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Corporate Kayak Compromising: part 3

Kayak Design

Do you think you paddle the best kayak for you?

We bet you don't !

In todays issue of Corporate Compromising: Marketing and Sales.

(Warning: The following text was written in good will. It is based on individual experiences, 18 years of kayaking, 16 years of competing and 7 years in the kayak industry. It only represents the author's personal opinions. Most thoughts and cases are written from a competitive playboater's point of view.)

Let's face it: all kayak companies are money making machines. They must sell kayaks. This forces us, kayak designers, to compromise on design and engineers to compromise on materials and even on technical issues. Money talks!

In this third and last article we'll take a look at marketing and sales.

Part 3. Marketing and Sales

Originally the kayak industry was based on mastering the manufacturing technologies much more than on innovation and development.

There weren't too many brands available and all boats at looked pretty much the same. Boating was a lot of fun but quite different from what you see these days.

Kayak Design

It took a generation of boaters to change the sport completely. Visionaries who learned from ground up and redefined what paddling is, about and where it is about to go. Nowadays there is many, many kayak brands. Some are more innovative and some less but at the end of the day it is more options when choosing the make and the model of the kayak than the color.

When you are in a market for a new boat these days, you come across a completely new kind of question. Purpose designed boats are here to stay. You have to define what you need from your kayak and where are you going to use it. Since the craziest days of boat development a few years ago, paddlers are more or less completing their fleets of kayaks. We have to have a few boats to be safe and have fun on the river. General purpose is not enough anymore.

1. Cost

Selling kayaks is the most expensive part in the chain from an idea to a customer product. You have to sell a great number of boats to cover the moulds and prototypes of the kayak. HYPE is a good word to use here. That is done a lot in the kayak industry. Kayaks are hyped well before their release. There won't even be a mould for building a single kayak yet, but there it is in a catalogue. Companies reserve customers for next season in advance. Sounds funny, doesn't it?

Kayak companies have huge marketing pressures. Putting 6 figure money into the product and development has to pay off. Marketing simple and familiar products is often easier than marketing cutting edge technology.

Making kayaks aviable for testing to a large number of paddlers is a problem. Many kayaks are bought without testing. Too many.

Advertising relies highly on your imagination. There is no numeric data that will predict the exact performance of your boat. Comparing sports cars is easy - read the figures and decide which of them meets your standards. It can be a Porsche GT3 or Ferrari 328.

2. Appearance / Branding

Porsche is an uptuned VW Beetle and Ferrari is an downtuned Formula 1. Even if they are egually fast on the track, there is a significant difference looked from this side. They come from 2 different worlds. In this light, Porsche is more down to earth and generates a highly different feeling. I could see an grey haired elderly gentleman sitting in a black Porsche driving down the street but I can't see why he would drive a red Ferrari down to the casino. Close your yeas and imagine who would fit in a red Ferrari.

Kayak Design

Kayaks are similar cars in many ways. There is a certain brand image for all of them. A bearded boater with a Long John from the eighties in not going to paddle the newest freestyle design with stickers and cheeky colors.

There is also a downside. In a kayak, you are the engine and the performance you get is a combination of your gear and yourself. A VW Beetle would not perform normally with a GT 3 Engine. The GT3 engine would be quite unhappy in that Beetle too. Getting n good enough boat is a tough goal. It is better to have a bit too much performance and go over your comfort zone. It is all about development and progression after all.

Here is a bit of an homework for you. Count how many logos etc. there are on your current boat. Go to your car and see how many logos are there. Branding is very visual. Making a boat attractive helps to make it sell well.

Most kayaks come with a lot of 'extras'. There are DVDs, bottles and swamps. Many times they seem to take over the real kayak. At the end of the day it is the hull that counts, though.

3. Coolness Factor

Things go in circless. Look at music and fashion. What was cool boating 5 years ago is not really cool anymore. But don't worry, it will be cool again soon. Running rivers is cool nowadays, so the industry is focusing on that. Freestyle is semicool, because it's turned into a level of sport. Cartwheeling is no longer cool in a freestyle contest, but big air certainly is.

Kayak Design

Solid colors were cool when plastic boats were introduced. Then things went to multicolor and now we are back at solid colours. You don't have to be a mind reader to tell what is coming next.

Sometimes new things are considered cool. Nowadays C-1 paddling is becoming very hip and cool. To be honest, I'm very happy about that one :-)

Once again, I hope you can see kayaks in a slightly different light after ahving read this article.

CU in the eddy !

Marko Hakolahti
Designer
Drakkar Kayaks

The Corporate Kayak Compromising series

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