Brand owner Hugo Davidson explains to BikeBiz why he couldn't bare to be boring when it comes to product design

Knog: ”One size fits all will never work in cycling”

Knog wants your attention. In fact, it wants everybody’s – from cyclists to deep sea divers – nobody can escape the firm’s locked grip or focused beam. CEO Hugo Davidson talks to BikeBiz about keeping trade exciting…

How’s business for Knog, still growing? 

The last 24 months has been the most exciting period of growth in our history, we’re found in 70 countries now. On the product side, we released the Qudos action video light for GoPro/DSLR and the expose smart and exposewrap lights for smartphones. These are constant lights for videographers and photographers. People-wise, we have an international team. David Burger, our Head of Sales resides in Germany and services Europe, along with Sophie and Richard Gros in France. We have consolidated our distribution in the US to Highway Two, with our gun US sales guy, Brian Mark. In Melbourne we’ve hired a new Head of Brand and Marketing, Sam Moore, who has come over from the dark side (his words) of international creative agencies. So our skillsets along with our products and geography has expanded. Right now though, with our new bike light collection, we’re focused on having the best and most unusual bike lights at the performance, urban, and entry-level sectors. 

You’ve had some extraordinary marketing in recent years – such as Strongman lifting a car – how do you decide on such promos?

Our brand is about "form, function, freedom and breaking some fucking rules”. There’s a saying don’t be different for different’s sake. I’m not sure we agree. Why not be different for the sake of it? Doing so asks questions of the status quo, and stimulates creativity. When we communicate a point, we try to do it differently and either twist the cycling aesthetic and language, or change it completely. Take our Combo lock campaign for example. We started with the value proposition of the product – the combination dial that allows numbers to be totally unique. We then overlaid that with breaking some simple rules of reality. Then made sure it was visually arresting. 

In recent years you’ve branched beyond cycling – has crossover product like the Qudos raised the brand’s profile?

It has. We’ve seen incredible take up from the diving, skating and snow sports consumers. Photographers, film-makers and videographers have given great feedback. GoPro themselves have given us incredible – but unfortunately unofficial – feedback. But it has also allowed us to express ourselves as a brand rather than just a cycling product maker.

There’s 21 new bike lights this year – why so many and for what purposes are they?

We’ve had discussions with retailers and distributors around the world and a one shift became clear, and it applies to all cyclists. It’s a consumer shift across more sectors than just cycling. That is, people want tailored solutions. One size fits all doesn’t work – it’s one size fits me. At the Performance end, bikes are built meticulously, part by part. So when we upgraded our Blinder ARC and Road lights, we added more spec, but no more weight. In the mid–range, urban riders are no longer a true category. There are city dashers, suburban commuters, peloton roadies. Each is different and needs different tech. Urban options should tailor to the environment. And at the entry level, it’s often function over form. But kids, occasional riders, and those wanting a backup light still want to look good, right? 

With cheap lighting so readily available, why has Knog gone after the entry-level buyer?

There are a lot of people out there who probably don’t read BikeBiz, care about Eddy Merckx, or know what lumens are. But that doesn’t mean they deserve poor quality products that look as boring as bat shit. Cyclists who have a tight budget are given two options – ugly and uglier. People want quality, and to express themselves when they accessorise their bike. With our engineering hat we’ve made three light models with more spec – brighter, better runtime, constant bright technology, side illumination. And with our design hat we’ve created ten patterns from wild to mild. 

Anything exciting in the development pipeline going forwards? 

Yes, 2016 is going to be crazy. 

Planning on entering any new categories?

We’ve been looking at our expertise, our brand, and our customers – not in that order – and working out where our sweet spot is. Cycling is our priority and we’ve got some really exciting product ideas that we know could explode. But we’re an accessories design brand. I’d be lying if I said we weren’t looking at opportunities in other sectors. I just can’t say too much without killing you. 

How are you planning to market the brand going into 2016?

From a brand building POV, we are unusually well placed to execute a strategy around content. Content marketing plays into brand building, but also that other elusive KPI – ROI! We have already begun to see the fruits of this when we ran a three-month global online film competition called No Ordinary Night. We received over 70 entries, of which 15–20 were effectively world class ads, and about half went beyond cycling into surfing, skiing and other storytelling. (As a benchmark, GoPro and the budget that no doubt went with them – recently ran a comp with PinkBike and received 140 entries over 12 months. This is regarded by PR experts as a great result as video is notoriously difficult to get via competition). We’re also developing a more comprehensive social media strategy including regular take-overs from those we’re calling “Knog Folk", plus more thought leadership articles, and of course some trivial stuff because, why else do we look at Facebook! 

How has the product reviewed in the past year?

Bikeradar gave the Blinder Road rear a 4/5 due to some questions on the strap, but we’ve redesigned our straps for the R70 (new version) and also the Blinder MOB lights (which replace the Blinder 4). These are now interchangeable and multi-size. They can fit aero and standard posts, so no risk of overstretching. Ride On voted our Blinder 1 the best in class. Total women’s cycling like the whole lot. And for expose smart, we were chuffed when Wired voted us one of the coolest 10 pieces of tech at CES. 

Knog has introduced a MAP policy (minimum advertised price) to prevent products being sold at silly prices on the internet, which affects the brand and sales on an international level. UK distributors Moore Large are offering dealers 15 per cent off-line discount on new Knog lines. If dealers advertise the selling price of one of those ranges at less than 10 per cent off the price Moore Large has the right to withdraw the discount without notice.

From a retailer’s point of view, why should they stock the Knog line over a competitor’s product?

The quirky design ethos carries through to the POS. Our packaging is consistent where it needs to be. The outlier being POP, which is a spectacular array. We’re one of the few cycling businesses that actually has a brand. People find our attitude appealing. We have a passionate following because we believe in being a little bit naughty. 

We have digital displays in both slatwall and counter stand formats, and it looks spectacular. It is possible to update these displays with new videos as we make them too.

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