A Marketing Powerplay

A Canadian Business article caught my attention on a Hockey technology that should be a powerplay goal in the Canadian market and yet, seemingly, is not scoring to its goal potential.

Quick product summary: Thermablade – a heated blade technology that reduces friction between the skate blade and the ice.

I know it’s easy to judge from the bench and I am no hockey buff, but the web site struck all the wrong chords from a customer-centric perspective (http://www.thermablade.com). Some reasons:

1. You can only get excited by this product if you have the latest Flash plug-in. Less than that and you cannot be a serious hockey buff. Small first point, but one wonders why??

2. Opening statement: “It’s a revolution. It’s on and the game of Hockey will never be the same again.” Hooyah!! Coke was also never supposed to be the same again until New Coke marketing team realized that people genuinely liked Old Coke. Be careful over whose toes you skate.

3. “You’ll be a better player.” To a Pro the gains are noticeable where marginal improvements at peak performance make the difference between making the play-offs or not. To the average Joe Sakic-in-the-Street, the blade is what you skate on and your stick scores the goals. The money market for these products is at the sports hobbyist level. These would be sorely tested if they failed to achieve the performance promise of playing better, or which they cannot convert to more wins in the rink.

4. The logic behind the product innovation is very obvious, and believable. But it is hidden behind layers of ‘better than you could believe is possible” marketing in an attempt to take the market by storm.

There is a series of my blog entries called Honesty in Relationships that speak to some of the problems marketers face when they tell the truth from their own perspective and have trouble translating that into marketing success at the customer end. I’ll leave the topic for your own research rather than reprise it here.

If Thermablade does not conquer the market with this product I will be surprised. But there is an easy way and a hard way. From the marketing textbook it would appear they did everything right. The right technology, the right endorsements, the right measurements of product improvement over the competition, the right brand image. It is all so textbook perfect it serves as the most articulate example I can find to demonstrate that brand power is nothing if it doesn’t build on customer-centric values.

So what might Thermablade have done to make it easier?

1. Sell the truth, not the promise of performance achievement. It’s not a tough concept to sell to an 8th Grader that heat on ice reduces friction, making it easier to skate off with. But performance gains are relative to the individual. Thermablades promises that you’ll have more energy later into the game because of reduced friction. That is such a qualitative value. Who is going to measure that without sophisticated medical devices? It is a promise that implies you are going to win. Lose one game and toss the Thermablades in the can. Make performance the BIG THING and what do you say to the kid wearing Thermablades who still can’t quite make the team? Thermablades doesn’t seem to worry about this too much. Revolutionizing the game seems to be more their goal. But the customer that invests $299 and doesn’t come out ahead is going to feel lied to no matter how effectively the technology.

2. Make the web site and brand image friendlier to a mass audience. Heck, I can’t skate but I’d buy Thermablades, as long as you could prove to me I wouldn’t burn a hole in the village ice pond. But put me on a platform where I daren’t buy one unless I aspire to become Matts Sundin, and I’ll hang around the Recycle Sports Store and see what’s cheap.

3. You can’t fix what isn’t broken. Hockey rocks. You can do better, but you can’t reinvent the wheel. That’s not what hockey players skate to. Thermablade want to change hockey? Okay, just don’t say it so loud that someone will hear you. The biggest revolutions come quietly until they reach full strength and then they roar.

4. Have some young hockey kids try out with videos speak about how it helped their game. Bring the values home to the audience that feels them. Hockey stars wear what they are paid to wear. You need both perspectives.

This company is going to do great one day and everyone will say, “Jon, you got it wrong, look at them now.” I will just sit on the bench and say “What about that article in Canadian Business, eh?”

Some simple truths should stay simple. But marketers get hot on lots of things and frequently lose sight of simple customer values.

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