Introducing Steve Parke; The Product Catalog

It is a great privilege for me to introduce the first of our newest contributors, Steve Parke. Steve’s somebody who is not only a friend, but is also somebody I have a great amount of respect for. I worked indirectly with Steve for several years when he was the Director of Sales & Marketing at Ritchey Logic, then I had the brief pleasure of working for Steve when we were both at ASI (Fuji/ Kestrel/ Breezer/ SE Racing/ Terry) and he was my “boss”. He’s more than a little smart and insightful, plus he’s funny as hell, has a great turn of phrase, and still remembers the main reason most of us got into cycling- bikes are fun to ride.

In his own words;

Started as a mechanic in the late 70’s when I was lucky enough to race on Clement – Campione del Mundos.
Worked my way into the shop management gig with 2 separate stints as GM of The Bike Gallery in Portland.
Ten years in the NW as a sales rep and later regional manager – fantastic experience in the Trek machine, fully enjoyed the Bridgestone anti-machine.
Fifteen years in management on the Brand side – Scott, Ritchey, Advanced Sports – great exposure to the global bike biz.
In this world preoccupied with virtuality, I love that we make things. (Emphasis provided by me, not Steve… but I’m sure he meant to do that anyway.)

That bio reads as humbly as the man himself. I’m honored to have Steve join us here at the Krew, and I’m really looking forward to reading his posts (and those of the other contributors).

 

Steve’s first post is an ode to the printed catalog. Having produced more than a few of them myself, there is a lot that I can relate to. Painfully so. Now that we’re all mostly out of catalog production time right now, this allows an opportunity to review the process, the product, and maybe shed a tear for the hours and hours spent hoping that you didn’t screw anything up. How we all hated getting that call or email pointing out the mistake/s that we missed during “final” review… ugh…

 

Without further delay, I’ll let Steve do the talking now…

 

 

***

 

 

In this digital age, the printed product catalog is fighting to stay relevant, under pressure to gracefully step aside and yield the annual spotlight to its more current brethren – the online product catalog.  I believe the printed version still has merit and serves a key goal in generating brand equity, specifically because of its physical nature.

To address the subject today, one has to look back a bit at the history of the printed catalog in the bike biz; retrospect to the late 80’s, early 90’s will serve just fine.  For most of the 80’s, printed catalogs were largely the domain of the bicycle makers and generally filled with studio shots of the latest models, accompanied by specs, geometry and color options.  They traditionally opened with a page or two of company philosophy, but were otherwise a bit boring unless you were a bike geek and liked digesting the thing cover to cover over a few weeks of time as it sat idly on your coffee table or commode magazine rack. The 90’s saw us become more “sophisticated” in our catalog brand marketing, with accessory companies joining the fray, driven by a heightened competitive environment and a desire by marketers to separate themselves and their brands from the pack with bolder images, more racing shots, technical evolutions, glossy covers and heavy paper stock with sexy varnish masks.  It was the golden age of catalog based, brand-storytelling and many a marketing career was redirected up or down by virtue of the final product. In the same period, we saw the rise of the printed direct mail piece which had a long run of success at driving consumers into stores with the notion of deals to be had twinkling in their eyes, followed up lastly by the highly effective, but frowned upon by purists – mail order catalog.  Print was king and getting all those thousands of details correct before printing was the Holy Grail of execution.

Inevitably, the task of accurately coordinating all those moving pieces to complete the annual catalog and hoping the printer would hold up their end of the bargain when the presses were done, frustrated everyone who touched the process.  With few other options, marketers soldiered on and did their best to elevate the game and outdo their competitors.  The product rhetoric became more hyperbolic, and each year’s product suite was “crushingly” better than the last year, every brand attempting to outdo themselves and each other along the way.  A disingenuousness slipped in to the scene.

