‘Don’t be afraid to brand nano,’ says Wilson exec

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CHICAGO, Oct. 8, 2004 — Should you brand nanotechnology? Not to hear some business experts tell it. But Wilson Sporting Goods sees no fault in serving it up strong.

“Don’t be afraid to brand nano — it is everything,” said Brian Dillman, vice president of global marketing for Wilson Racquet Sports. “We feel it from a consumer standpoint. It will be huge.”

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Dillman, who spoke last week at NanoCommerce 2004 about the importance of branding, said the nascent technology is crucial to the manufacturing, marketing and even the moniker of nCode, a line of tennis rackets launched in May.

In ordinary rackets, tiny voids exist between the individual carbon fibers that can create stress and weak points. In nCode rackets, nanoscale crystalline structures of silicon dioxide fill those voids, which Dillman said boost the strength, stability and power of the racket.

“The ‘n’ is for nanotech,” he said. “We’ve redefined the molecular structure of the racket; we’ve broken the code.”

He said the nCode line sells for between $199 and $329. That’s a higher retail price than its predecessors but not what he — or, apparently the market — considers a premium price. Even with a $3-million marketing campaign that doesn’t include the cost of TV and print media advertising, Dillman said the rackets have exceeded Wilson’s expectations. The rackets are sold out and the company expects to be at production capacity through the end of the year.

In a separate panel discussion at NanoCommerce 2004, venture capitalists expressed skepticism about firms embracing “Brand Nano” and expecting it to boost their value.

Matt McCall, managing director of Draper Fisher Jurvetson-Portage Ventures, compared it to companies putting an “e” in front of their name in the late ’90s. “It’s a two-edged sword — whenever you get a premium, you know you’ll get a discount when (the market) snaps back. Don’t do that unless you really like rolling the die.”

One company that has enjoyed nano-enhanced success on the consumer front is opting for a compromise approach. Nano-Tex’s nanoscale additives offer such qualities as resisting stains or softening the touch in more than 20-million garments in 40 retail brands. The company is proud of its nano roots, and plans to keep the prefix in its name. But individual products are taking names that reflect what they do: Nano-Care has become “Resists Spills,” and Nano-Touch is “Cotton Touch.”

Such a strategy matches the view of Jeff Fagnan, a partner in Atlas Venture who also spoke during the NanoCommerce VC panel. “Whether it’s MEMS, nano or a gerbil with a flashlight, what’s driving it? Focusing on end-applications, specific solutions — that’s what’s drives value.”

Dillman believes nanotechnology drives value and has helped achieve Wilson’s goal of “massively upgrading” product design and performance. Nanomaterials also have been integrated into new versions of Wilson Staff golf clubs to make them lighter, stronger and more responsive, as well as the company’s Double Core tennis balls to hold air pressure longer.

In his industry, sales increases can be traced to innovative materials and designs, and the company should capitalize on them — provided they are legitimate.

“If we’re not credible on the product side, we’re lost.”


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