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You and your users: casual dating or marriage?


I was unexpectedly gone for a few days because I fell in love... with my new skis. What was supposed to be a late-season one-day trip became three of the best skiing days of my life. And all because I was on skis that made me feel like I kicked serious alpine ass. ; ) No, this is more than love... this is passion.

I've always been in love with skiing, and it's been close to a passion. But despite my love for what you do with skis I was never seriously into skis (or any other equipment as long as it worked). If you'd asked me a week ago, I would have said that I "loved" K2 skis. My first pair of skis as a teenager were K2s, and every pair I've had since then have been K2s. If the company had tracked me, they'd have said I was a loyal, perhaps even passionate user. And I thought so too. But it turns out, I was merely a little sentimental about the company.

When the time came to make a new buying decision, I discovered just how unpassionate I really was for K2. When I found an expert to help me (a ski guru at Boulder Ski Deals), we narrowed it down to two skis: a new K2 women-specific ski (very cool idea) called "One Luv", and a women-specific ski from Volkl, the 724 EXS Gamma.

But here's the thing -- although I favored the K2 because I had thought I was a fan of the company, when it turned out they didn't have them in my size and I'd have to wait a few days for them to come in, I switched. My so-called love and loyalty evaporated.

And I think a lot of businesses probably mistake customer retention (repeat buyers) for customer love, when it might be nothing more than the fact that humans tend to be habit-driven, especially in the face of so many choices. I tended to buy K2s because I knew it was a good company, and they'd always worked for me in the past. Although until this week, I probably never uttered the words, "I love my skis!" So when presented with a choice between something new I could have right then (and even at a slightly higher price) or waiting a couple days for my "love" brand, I dumped K2 without the tiniest flicker of emotion. I wasn't a passionate K2 user, and it turns out I wasn't really even in love.

But now, with Volkl, it's a different story. Because of the combination of an awesomely-engineered pair of skis, and the expert thoughtfullness with which the sales guy at the store made his recommendations, I ended up with a pair of skis that took my skiing into an entirely new plane. After the last three days, I am not just passionate about skiing, I'm telling everyone I know to pay attention to Volkl, especially women. My passion for the sport of skiing has now been permanently bonded to a particular ski vendor. (And the store where I got them as well.)

Let's say these skis are stolen next month or next year. After I back away from the ledge, I'll do whatever it takes to get another pair of these skis. And if that model is discontinued, I'll buy a different pair of Volkl skis. I'm absolutely certain of this:
Ill wait as long as it takes to get them, and I'll pay a premium.

Remember, it doesn't matter how your users feel about YOU, all that matters is how they feel about themselves as a result of interacting with your product or service.

By making me kick ass, Volkl now has my undying loyalty and passion. Something K2 never managed to do. And yet, even if I'd had only good (but not fabulous) experiences on my K2s, the company could have inspired my loyalty and passion by giving me something more to believe in. But they didn't. At least not in advance. It turns out that K2 women donates a portion of their sales to the Breast Cancer Research Fund, a cause dear to my heart (my mother died from breast cancer at the devastatingly young age of 40). But at the time of my purchase, I didn't know that. It might have tipped the balance, actually.

Could K2 have done something to turn my perceived-but-not-real loyalty into a long-term commitment? Probably, although I'm not sure how. Maybe they needed an aggressive ski registration system, so they could have known--and rewarded me--for being a K2 owner.

Hmmm... this gives me a lot to think about, but most important is the need to stop confusing loyalty with love, and love with true passion. Great customer service and a great product can earn you satisfaction, and often love, but until we get something close to passion, an attractive outsider can still turn a user's head. And the way to move toward passion, is to give your users the kind of experience I had this week... where I thought I was simply the hottest thing on Copper Mountain (I wasn't, of course, but that's not the point ; )
So, what are you doing to give your users the "I kick ass" experience? And what are you doing to help lock in your relationships with regular, but not yet passionate users?