At the time I was a field sales rep for Bridgestone and a staunch voice in my company barking loudly for us to embrace this one-upmanship trend and give me the tools my dealers needed to be heard above the noise of all the emerging brands.  Grant Petersen was in charge of directing this effort at Bridgestone at the time (along with the product) and took a different view of the whole premise.  In 1992 Grant arguably invented the first “anti-catalog” in the bike biz.  He jettisoned many imbedded notions about what moves the brand needle on the consumer opinion dial.  I was so pissed at him the first year this concept was revealed and remember moaning to all that would listen that we had become marketing dinosaurs in one year while others where planning the next wing of the space station.  When fashioning the catalog, Grant dumped: the traditional size and paper, sponsored racer shots, sharp color bike images and meaningless, me-too brand prose only to replace it with 100% post-consumer waste paper (costly at the time), soy ink (after learning this part I felt justified in making him eat one), Daniel Reboor renderings (he did the technical product renderings for Campy for a bazillion years), and even introduced model segments done in a trading card format.  The prose was painstakingly written to explain the brand, the rationale for the models and made an appeal to sensibility as a driver in the buying decision process.  And with the benefit of hindsight, it could be argued was one of the most masterful printed catalogs done in the bike biz.  Grant used this format for three years before the sad news Bridgestone Japan had had enough of currency fluctuations and uppity Americans telling them how to do things, and pulled the plug, exiting the market for good in 1994.

I tossed those Bridgestone catalogs in a drawer and gave them little thought for years as my career evolved and I took on marketing roles that left me free to pursue my own perspectives on catalogs.  I learned a valuable lesson from that time – a catalog must make an emotional connection with the reader in order to be judged successful at creating top of mind awareness for the rider when the time comes to plunk down the money and head home with the product.  On the plus side: a printed catalog is visceral, physical, visual, dimensional, and transportable – engaging multiple senses.  On the not-so-plus side: they are heavy, costly to print-ship-distribute, wasteful of resources, and far too many end up in the recycle bin at year’s end, never having been opened.

There is an active changing of the guard of marketing folks from baby boomers to gen x’rs and y’rs in the industry today.  Since many of the new marketers grew up in the digital age, they are completely comfortable with presenting the best face of the brand via a website and an online product catalog, with more recent evolutions into the social media realm.  After all, that is how they and their peers are influenced to develop brand appreciation.  Aside from inspiring imbedded video assets, the online format is largely one dimensional and requires the viewer to fill in a lot of the multi-sensory gaps left in the online environment in order to arrive at what I call “lust to own”.

It’s widely accepted that no matter how a consumer begins their product affiliation process, at some point, they must cross over from cerebral to emotional before the purchase occurs.  Can online effectively marshal that journey for the buyer exclusive of the traditional printed format?  I would argue, No Way!  Even for those who report they never use printed catalogs to make buying decisions, they still engage in seeking out the “trusted influencer” in order to make the jump from intellectual consideration to emotional purchase – proving the point, as brand builders, we must help the buyer across the chasm of understanding what fits them best.  If we could run around the market place and make sure the 3 million influencer folks (recognized core user population) were accurate champions for our brand stories, then yes, maybe we can dispense with the hassle and expense of the annual printed catalog.  It turns out those folks are quite busy with their lives and even if self-motivated, will only remember a few key brand messages, and I will bet brands have a much broader message to share than the rule of three retained product attributes leading to brand opinion.

If you haven’t done so in a while, go seek out a printed catalog and look through it carefully.  Some group labored mightily to put it out so you could read it.  Does it inspire you and engage you at a deeper level than a cursory click-scroll of the company site?  I am betting the smell of ink on your fingers will make you a convert.

Steve Parke

Rebirth of the Kool

Here we are again, after a number of failed attempts to relaunch this blog… we’re finally crossing the threshold from “gonna” to “doing”. And to be perfectly honest, I’m happier than you can imagine!

This blog’s first post was on November 20, 2005– a short and simple introduction to the blog and its original intended goals/ purpose. Even though the past few years have seen barely any activity here (aside from claims that I was going to get it rolling again), the blog has somehow continued to get visitors and I’ve continued to be asked why I haven’t really restarted it. Honestly, that’s very flattering to me. To me, it shows there is still a “need” for a blog like this one- dedicated to the bike industry or other industries that choose to use cycling as a way to market themselves and their products/ services. Over the years, the content has varied from Marketing and PR, to news and current events within the cycling world- whether in the industry or the larger cycling community… and that doesn’t bother me. Not at all. I originally provided all the content myself, but then I realized that I didn’t have the time to maintain it by myself anymore, yet there were plenty of topics to discuss, and I’m blessed to know a lot people who are much smarter than me. That holds true today, as well.

