Being Frank – Invisible Hypocrisy


Brent Graves Cane Creek
Brent Graves, President and CEO

Hypocrisy can hide in plain sight, and it can indirectly cost us even if we don’t know that it is doing so. We all have known people to say one thing and then do another. The reality is that no one is perfect, and we’ve likely done this ourselves from time-to-time. Usually we intended to do what we said, but then the reality of our situation made it difficult. However, hypocrisy as a result of never intending to “walk the talk” is an entirely different animal. In such a case, one presented oneself in a manner knowing from the beginning that one’s actions would be different. Sometimes this can be a form of perceived self-preservation, but at others it is a way to manipulate others.

Brands are increasingly conceived, tailored, and presented as personalities. By that I mean successful brands exude personal traits that appeal to their target customers. Like in the 90’s, if Oakley was a person, they would be a cool person to hang with. Most brands struggle transcending from a brand that is synonymous with an attribute like innovation to what defines an innovation lifestyle like Apple has (or did until Steve Jobs passed away). No industry likely tries harder to do this than the automotive industry – Subaru and Porsche are two of the more successful in this regard. And yes, bicycle brands are trying hard to do this as well. I’d argue that this does not have to be a bad thing, but when hypocrisy comes to the party there could be a hangover tomorrow.

The story can go like this: “Our brand is individual, rule-breaking, fun, no-fear, etc. like you, so you should adopt our brand as your own.” More so in the dirt than on the pavement, there’s an undercurrent of anti-establishment that brands are trying to surf. If this is done authentically, then fine. But sometimes brands are asking us to believe something, but they are not living by the same creed. You may disagree, and say that you choose products that get the job done and don’t care much for brand mumbo jumbo. But I can tell you for a fact that brand’s that have authenticity issues can also struggle with product integrity. And that should concern you.

So where’s my destination with all this? Consider the bike brands that present (aka sell) themselves to you as unique and different from the big guys like Trek, Specialized, Giant, Cannondale yet the only thing that is different is the (maybe) frame – they stay with Shimano groups on road bikes while mountain bikes get SRAM drivetrains and Fox forks. Don’t get me wrong, Shimano, SRAM, and FOX make some great stuff. But there are a number of other parts makers that may not be better, but can definitely offer different experiences. And sometimes those different experiences could resonate with you and me better. So we lose out.

Why the hypocrisy? The answer is very simple: risk management. Despite positioning itself as rebellious and unique, brand XXX wants to play it safe by spec’ing parts that will be accepted by the majority of people. That brand has a real opportunity to increase the strength and authenticity of its brand by spec’ing parts that are more closely aligned with the brand’s positioning but don’t because they’re scared. They’re asking us as consumers to take a chance on their non-mainstream brand, but they are unwilling to take chances to truly deliver on the brand’s promise. Hmm.

How real is this? I had a conversation recently with a marketing and sales leader of such a brand that I’ve known for years and worked with in the past. This guy is the real deal, smart, and I respect him. He said “You know, I’ve been thinking about this lately, and we should be looking at alternative spec. But big customers (i.e. distributors and dealers) just tell me to put SRAM and Fox on because it sells.” I totally appreciate making decisions that enables a business to survive, but we should be doing things for more than just because it “sells” or we should not be hypocrites by claiming we are company of riders that exist for riders.