Posted by Kathy on April 8, 2005 | Permalink


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hear you, but what is Volkyl going to do without your word of mouth? maybe, others aren't as passionate as you...how does Volkyl lock them in? K2 appears to be using the admirable donation practice to entice loyalty. even you may have wavered had you known of this.

it doesn't sound like the salesperson was swaying you in any certain direction, so even he doesn't appear to be passionate about Volkyl. seems he should have known that Volkyl would take you to the new plane. also, seems that Volkyl should already know this as well and communicate that in some manner.

it's wonderful that you are now a "lifelong" Volkyl fan, but what would happen if K2 came back and promised an even better experience? do you want yet another plane on the skiing enjoyment chart? how much more ass can be kicked? what if you find out Volkyl harmed the earth to make kick ass skis, then what?

sorry for all the contentious questions, but there are still other elements at play within the loyalty field. it is about the users feeling, but there are social and environmental feelings that can also make a big impact upon a buying decision. like everything in life, there are trade offs to be evaluated with some purchases.

regardless, enjoy skiing! Colorado is a great place.

Posted by: jbr | Apr 8, 2005 3:05:23 PM

I don't think this new marriage will last. You are obviously very fickle. What is going to happen next time you are looking for a bit of fun and Volkyl isn't around? Some one will introduce you to the latest, fastest ski's and you will be off again in a whirlwind of passion. That's not true love.

Volkyl will have to work really hard to keep a gal like you:) But in the meantime I hope he makes the most of your passion and all the nice things you say about him to everyone you meet.

Posted by: Derek Andrews | Apr 8, 2005 4:16:50 PM

jbr and Derek, you're right. This is hardly a long-term marriage at this point... more like an infatuation that led to a quick engagement, but something pretty major would have to happen for me to look elsewhere. The thing is, because of the experience I'm now having, K2 would have to do something spectacular to convince me that I *would* have the same ass-kicking experience on their skis. No matter how many special things they do... the point is that I wasn't skiing as well on my K2s. In reality, it's because I was skiing on too-soft beginner skis when I should have been on advanced skis, and that's not K2s fault; I was always trying to save money. But it doesn't matter. All I can say for sure is that on these Volkls, I'm skiing nearly TWICE as well as I did on any of my previous K2s.

In a sense, Volkl is getting a "free pass" on creating a passionate user, because it's the combination of the new skis PLUS the learning I've been doing (using the "Breakthrough on Skis" method), and Volkl didn't do anything but supply the equipment. It's not as if *they're* the ones who really helped me figure out how to use them properly. They actually just got lucky, and happened to have a wonderfully-engineered ski. I'm passionate about Volkls now purely because of my experience on them, not because of anything else in particular that the company did. But *sometimes* that's enough!
But I guess my bigger point was not so much anything Volkl did (except get lucky) but more about what K2 did *not* do. I should (and could) have been a die-hard K2 fan, after nearly THREE decades of contiguous K2 ski ownership, and yet it turned out I wasn't. They didn't know anything about me, and I didn't know anything about them. There was customer retention, but without any real love and loyalty behind it. Businesses should not get complacent when they have a lot of repeat business, unless they know those purchases are driven by passion (or at least love). The classic example is frequent flyer miles, where you keep flying with the same airline because you feel as though you *must*, even if you hate that airline. If a business measures retention, it should also look at the context of that repeat business.
And you're right jbr that I could find out something awful about Volkl that would lead to a divorce down the road. Right now, though, I'm so stunned by how marvelous these skis let ME ski (it's all about *me* when I'm the user ; ), that I can't imagine taking the chance on anything else. Unless something drastic happens, my next skis are Volkls, and to any intermediate/advanced female skiers out there... still straddling the blue/black fence... these skis are fantastic! They hold on the ice, turn quicker and shorter, are stable at high speed, and, oh yes, they shimmer in the sunlight ; )

Posted by: Kathy Sierra | Apr 9, 2005 5:48:30 PM

Ah, the wonders of misdirection. Do you guys work for K2? Why are you fixated on attacking Kathy's assertion that she is passionate about Volkyl? Isn't she the expert on "passion"? Don't you think she'd know? Isn't that why we read this blog? And besides, even if she's not really passionate about Volkyl - now she's got to save face…

In the meantime, the REAL problem is still there: "Could K2 have done something to turn (Kathy's) perceived-but-not-real loyalty into a long-term commitment?"

