Taser’s Brand Extensions: A Shock to the System

I like Taser. Their non-lethal weapons offer an effective and relatively clean and tidy alternative to lethal force. (Howie Mandel’s weapon of choice?) It’s easy to reach Taser’s PR guy; Steve Tuttle’s faster than a speeding electron in the quote-provision department (not that electrons provide quotes, but you get my drift). But it must be said: the company has lost focus. They’re developing new, non-Tasing products at a furious clip while the core business languishes. And it shows. Taser’s data dumped their 2010 first financial quarter results; sales are as flat as a Tased ‘bro lying on the ground. “Net sales were $23.8 million in the quarter, a decrease of $0.8 million or 3% compared to the first quarter of 2009. The decrease was driven primarily by fewer significant orders from international customers.This was partially offset by an improvement in the domestic law enforcement business.” The company lost $500k this quarter, which ain’t bad. But Taser’s put its hopes in brand-weakening brand extensions . . .

To wit: here are some “significant events” announced in the results:

On March 8, 2010, the Company announced the first domestic sale of its revolutionary new evidence capturing and management platform to the Aberdeen Police Department (SD). AXON™, the on-officer tactical computer, records audio and visual evidence from the perspective of the officer, which is then transferred, stored and managed using EVIDENCE.COM™.

On January 7, 2010, the Company introduced a groundbreaking new family safety platform called PROTECTOR™ during the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES). The PROTECTOR Platform is a revolutionary toolset that allow parents to supervise their children’s mobile phone usage and driving behaviors. Parents can manage the contact lists and content of their child’s mobile phone – including calls, texts, emails, photos and video, and can automatically limit phone functionality to prevent dangerous distractions while driving. PROTECTOR uses integrated GPS, allowing parents to track their child’s location, monitor driving habits, and release vital records to the authorities in emergency situations. It is anticipated that these products will be commercially available in the third quarter of 2010.

Let’s be clear. Taser CEO Rick Smith is the man. He created the company, fought off lawsuits and political antipathy, overcame police skepticism, assembled a crack team of brilliant engineers, created first-class manufacturing facilities and unleashed magnificent marketing mavens. Tasers have saved tens of thousands of people from harm. He deserves a friggin’ Nobel Peace Prize.

But Smith has fallen into the usual trap of a creative, restless mind: restlessness. When a formerly go-go company hits a down patch, or reaches the upper limits of the possible improvements to its original “killer app,” innovative and successful CEOs tend to go off the reservation in search of a magic bullet.

I did it once. I can do it again.

This is not in and of itself a bad thing—unless the company markets these brand extensions under the original brand name. Which Taser is doing.

Taser means non-lethal weaponry. Period. Trying to stretch the brand to other similar but different products dilutes the brand’s core “message.” It’s wrong on so many levels only a student of GM’s damaged, failed and ultimately abandoned brands could fully appreciate the dangers.

Don’t get me wrong. All of Tasers non-Taser products are way cool ideas. But Taser owns the Taser market—to the point where Taser is a generic name and Tase is a recognized verb. The company should spend all its resources defending and extending that market. I’m no firearms industry analyst (oh wait), but I reckon there’s plenty of Taser growth potential left, in both the law enforcement and civilian markets.

What was it again? Don’t go chasing waterfalls. Especially with an electric product.

Maintaining market share—by staying focused—in a down market is slow, painstaking, repetitive work. Not the kind of thing that thrills a go-getter. But it’s the right strategy for any company’s long-term growth and, yes, stability. If Smith wants to create new, wild-ass security products, he should start separate companies to do so. Anything else opens the door to Taser’s competition. You did know they had competition, didn’t you?

Did you know Taser has a kick-ass shotgun-friendly system, featuring the self-contained XREP cartridge thingie? Apparently, law enforcement sales are showing “initial signs of traction.” I’ve read that there are an estimated 30 million shotguns stuffed under Americans’ beds. If Taser would like to subsidize a TTAG publication called “How To Defend Your Home With a Taser Shotgun,” let me know. Meanwhile, back to work ‘bro.

comments

  1. avatar Paul says:

    Rick Smith doesn’t deserve a Nobel Peace Prize. And don’t say that “you were just sayin'”!

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