Over the coming days and weeks, I will introduce new and old contributors as they share their first posts. I’ll provide a little background on each contributor, along with why I am so delighted they are a part of the Krew. Sincerely, the contributor list here is going to read like an All-Star roster. And it is. I am so pleased to be working with these fine folks- many you have likely heard of, and others who you will want to get to know better… trust me. My goal, as Chief Kool-Aid Dispenser, is to make sure that we uphold my original criteria of providing relevant content that is insightful, useful, and critical when needed. A sense of humor goes a long way too… trust me, again. We’re not here to simply shoot spitballs from the back of the class- this blog’s purpose is to educate, enlighten, share, and hopefully encourage real, open, and honest dialog. If we stray from those simple principles, I hope that you will let us know- because they are very important to me.

With the size and variety of the contributor list, it might get a little noisy around here- which is a good thing. It should also mean that content remains fresh and covers tons of topics. We have folks from nearly every corner of the cycling world; sales reps, manufacturers, marketers, advocacy experts, retail, media, and from multiple continents… and more will follow. The content is guaranteed to be unique and thoughtful. Again, that makes me extremely happy.

 

(Sharing a meal- hot pot- Taiwan style.)

So, nearly 7yrs after this blog was created, it has now become something much bigger and much more special than I ever imagined it would. I thank you for remaining or becoming interested in this silly project, and I am very much indebted to the incredible group of people who will be working with me to provide content here. We may not post every day, but you can bet there will be some incredible content coming your way, so stay tuned and check in often.

Once again, thank you for putting up with my repeated proclamations of our return from the dead. This time, I’m pretty confident in the likelihood it’s going to stick. I look forward to sharing each new contributor with you, and like you, I can’t wait to see what they have to say.

In closing, I’d like to say- “WE’RE BACK!”

This is gonna be really good.

Tim Jackson
Chief Kool-Aid Dispenser

 

(Me with my first bike- the beginning of the end… and the beginning of a lifelong love.)

Please excuse our e-dust…

Alright, it’s really gonna happen. We’re going to be back bigger, better, and stronger than ever with new and old contributors, and a renewed commitment to providing compelling commentary, insight, analysis… and hopefully a few laughs along the way.

Please allow us (by “us” I mean “me”) a little time to migrate everything over from Blogger to WordPress, refresh links, dump the old spam comments, and generally clean up.

As the host of this party, my real job is to make sure the guests have a good time, and make sure there are enough snacks for everybody. I’ll be contributing as well, but I’m excited that the Kool-Aid Krew is going to be collectively providing great content here… which is terribly exciting for me. I can’t wait to introduce/ reintroduce all the contributors. The best part is making them write bios in third person; Tim likes that a lot, yes he does!

I’ll be back and forth here a lot as I work on things… even with a little content along the way…

Please stay tuned because things are going to get very interesting and entertaining. Promise.

Tim Jackson
Chief Kool-Aid Dispenser

What if a bike manufacturer made a model-year 2013 catalog that had 100 images of earlier models.  All photography by happy owners.  Bottle cages, after-market tape, non-OE tires, computer mounts, dirt…

Bikes leaned against garage doors.  Pedal-propped at the coffee shop.  Cafe, even!

Even if it was a small run and only distributed at Interbike while the copywriters and designers took their time with the real book.

Would that not be a clear message to its intended audience?

Continue reading

The rebirth of cool; Cinelli

(Originally posted on my new main blog; Two Wheels and Half a Brain)

Cinelli is one of the iconic brands in cycling, around since the late 40’s in one capacity or another. Cinelli is responsible for lasting designs and innovations that will be part of cycling’s history and heritage into the next millennia and beyond. The incredible history of the brand is something any company would like to have.

It is not to say that Cinelli has not had its problems and defeats, as well as all those victories. There have been many setbacks along the way, but Cinelli has managed to always smartly find a way to climb back from the abyss and reestablish itself as a brand to be reckoned with.

