Categories: Case StudiesLaura

High Five to FiveFingers


              There is nothing I get more
excited about than seeing a new category and a new brand hit the market. There’s
the thrill of discovery the first time you hear about one or read about one.
The challenge of finding the store that has one. The glory of getting your
hands on one. The pride in showing yours off. And the jealousy and bewilderment
on the faces of those who don’t have one.


            I’m not alone. In every category, there are always
enthusiasts or early adopters who jump on new trends and make them future brand


            Creating excitement is one of the keys to brand success.
Easy to say, hard to do, you might be thinking. Wrong. There are some surefire
keys to generating enthusiasm.


            1. Be specific and narrow.


            Don’t promise everything; promise one thing. Your product
or service might be great at lots of things, but “lots of things” isn’t an idea
that gets into the minds of consumers and isn’t an idea to get excited about.
Focus on one key idea. Preferably one that is the opposite of the competition.


            For years, running shoes have added springs, cushions,
treads, electronics and all sorts of things. MBTs and Sketchers even have extra
thick heals.


            Vibram did the opposite. They don’t wrap your feet in an
array of features; they free your feet. More of a sock than a sneakers, wearing
Vibram FiveFingers is more like being barefoot. With 26 bones, 33 joints, 20
muscles, and hundreds of sensory receptors, tendons and ligaments the typical
human foot is an anatomical marvel of evolution. Like the rest of the body, the
feet need to be stimulated and exercised to keep them healthy.  Vibram FiveFingers’ barefoot technology stimulates
and exercises your feet.



FiveFingers = Barefooting.

Stimulating your feet to make you stronger and improve your


            2. Create a visual difference.


            If your brand doesn’t have a visual difference it is
going to be very difficult to create excitement. Shock and surprise is what
generates excitement. You need to stop consumers in their tracks to say “What
is that?!”


            Sometimes a visual difference is a natural part of the
product; at other times you need to exaggerate or create a difference.


            Monster introduced an energy drink in a 16-oz can. That
shocking visual difference generated interest and excitement. It also made Monster
the #2 brand behind leader Red Bull whose 8.3 oz can created its own visual difference
by being the first small can. Most recently 5-Hour Energy entered the market
with the energy shot in the exciting 2-oz bottle.


            With Vibram FiveFingers, the difference is shocking and
easy to see.


            It’s the toes!


            Vibram could have easily hidden the toe pockets, but they
didn’t. Instead, the design enhanced them. Every time you wear a pair of FiveFingers
you are sure to get several people asking “what is that on your feet?”


            3.  Make it pass
along friendly.


            One of the biggest mistakes companies make is not giving
a product a strong brand name that consumers can use to pass along the message
to others. Both the name and brand message need to be in language that
consumers will actually use.


            Seattle’s Best Coffee. Too generic, not distinctive, hard
to pass along.

            MBT. Meaningless initials, hard to remember, hard to pass

            Eucerin. Impossible to pronounce, impossible to spell,
hard to pass along.


            Eucerin has survived and thrived in spite of its
impossibly horrible, unpronounceable name only because of its strong in its position
as the dry-skin treatment dermatologist recommend. (Apparently the
dermatologist figured out how to pronounce it.) The rest of us are unlikely to
ever learn it. I buy Eucerin, but never tell anyone, because I have no idea how
to say it.


            It’s best to have a name and a message that are both
pass-along friendly. A unique, memorable name combined with an easy-to-understand
and easy-to-explain message.


            FiveFingers is a super name. Much better than TenToes
which is too generic. The idea of using fingers for toes is what makes the name
stick in the mind. They look like gloves for your feet. That idea hooks the
visual difference into the name. Of course, that difference also leads itself
into the explanation of why FiveFingers?


            I love my FiveFingers because being barefoot is better
for my feet. It makes them stronger and healthier and improves my balance
.” A
nice pass-along name and message.



                A few problems with the FiveFingers brand.


            First, the typeface they use is very difficult to read.
Never sacrifice legibility for visual gymnastics. Graphic designers may love to
create artistic looks, but the bottom line is that consumers need to read the


            Second is the double branding and third branding when you
throw in the model names. I bought the Vibram FiveFingers Bikila for example.  Way too many names going on.


