October 20, 2004

the krypronite factor


This "thriving in markets" cartoon above is one of my favorites. Hence why I repost it far too often. Hence why it has a permanent spot in The Hughtrain.

Sure, the line sounds good in a meeting. And yes, the client will invariably ask, "Can you give me a good example of what you mean, exactly?"

Luckily we all now have such an example: I call it "The Kryptonite Factor."

Robert Scoble mentioned it only a day or two ago. I first came across it reading Rick Bruner's blog (Bruner is one very smart cookie, by the way. I'd recommend paying attention to what's on his radar screen).

Here's how the drama unfolded:


KRYPTONITE: Our bike locks are the best.
THE MARKET: Yes, your bike locks are the best.


KRYPTONITE: Our bike locks are the best.
THE MARKET: Yes, your bike locks are still the best.


KRYPTONITE: Our bike locks are the best.
THE MARKET: Ummm... yeah I'm sure they are, but what's all this about some recent video on the net that's supposed to show how you can crack your locks in 10 seconds using a simple Bic ballpoint pen?


KRYPTONITE: Our bike locks are the best.
THE MARKET: Hey, I just saw that video on a friend's website. And I'm kinda ticked off because I just paid $60 for one of your new locks 3 weeks ago, and I'm wondering if a Bic pen can crack my lock or not... does the pen crack all Kryptonite locks or just one or two models?


KRYPTONITE: Our bike locks are the best.
THE MARKET: Hey, I just visited your website and saw no mention of the Bic pens. What the hell are you doing about it? Are you going to fix the locks? Are you going to give me a refund?


KRYPTONITE: Our bike locks are the best.
THE MARKET: No, they're not. You guys are assholes.

So what was the final outcome? How did Kryptonite address the problem? Did they fix the lock in the end? I have no idea. I'm just assuming their locks continue to suck. I suppose I could go visit the company website for more info, but... Eh. I can't be bothered. I'm just assuming it'll have the usual bullshit PR when I get there. Life is short.

One decent, smart, young, credible part-time blogger on $500 a month, writing from the front lines on their behalf could have saved Kryptonite millions of dollars. Not to mention decades of slowly-and-painfully built brand equity.

Without warning, Kyptonite's market got smarter and faster than they did. And it only took a couple of days to unleash the full wrath. Boom!

You have been warned.

[UPDATE:] Just added this post to The Hughtrain. Rock on.

Posted by hugh macleod at October 20, 2004 10:57 PM | TrackBack

Well, here is where your idea falls down: how exactly would a Kryptonite blogger have diffused the situation? The locks suck, and they still suck, unless he is empowered to give everyone their money back how is a Kryptonite blogger going to make everyone happy? Just by saying something like "Yeah man I understand, I really do, it's a bitch ain't it." Probably everyone will give him grief in his comments, calling him and his company a wanker, and there really won't be much for him to add, except perhaps he's had his bike stolen too and is looking for a new job and give him a break because he's just human like them. There are limitations to what a corporate blogger can do if the bottom line is that the product is compromised and the company is taken offguard. All people want is their money back. If that's not an option the blogger is powerless.

Posted by: Joe at October 21, 2004 1:11 AM

"Hugh, one thing you don't seem to have mentioned is that it's not always the company that is scared to open up, it's just that they don't want to fuck up what their PR department are paid to handle. Of course, now the PR people can't handle these markets that are so savvy."

My experience of PR: mostly clueless fucktards. Way too fond of their freebie alcohol and celeb access for my liking. But yeah, I'm sure there are many exceptions to the rule.

Posted by: hugh macleod at October 21, 2004 1:44 AM

yeah well Hugh, I think your qualifications sorta say what I meant. Don't disagree with the general concept, but realistically can you imagine just how boring a Kryptonite blog would be? A blog dedicated to bike locks? Yeah, well, that would work wouldn't it? I'd want to read that every day. I don't even want to read Scoble and I concede I can see the point of his blog.

Seriously though, isn't this a real problem for a corporate blog: how do you write about Persil or Daz every day? A bleach blog, tips for using your bleach. Mind you, have you seen flylady.net? Bizarre!

Posted by: Joe at October 21, 2004 1:53 AM

Sorry, Joe, I deleted the qualifications. They were kinda snarky, or at least, they could have been interpreted that way. Don't like snarking my readers, even if it's in well-intentioned, good fun.

To answer your second point, who says a blog about washing powder can't be good? I would call that a self-imposed limitation.

Posted by: hugh macleod at October 21, 2004 1:58 AM

I honestly can't see a blog about washing powder cutting it. What's there to say? I did the washing today, the kid's clothes are really clean. We're giving away sachets to people who ring this number. Surely it is problems like this that mean that corporate blogging will never take off, except maybe for conglomerates with a lot of businesses under their wing. Adidas blog: interesting to hear about the five teenagers murdered for their trainers recently, i thought as felt the svelte new lining on my lovely white ... blah blah. Chemical companies blogging about polluting rivers, a day out cleaning up the swans. yeah, somehow...

Posted by: Joe at October 21, 2004 2:04 AM

"It's kinda dumb to hire someone *just* to blog, though.. because they're not really plugged-in, wouldn't you say?"

Firas, again, self-imposed limitiations! Give me one, hungry, young bright spark who REALLY wants to make a difference and...

