After perusing the various products and services looking for funding on Kickerstarter.com and Indiegogo.com, the listing on Indiegogo for “The Drift W1: Experience Segway’s New Age E-Skates” caught my eye. (1)
The spectacular failure of the original Segway has always interested me. Jennifer Valentino-DeVries writes a pithy but thorough timeline of its fall for The Wall Street Journal.
“2001: Incredible hype builds around a device known as ‘IT’ and ‘Ginger’ that is being built by inventor Dean Kamen. There's talk among tech insiders that it could be bigger than the PC. Kamen says it ‘will be to the car what the car was to the horse and buggy.’” (2)
The problem was that the car revolutionized vehicle transport. The Segway revolutionized walking. And as should have been a surprise to no one (but apparently was), there was virtually no market for a revolutionary way to walk.
Kamen had predicted he would sell 50,000 Segway’s in the first year, but by 2003 he had only sold 6000. And the company had to issue a recall on those because so many people were falling and getting hurt. One of whom was then President George W. Bush.
So for them to brazenly market the decrepit brand of “Segway” was a rather bold move right from the start. Indeed, it is the same company as the one that released the original Segway. I’m somewhat surprised they haven’t changed their name for this product. Indeed, these revolutionary roller skates sit front and center Segway’s website. (3)
Of course, in a crowded market such as the one we have today, having a name brand that is recognizable is a major advantage in and of itself. And while Segway’s brand is seen by some as a joke, it’s not seen in a ethically negative way in the way that Philip Morris, Monsanto, Perdue Pharma or other companies are with some. I know of no one who has accused Segway of any noteworthy ethical wrongdoing. So sticking with the original brand name was probably the right decision in my judgment.
That being said, this idea is far superior to the original. Most people don’t use rollerblades or roller skates as a way to get around. Instead, they are a product for sport and fun. Segway’s balancing technology―while close to worthless in its original design―is still impressive. As Valentino-DeVries notes, it used “a complicated system of gyroscopes and other technology to balance,” which has presumably advanced over the last 17 years
It shouldn’t be surprising that an effective technology would not work in its first product but (possibly) work in a future one. Many products were eventually adopted for a purpose they were not initially intended for. For example, Kleenex was supposed to be a sanitary pad and Listerine was supposed to be a surgical antiseptic. (4)
The Drift W1 markets itself as “Lightweight, portable with endless fun and numerous stylish ways to ride.” In other words, this is a product for people to have fun with, not get around with. It revolutionizes roller skating (which might have a market) not walking (which doesn’t).
The advertising highlights this aspect and is consistent with the theme they are going with. The print ad is the standard for this type of product with an attractive man and woman wearing “hip” clothing while looking “cool.”
The video ad is similar. It uses quick cuts of these same attractive people doing all sorts of cool tricks in their Drift W1’s with pulsating techno music in the background. While this type of advertising has become predictable and perhaps even stale for companies aiming at the same demographic, such as Nike and Under Armor. It has obviously proven to be successful though, as those companies continue to sell large numbers of shoes and other sporting goods predominantly to the younger Generation Z and Millennial demographic.
Indeed, given that this is the demographic their aiming at and it’s predominantly Boomers and Generation X that remember the pathetic launch of the original Segway, the company may not have to worry much about the brand’s maligned image. People have heard the name. The word “Segway” is familiar and that’s all that matters.
It’s also interesting that Segway would pursue an Indiegogo campaign instead of more traditional financing routes. This may have just been a corporate strategy, but it also may have been to take advantage of the youth-focused aspect of its product. Young people are, after all, more apt to use the Internet and modern crowdfunding platforms.
The Drift W1 is currently in the production stage, which means they “have a working version of their physical product, are currently producing this product for backers.” (5) Segway has raised $183,541 of its $200,000 flexible goal.
The page is loaded with pictures and descriptions of all its components and technical specifications, which is necessary but not particularly useful for marketing. What is helpful is that there are simple, picture-focused guides to how to use the product. The following is a still frame, but each “picture” is a GIF which briefly shows the process for operation:
This type of easy-to-see-and-understand how-to-guide is essential for any new product. A confused mind says “no.” And most people aren’t that interested in digging into something new that might be complicated or tricky to operate. They just have too much else to do. By having a simple diagram with moving pictures walk you through the process, the product seems less foreign and more easily adoptable.
Segway is also wisely offering several perks to its backers including a $130 discount on a pair. (The retail price is $499 with several quantity discounts for more.) They are also allowing people to buy it as an “early bird.” Those products will arrive in October of this year. I didn’t see an official launch date.
While this is typical, it’s always good to beta test a product with a small group in the public to work out any kinks before a wide launch. It’s also good to build some excitement about it and hopefully some word-of-mouth traffic. Segway needs to turn its brand into something “cool,” which won’t be an easy thing to do.
With products such as these, it’s a bit of an all or nothing affair. Humans are a social animal and want to be a part of the crowd. And there is no group of humans that has this desire more than young people. Everyone wants to fit in and not be the “odd man (or woman) out.” In order for this product to be truly successful, it has to become something that a lot of people use and not something that a few “weirdos” use.
I don’t believe this product can succeed as a niche product. It really needs fairly broad market acceptance.
This is especially true since what Segway is trying to revolutionize has become significantly less popular. According to HowStuffWorks.com,
“By the late '90s, more than 20 million Americans were skating at least once a year, making it the fastest-growing sport in the country… According to numbers from the Sports & Fitness Industry Association (SFIA), which conducts a massive annual sports participation survey, only 6 million Americans tried inline skating in 2015.” (6)
That being said, what better way to rejuvenate a product that to update it with modern technology?
The marketing wasn’t all good, though. I was surprised that the color scheme is pink to purple on the Indiegogo page and just pink on Segway’s own website. For better or worse, pink is typically associated with girl’s products whereas blue is associated with a boy’s. While this product would obviously appeal to both boys and girls, my general feeling is that it would appeal a bit more to boys than girls. Regardless, they should be trying to appeal to both.
That odd choice aside, I think Segway made the right decision to keep their name and has provided effective materials for how to use the product. The discounts and ad styles are similar to other products, but have proven effective for the market it is aiming at. Overall, I do think this product and its marketing plan has a chance to work. It is by no means a sure thing though.
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