            The box has a large Vibram logo. That extra word just
drags down and dilutes the idea. It is best to focus on one name. Vibram is unnecessary.
Sure Vibram is the company that makes them. But FiveFingers is the brand. If
Vibram is there at all it should be tiny and more oriented towards the trade. Consumers
buy FiveFingers. The trade orders them from Vibram. Of course, the company is
most likely in love with its Vibram name and heritage. Consumers could care
less, they should have put the FiveFingers brand name on the shoes. Sadly the
company doesn’t own the fivefingers.com website either, they use

Laura Ries :

View Comments (13)

  • Laura:
    Am a huge fan (not cool enough to wear them yet, but getting there) of Five Fingers. Spoke to this team the other day on a host of topics and found their story to be very intriguing.
    The Five Fingers shoe is an Eigen Value - a self-definition - a product that could only have come from a company known for innovation in shoe soles (a fairly narrow field).
    Further, no one else could copy this idea credibly. When you've spent millions of dollars in R&D and marketing on convincing your public that over-designed shoes are best (and teach you to heel strike when you run, which eventually injures your joints), you can't credibly reverse direction and say you were wrong without invalidating everything your brand stands for.
    An unassailable position and a great story!
    Post here on Marketing Profs: http://www.marketingprofs.com/articles/2010/3782/when-competing-with-your-own-customers-is-okvibram-fivefingers-and-eigen-values
    Thanks -

  • Laura,
    You're spot on with all your points. I do think they need to reduce the Vibram emphasis. FiveFingers early adopters are a more unique breed (I know b/c I run in them although my children have made me swear that their friends will never see them on my feet) and Vibram is not unique/cool/fun/associated with cutting edge footwear. Traveling recently, I saw them on the feet of some tourists (why is ugly footwear always the hallmark of tourists?) so they're catching on. The final added brand benefit is that the product actually delivers on the proposition. Can't say that for a lot of new items. I hope they fare well and thanks for all your "Ries' Pieces". M'lou Arnett

  • OK, I am officially baffled by this product and this post. It may be cool to promote a new brand in a new category, but shouldn't the category have legs? Does FiveFingers have legs, pun probably not intended... Most likely it is a fad product with a short life cycle.
    As for other elements of this post, some misspellings and grammatical errors are understandable in the world of quickly dashed off blog posts. But can't pronounce Eucerin? What User In the world can fail to pronounce her favorite moisturizing product? I mean, this is just silliness.
    Having a hard time coming up with new brand issues to blog about, are we?

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  • Really good article! I was impressed by your literary grace! Blog images are beautiful! Would you like a friend?

  • "Like the rest of the body, the feet need to be stimulated and exercised to keep them healthy. Vibram FiveFingers’ barefoot technology stimulates and exercises your feet."
    Laura, how do you know this? Did you speak with several orthopaedists? I recommend the head of orthopaedic surgery at UCLA medical school, who performed my foot reconstruction, a result of years of running leading to a ruptured posterior tibial tendon.
    I followed every safety rule: stretched properly, wore the right shoes, changed them at the right time, only ran on soft surfaces. But that was my running injury. Running is a terrible form of exercise that produces numerous injuries. And dermatologists who are responsible warn runners to stop because running creates jowls and other muscle sags you don't want.
    Getting to the matter at hand, this shoe is a bunch of garbage. It's been tested by nobody. When I look at it, I see one thing: STUPID.

  • Recently I have made an investigation among 100 students of Senior.One in our school.About 45 precent students go to school without breakfast. While 35 percent students do not treat breakfast seriously.Only 20 percent students have enough breakfast with nutrition every morning. In fact breakfast is very important. It can make you have good member, and good judgement, and make you in good heip. So every student should start their day with a regular breakfast.

  • From you blog I know practise makes perfect. Such as you often write articke in your blog, so you are now good at writting. And I like your article. I am one of your loyal fans. However, I hate doing the same things day after day and bored with doing the same thing over and over again. So I don't have patience and persistance. I am pround of you.