I think at the core of this issue is the fact that K2 has a completely different problem than Volkyl. Volkyl only had to create passion while K2 has the much harder task of SUSTAINING passion. K2 has baggage and Volkyl does not. To dive back into Kathy's analogy - I think Kathy was married to K2 - the met in high school, Kathy was young and inexperienced, she was passionate about her new love skiing and (I'm going out on a limb here) probably passionate about K2. She probably would never have considered switching from K2 when she bought her second pair of skis. The years go by, the kids grow up and move out and those wanton teenaged days on the slopes with that first pair of K2s are a fading memory. Sure, Kathy and her K2's still share the same ski lift but there's no…passion. Enter the pool boy, er, the Volkyls and poof, instant passion.

It is always easier to create passion with no prior history that it is to create passion with a neutral or negative history. What could K2 have done? I'm not sure either but I'm pretty certain that it was not any ONE thing. Their mistake was that they didn’t work hard enough to SUSTAIN the passion they created in teen-aged Kathy throughout their relationship. This is Marriage Counseling 101. One bouquet of flowers doesn't make up for years of passive aggressive neglect.

Think about it, what could AOL do to get you to try their service again? That's what I thought.

That said, jbr and Derek are right, Kathy's passion for Volkyl may fade over time - just like it did for K2. And if so, shame on Volkyl but they probably have a good decade to coast. Regardless, K2 is still left writing alimony checks and wallowing in self pity.

Bert, if you're reading this, fire the pool boy and order Kathy some flowers.

Posted by: Matt | Apr 11, 2005 10:55:54 AM

Given that I agree that the new Volkyl fling won't last more than the one with K2 did, let me just ask -- what it is you are expecting from a ski manufacturer?

If K2 had religiously sent you a free lift ticket for a local mountain at the beginning of every season, or a bouquet of flowers every year, or just about any other (reasonable) thing, would that *really* endear you to the brand so much as to prevent you from looking at other brands when look for new skis?

Short of a free pair of skis each year, I know that I will always keep an eye on the competition, and I will buy them instead of the old standard if they seem to have something extra to offer. As far as I can see (and I tend to be shortsighted), the only way a manufacturer can retain their loyal customers is to keep pumping out products superior to the competitors... Anyone who is blindly loyal to any company (that they don't own) is likely to lose out eventually...

My $0.02.

Posted by: Mike | Apr 11, 2005 5:32:20 PM

I think one reason people are loyal to brands is that it's just... easier. To really switch and do it right (i.e., you're not just falling for some cool ad) you have work - you have to do the research. Sometimes it's just easier to go out and buy what you've always bought.

That said, one reason that people now say that "the brand is dead" is precisely because it's must easier for people to do research on products - with the internet. Not only can you do a bunch of research on a product before you even go and try it out (price comparisons, weight comparisons, etc) but you can also read countless bulletin board discussions and reviews of products and get opinions on just about anything. So consumers are more aware of the competition, and as a result, I think they demand more of their "trusted brands" or else aren't particularly loyal at all - they'll buy whatever their favorite blogger buys.

Volkl skis anyone?

Posted by: Beth Freeman | Apr 11, 2005 6:23:02 PM

man, should have kept up with this post thread better. hopefully, everyone is still listening.

after reading all of the very excellent comments, it seems the crux of the matter is K2 didnt keep the "marriage" alive. Why? because K2 did not know there was a marriage or contract with Kathy.

had K2 done a better job of knowing their user base, they would have known that Kathy needed the harder ski. they would have known that her budget was a constraint. knowing both of these facts, K2 or their agent, would have kept up with her and reminded her that there was a better ski available for her and they were having a big summer ski sale that would save her 75% off of the ski.

to me, that's the real problem; K2 doesn't know their customer base and are not enabling or demanding their ski shop retail base to know this. had they really known about their "marriage", they probably could have sent her flowers/tickets/better merchandise. alas, they did not and we are witness to the hubris.

now, K2 has the ability to learn from their mistake. in fact, if they were really smart, they could contact Kathy directly. if they knew about blogs/rss/technorati, they would find Kathy's initial post about half way down a tecno search under "K2 ski". They would find out the entire tale and hopefully, do something to fix this little problem of theirs.

Posted by: jbr | Apr 14, 2005 6:49:29 AM

I think before marriage you should pass some dating failiures so that you'll have chanses to find the right guy/woman for you.I am practising that and I hope I'll find Mr Perfect someday.

Posted by: Cara Fletcher | Jul 23, 2007 9:47:42 AM

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