Cinelli had fallen on some pretty rough times in the 90’s, but then they introduced a very innovative handlebar extension called Spinaci. These clever extensions became exceptionally popular with racers around the globe and at the highest levels of the sport. Sadly, the international governing body of cycling- the UCI- decided they were unsafe and banned them from competition in mass start events. This meant the death of Spinaci and the countless copycat products they’d spawned. This also threw Cinelli back into some rough waters.

The brand never went away and was never all that close to vanishing, but the image had been dented again and the name was fading from the hierarchy of brands at the top of the sport- despite the best efforts of the products and the engineers and designers at Cinelli.

Ultimately, what saved the brand and has kept it alive to this day, is the brand’s great eye for Italian design. Cinelli has always had a strong reputation for iconic modern Italian design. From the famous winged “C” logo, to the hallmark use of color and an eye for spotting trends. This all lead to Cinelli constantly maintaining a cult following of rabid fans willing to look past mistakes or missteps, eagerly awaiting the next design- whether with glee or morbid curiosity.

It’s the eye for design and ability to remain “current” with fashionable trends that gave the fans something to love. And those fans have spanned multiple generations. The young fans of today are largely in love with the deigns of the past- and Cinelli has been smart enough to give them what they want. Cinelli has remained relevant by listening to their fans and allowing them to dictate where the brand is going… or returning to.

The strength of Cinelli today lies in the fact that the brand has been co-opted by the fixed gear/ urban cycling culture. Most of the fans of Cinelli now only know of the brand’s vintage appeal from the aesthetic, as opposed to the long history of race wins and product innovation. They’re drawn more to the cool factor than anything else… and Cinelli has no problem with that at all. Which is a stroke of pure genius.

In this incredibly cutthroat market for bikes and parts, Cinelli has been able to rise above the fray and retain it’s sense of style and elegance. The Cinelli of today looks a lot like the Cinelli of decades prior because that is what the consumers of today have been begging for. From aligning themselves with arguably the strongest name in the fixed gear subculture- MASH SF– to reissuing the products that originally built the Cinelli name, they have placed themselves in the center of a very visible and vocal segment of the cycling world.

Cinelli stands out as a brand that understands who they are, who they aren’t and who their true customers are and what they want. Unlike many brands who tell their customers what they want- or should want- Cinelli listens and gives their customers what they have asked for. It sounds stupidly easy to do, yet too few companies even bother to try; the idea of letting go of control is too frightening. It isn’t to say that Cinelli simply spits out product by request- they still design avant-garde products that push the edge of being a freak show highlight. It’s this blend of innovation and retro reproduction that keeps Cinelli alive today…

… and is likely to keep them alive tomorrow too.

Website

Catalog

US website

Tim Jackson

Chief Kool-Aid Dispenser

Kool-Aid is coming back… sorta…

Hello… is this thing on?

It’s been since October of 2009 since this blog has been updated. Lots of changes have taken place in that time- obviously- and lots of great discussions have been missed. It’s been a long time since I last put out a call for guest writers to help keep this thing afloat- and I got a lot of great volunteers… in 2009!
So, with that said, consider this a repeat;
  • I am officially looking for guest writers to help bring this blog back from the dead… again.
  • Here’s the original Kasting Kall.
To all those who tossed their hat into the ring the last time, please feel free to toss it in again! To those who thought about it before, but held back… here’s your chance. AND… for those who are seeing this for the first time, I promise I’m a nice guy and won’t be mean as Editor… so send me a sample.
Thank you again (again),
Tim Jackson
Chief Kool-Aid Dispenser

Kool-Aid Kall

To all who have sent in writing samples and emailed an interest in joining the Kool-Aid Krew, I just want to say thank you and let you know you will be hearing from me soon- I promise. Frankly, I’m tempted to take all of you on as contributors… and just might! I’m one nutty editor/ Chief Kool-Aid Dispenser.

If you haven’t already heard from me, you will soon, so please be patient… I do have a day job after all…

I’m very excited about the changes and upgrades coming to this site and I thank you for your patience and continuing support.

Tim Jackson
Chief Kool-Aid Dispenser