May 31, 2013
Putting aside old rules for new branding. 

Why Are You Branding the Same Way When I Have New Skis?

For years we hold on to "rules of thumb" in our everyday life, even when those rules are outdated. Will Burke makes the connection between his new skis and the need to put aside old "rules of thumb" when it comes to the future of branding.

As we approach summer, I’m still on a ski high that ended 6 weeks ago. Amazing what fresh mountain air and light, deep powder snow can do to reinvigorate the mind, body and spirit. It was a fantastic ski season for me: I skied more days this year than the past three years combined; found a ski buddy in my oldest daughter, who is now officially a teenager – I think she loves tree skiing more than me; bought not one, but two new pairs of skis; and experienced the best powder day ever while skiing in Italy.

Two new pairs of skis – a first in seven years. Technically, only one pair was new, the other was a used pair of demo skis. The new pair – Salomon 2V Racing, 178cm – was a challenge to find. I rented a pair the year before while skiing at Madonna de Campiglio in the Dolomites. On the steep, hard packed and groomed conditions these were a dream. Put them on edge and zoom! The Italians do like to ski fast. Since these snow conditions were comparable to my ski resorts back home at Lake Tahoe, I knew these would be a great replacement for my current skis – Volkl 724 EXP, 184cm. 

Yet finding a pair of the 2V Racing was a treasure hunt. Only after much on-line searching and phone calling did I find a knowledgeable ski dealer who informed me that Salomon only sold their racing line of skis in Europe. I subsequently found an Italian website that still had them in stock and the size I wanted. And with a little help from my Italian friend Giacomo – who completed the transaction for me--I had new skis waiting for me for my ski trip to the Italian Alps – Madesimo to be exact, this past Spring. With Giacomo as my guide, I had the best powder day ever. 

While the Salomon 2V Racing was a more traditional piste ski, my second “new” pair – Volkl RTM 84, 171cm – was an eye-opening experience. These were the widest and shortest pair of skis I’ve owned as an adult. A little background; I learned to ski as a child in the mid-70’s and was a ski instructor in the early 80’s (Park City and Deer Valley) when I attended college at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. My class schedule for winter quarter was planned around getting in as many ski days as possible. Skis back then were straight and narrow. You measured your skill level by how graceful you skied (Stein Eriksen – a Norwegian, of course – was my role model) and how long your skis were (I think I got up to 205cm, about 20cm above my head). I recall some mogul runs at Park City where you could only enter if you had 200cm or longer skis.  

Now fast forward to the future. Everything has changed about skiing. It’s no longer about maintaining proper form and technique. It’s about bringing your own style and personality to the mountain. Skis are shaped, wider, shorter and with multiple cambers. It was like trying to compare a 60’s F1 race car to those of the present day – anything after the 90’s. Or the difference between the first handheld mobile phone (the brick) and today’s Smartphone. So with 30 years of ski knowledge (baggage?) telling me, “Don’t do it, Will,” I broke with tradition and tested the RTM 84 for three days. They did not disappoint. It did require a slight change to my skiing stance, yet after a few runs, they passed every challenge I presented on or off piste. However, my “old school” mindset of what a ski should looked like and how you skied was clouding my judgment. How could it be that these wider and shorter skis were outperforming my traditional ski?! The truth was there; I just needed to open my eyes to the new reality. I needed to get unstuck to old and outdated “rules of thumb.” And I did. 

How does this ski tale relate to branding? While the fundamentals of skiing have not changed, everything else has evolved dramatically. Branding is no different. We still need to start with the basics – who am I, what am I and why am I. Yet, like ski technology, the environment and audience for brands has evolved and become more complex. So how we brand, how we talk to our audience, how we design our packages and environments – real, online or augmented, must advance. The old “rules of thumb” about how you brand must be put aside. Like my fixation on ski size kept me from accessing a new skiing experience, adhering to “tried and true” branding approaches limits your brand engagement potential. 

The successful brands of the future understand this new reality and will unburden themselves of old and outdated “rules of thumb.” They realize that context is as important as content. Are you ready for the future of branding? – Will Burke



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