A New Snowboard will not Save Me
Why meet and greet conferences don’t pay off
|The three amigos|
The ski and snowboard manufacturers are in hyper-drive here in Denver. In general, marketing efforts are divided into two basic categories:
a. articulate a product’s benefits, or
b. market a vision whereby potential customers are told that they need the newest technology/improvements/color, etc.
Indeed, in the ski industry, what separates this year’s models of equipment from last year’s (the stuff unloaded at the pre-season sales) is primarily color: 99.9 percent of the skiers and snowboarders could never tell the difference in the technology from one year to the very next year, yet the industry sales are in the billions. I’m not tempted to buy a new snowboard this year, because the features trumpeted have no value to me yet. Snowboarding has a much higher learning curve than skiing, largely due to the asymmetry of the techniques involved to successfully aim a small flat missile down a steep mountain, with your feet locked into bindings that do not release.
Skis give you a number of bailout options when you’re in trouble. The ability to reposition both legs to slow an out-of-control descent is a huge bonus and the fact that ski bindings release means that some severe knee injuries can be avoided when one is separated from their skis at high speed. This, of course, doesn’t apply to the bruised ego when a spectacular crash pares the skier from his/her equipment right under a ski lift populated with slightly inebriated passengers, whose decibel level of applause for a wipeout is directly proportional to the violence of the crash.
At the top of the popularity meter is the “yard sale.” This is the name given when the force of a crash is sufficient enough to remove both skis and poles from a skier and scatter them all over the slope. My son Colin was eight-years-old when he decided to pull a “Franz Klammer” and point his skis straight down a black diamond race course at Keystone called “Go Devil.” I ski fast, but Colin was supersonic this day and I saw him rapidly disappear down the run. I thought he was a little too close to the right side of the run, so I assumed a racing tuck and followed him. I got close enough to see him catch a bump and launch into the air while spinning like a sideways shuriken, followed by a Wiley E. Coyote puff of snow that gently rose into the air. Colin’s yard sale was spread over a 20-meter area, and I checked to make sure life and limb were intact when I reached him. He wasn’t seriously hurt, but we did take him to the Keystone clinic, chockfull of denizens from sea level towns who wondered why they couldn’t breathe so well at 12,000 feet. Although, my favorite memory of that day was a nurse coming out to a rather hefty skier and saying, with a straight face mind you, “Mr. Smith, I spoke with the doctor, and after reviewing your x-rays, he thinks your boots are too tight.”
Snowboard crashes are far more binary than ski crashes: you either fall forward, or you fall backwards. The asymmetry of snowboarding owes itself to the fact that feet are placed one in front of the other. The front foot is angled somewhat forward, while the rear foot is perpendicular to the board. If you “ride” (the common vernacular for snowboarding) with your left foot forward, you are “normal,” if you have your right foot forward, you are “goofy” or “goofy-footed.”
The learning curve for snowboarding is very steep, with crashes following the Three Fs: fast, furious, and frequently. For a normal-footed rider, turning from right to left is usually the easier of the two turns, though not at all easy at first. This is because the transition involves leaning back and shifting from the uphill edge from the toes to the heels: a somewhat natural motion for most people. The left-to-right turn is another matter entirely. A day’s worth of observing neophytes attempting the left-to-right transition is the source of more entertainment than all of the episodes of American Idol combined. This is not a natural
motion for normal footers and, unlike the simple glide from edge to edge in the right-to-left turn, a swinging of the hips is required to move the board from the heel edge to the toe edge. Beginners fail to keep their weight forward in their boots and, as soon as they release the back edge, they enter a twilight zone of terror. With no edges gripping the snow, the board becomes a slick, waxed, Tomahawk missile skimming along the snow and the hapless rider will windmill their arms as they accelerate at an astonishing rate. The brave and/or foolish will try to regain control, which almost never happens. The smart will bail out and take their lumps at a slower speed. Either way, these crashes are legendary theater.
Back to your snowboard crash options: falling on one’s derriere is the preferred course of action. God may have known this when he gave we humans the bum, as the natural padding greater reduces the shock. But falling face first, well, these crashes draw rave reviews from the aforementioned ski lift passengers overhead. Since snowboard bindings don’t release, a face-first crash ranges from the crasher coming up with a face full of snow, to the grand mal of snowboarding: the end-over-end maelstrom with the rider in the center of a white tornado of snow.
Of course, people who make no attempt to at least stifle their laughter in these situations have likely suffered some sort of concussion-related brain damage themselves. There isn’t a skier or snowboarder alive who hasn’t bitten the snow big time and those who laugh loudest are likely paying back the crasher for the humiliation they once suffered at the hands of the lift passengers who brayed like mules at their own misfortune.
So, no need for me to believe the marketing hype on new boards just yet. While we’re talking about marketing, let’s talk about a cottage industry that has emerged over the past few years. Word has gotten out that something once perceived as a mere annoyance has blossomed into full-blown pestilence.
Meet and greet conferences
I’m speaking of the Meet and Greet conference event. I get a call or letter every other week from conference organizers. In the past, these contacts were largely people asking if I’d like to speak at a conference, but now, they’ve taken a more sinister spin.
Usually, the person at the other end of the phone will use one or more of the following phrases:
• “Are you interested in meeting key decision makers from (insert luminaries from large pharma or biotech companies here)?”
• “We’re offering you a space in our speaker’s program.”
• “Would you like to be a delegate?”
• “We are offering you a sponsorship opportunity because (list comrades or competitors here) have already indicated an interest.”
I usually cut these folks off pretty quickly with the following statement: “Let me save you some time. Are you asking me to speak at your conference? If so, are you paying expenses and offering free admission?”
This brings the play to a quick halt, as the response comes back: “Ah, no. We’re offering sponsorship opportunities. Randy (I love it when my name is inserted into their objection script), don’t you agree that your business could benefit by meeting key decision makers from major companies?”
My response: “So, that’s a ‘no’. Just curious, how much would I pay for this ‘opportunity’?”
Usually, the fees range from a few thousand for a speaker’s slot, to more than 10 grand for a “sponsor.”
This is when I usually drive a stake into the heart of the marketer: “Okay, so you’re creating this image that once I glad-hand a few ‘key decision makers’, my company will bubble to the top of their preferred vendor’s list? Hell, maybe they’ll offer us a contract on the spot?”
“Well, Mr. Hice, you’ll agree that meeting these key decision makers would be of great benefit to your company?”
“No, not really. Any company considering a major informatics project will research key suppliers and my company is at the top of the industry. Several other key suppliers will be sent an RFP and we will all respond. We will be invited to demo and a selection will be made. Do you think that a person who has achieved the stature of ‘…a key decision maker’ got to that position by selecting a supplier based on funny stories told over a glass of deep red cabernet sauvignon?”
This is the point where the discussion has turned terminal for the poor marketer and the hang-up occurs within a window of 15 to 30 seconds.
The problem I have with “Meet and Greet” conferences is they are very expensive and they rarely pan out to real business. If business does pan out, it’s likely not a function of the conference, but of a company performing normal due diligence.
But the calls and e-mails will come. I received two e-mails a few days ago, from the same person, within about five seconds of each other, for two separate conference “speaking opportunities.” I’m thinking that the “key decision makers” I want to speak with are my wife and two boys and we’ll be deciding on where we’ll open ski season this year.
Randy Hice is Director, Strategic Consulting at STARLIMS. He may be reached at editor@ScientificComputing.com.