Actually, I know damn well how to create a good washing-powder blog. But Methinks I'll keep it under wraps, and later sell the concept one day to Unilever or P&G.

Also, it's OK to be a layperson in marketing. Most marketing is tripe. The good stuff- I mean, the really good stuff is common sense, not MBA course material.

Posted by: hugh macleod at October 21, 2004 2:17 AM

Doesn't matter, you could write almost anything that is arguably relevant. Even a barely adequate weblog (and I think Faras is right, there's an opportunity there to become an information broker); but a ho-hum one, in place, available when candid PR response is needed, should be just SOP for any retail business.

Blogs are so great. I just started one rather than mastering the learning curve for a web site. It doesn't require an IT team; there's no navigation problem, especially with a search function; and you can link to just the post you want people to find. Not .000001% of their usefulness has yet been touched.

Posted by: bc at October 21, 2004 2:29 AM

Anyway, the point really isn't about the merits of a hypothetical Kryptonite website written by a $500-a-month young'un.

The point is about markets becoming smarter and faster than the companies who service said markets.

Pay attention, Class!


Posted by: hugh macleod at October 21, 2004 2:41 AM

I agree with Hugh.

If I worked for the Persil Marketing department I would make it my job right now to find that person out there who really, really likes washing powder and get that person to blog for Persil and not Daz right now. It'll pay way more dividends down the line than the cost of a Typepad monthly subscription.

As for Krptonite

I don't own a Krptonite lock, but if I did I would probably drop into their blog (if they had one) for updates on how they were tackling the problem, chat with the chief designer of the lock, talk about improvements to security and upcoming lock releases.

Blogging in the Kryptonite case would have been common courtesy as well as good business sense. They came out of this looking kind of rude and uncaring to a large swathe of their (now lost) customers.

Posted by: pieman at October 21, 2004 4:11 AM

Hugh if you have an idea on how to create a washing powder blog, why not share it? Aren't you of the philosophy that ideas are not to be hoarded? It would be interesting to start a conversation about how to create a washing powder blog, don't you think? I'm sure a lot of bloggers and marketers would have something to contribute.

Posted by: Alan Gutierrez at October 21, 2004 6:13 AM

Well, I for one think the blogger's entitled to hold back for his livelihood.
Washing machine powder blog. You have a person who works in the Tide product planning office write about their messy life. Maybe they're coming out of a divorce. They're trying to get clean. And sometimes they write about whats going on in the office, including product stuff. Not because they're trying to hypnotise people to agree to "trust Tide" but because the Tide product is part of their messed up work life. Once the blogger starts getting comfy, loses his/her genuine edge of desparation about life( read "entertainment value") they get axed from the blog spot and replaced by a person who's more in touch with the dirt of life.

Posted by: John at October 21, 2004 6:27 AM

Kryptonite blog: Hire a bike messenger and/or an urban college student. Write about the city scene, cycling events, bike theft statistics and prevention, coexisting with traffic.

Washing powder blog: Hire a "typical Mom" (whatever that means). Write about the kids and all the stuff they do that creates dirt. (I love the Wisk "America Needs Dirt" campaign.) Write about schedule juggling, parenting issues, how making household chores easier means more time with the kids.

Saying that a bike lock blog has to be about bike locks, or a washing powder blog has to be about washing powder, misses the whole point of having a blog in the first place. It's about community and conversations first, pushing products second.

Posted by: Katherine at October 21, 2004 4:12 PM


Don't you think though, that maybe the tide guy, who's heart wrenching tale of pulling his life out of the muck (with the help of tide), might have established a hard-core following? So that when he is dumped by the label, his rabid followers create such a backlash that they have to bring him back? And in fact, have to pay him handsomely now because he's a tidy celebrity? Someone who eptimizes what it means to be a real clean survivor?

But the younger kids, they think he's a phony, he doesn't know what 'real' dirt is, no way. Only the blogger guy at All brand knows what it means to really struggle with dirt.

Anyhow, back to your regularly scheduled programming...

Posted by: Bob Loblaw at October 21, 2004 5:04 PM

Katherine wrote: "It's about community and conversations first, pushing products second."

Well, is it about pushing products *at all*? People soon see through that and resent it.

Posted by: Joe at October 21, 2004 6:34 PM

Joe: I wouldn't say that the washing powder blog has to stand up and praise Tide to the heavens. But if the washing powder blog doesn't contribute to Tide's sales in some way, it's a waste of time and money. Maybe not much time or money, but a waste nonetheless.

Posted by: Katherine at October 21, 2004 9:03 PM

Hell, I blog about trade shows. That's pretty boring to most people. Including me some days.

Kryptonite did eventually do the right thing. Should they have acted quicker? Certainly - as early as 1991 it seems.

They were actually somewhat fortunate in that they could put a face on the problem in a more traditional way, through the huge Interbike trade show a couple of weeks ago. Theirs was probably the most trafficked booth at the show (albeit not for the reasons they'd choose) but they changed their whole exhibit strategy at the 11th hour and gave a good showing to the dealer community, which as expected, was still pissed off. Having that opportunity to be face-to-face and show off the new locks was certainly fortitous for them and they were smart enough to use it to their advantage.

Posted by: RichW at October 21, 2004 9:36 PM

Interesting read - I'd like to hear more about the solution as well - especially why the blogger has to be 'decent, smart, young, credible'. Thanks!

Posted by: David Pankhurst at January 3, 2005 1:25 PM