketing approach. This is the internet and social media age. People aren’t listening to your marketing message nearly as much as you think they are. They’re listening to what their friends are saying about your sails and boards on Facebook and on blogs and in YouTube. Accept the reality that photos and video of your gear is going to be online, available to the public much sooner than it was 20 years ago. Stop trying to control it and figure out how to leverage this buzz.
Think I’m a crackpot and don’t know what the hell I’m talking about? This advice isn’t mine. The essence of this advice stems back to 1999 and a seminal work called the Cluetrain Manifesto. Windsurfing brand managers, get a clue and at least read the summary theses of the the manifesto. Then figure out how to change your old school marketing approach to leverage what people are saying, writing, and posting about you online.
The windsurfing brand that seems to be figuring this out the best, from what I can tell is Neil Pryde. I think it was a brilliant idea they came up with to do their 2011 photoshoot live. Update: I was pretty disappointed to see that Neil Pryde did their best to avoid showing you the actual product in these Live 2011 Photoshoot. Good idea, but they didn’t go far enough in my opinion. Maybe they finally realized that people like GP, Jimmy Hepp, myself and others will be posting photos and videos of their 2012 sails in action at the photo shoots long before the “official” photos end up in a brochure or magazine ad. So they’re embracing and leveraging the power of the internet. I’m hoping they take it a step further and embrace the inevitable consumer-generated content as well, not just their own.
So, the challenge the brands may perceive is how to present something new for their customers, when we bloggers have been splattering their new gear all over the web many months before they’re ready to release the info themselves. Maybe what the challenge should be is how do they maintain and grow that buzz and build off of what the bloggers and photographers have been putting up for months already?
Maybe a contest where the fans can participate, create mash-up videos of the new line-up? Maybe they don’t have to worry so much about presenting something new, but just fuel the buzz that’s already been started? A contest where they can have their customers vote on the favorite video or photos of their gear that’s been posted online already? Maybe they need to get more proactive and just share content earlier. I have a suspicion that this is a big part of KP’s new role at Ezzy.
Are you a brand manager or work for a sail or board company? Have some insights on all this you’d like to share? Feel free to comment in the comments section. Give us your perspective.
Now some questions to you, the windsurfing consumer. What do you think about these sneak peaks of new gear? Do you want to see new gear now? Or would you rather wait to see it when it’s “officially” released during the summer? Do you think sail and board makers should step up and share stuff earlier? Should the windsurfing blog and Facebook community hold back the photos and videos of new gear until later when the brands are ready for it to be made public?
Ok, enough rambling. Time for a sneak peak video of some 2012 gear – Peter Volwater at Hookipa on a new Maui Sails Legend.
Special thanks to Maui Sails for being cool with me posting this short video online.