// Photo by Anthony Pidgeon
Boyle has heard the criticism, seen the numbers and is making adjustments accordingly. Today “elevating the brand” is the company mantra, he says. “But could we have better financial results if we took a slightly different approach? To the extent we think we can, we will be modifying our behavior.” In fact, last fall the company began tweaking its innovation strategy, aiming to roll out new products at a more sustainable pace.
The plan has lofty origins: Diffusion of Innovations, a widely acclaimed book based on a study of hybrid-corn adoption in the 1950s. The model shows how new ideas and technologies are diffused throughout the population. “There are the early adopters, the early and late majority, and then there are the laggards,” says Boyle, pulling out a chart summarizing the concept. “Laggards are the people who are going to get a phone call from the phone company saying we’re taking away your rotary now.”
Where is Boyle on the Diffusions of Innovation scale? A self-identified laggard, on account of his Twitter- and Facebook-free status. Boyle also owns a 7-year-old hunting jacket “not because we don’t continue to improve, but because I know where stuff is and it’s still working great.”
The Columbia plan is to spend more money on sales and marketing so consumers have more time to learn about and latch onto Omni technologies. “It’s all about timing, cadence,” says Boyle.
It’s also about getting the company’s entrepreneurial rhythm back. Between 2001-04, says Boyle, Columbia was producing profit margins in the 20% range, the kind of surplus that allowed the company to build a great balance sheet. The company has no debt and holds about $200 million in cash, he says. “But you could argue,” he says, “that we didn’t take advantage of the opportunity, and should have plowed more money into marketing to forestall other competitors from coming into the marketplace.”