vibram five fingers



vibram five fingers
"The human foot is a work of art
and a masterpiece of engineering”
Da Vinci
Intent & Methodology……...…………………………... 2
Two Consumer Groups…….…………………………….. 2
Need Recognition…………………………………………… 6
Info Search……………………………………………………... 9
Evaluation of Alternatives…………………………….12
Ethics…………………………………………………………… 30
Conclusion……………………………………………………… 31
Appendix………………………………………………………. 32
Intent & Methodology
This report is based on consumer behavior research conducted by Grove City College
students for an assigned marketing project. Vibram FiveFingers were the chosen product. The
objective of this project was to conduct a complete consumer behavior analysis based on
secondary and primary research with the goal of learning as much as possible about why, how,
where and when consumers buy/use this product and brand.
Our research methodology included a survey, focus groups, and secondary research. The
secondary research was done continuously throughout the study and helped to answer questions
that came up in other areas. The survey was administered utilizing facebook mail which directed
the respondenst to These efforts yielded 100 responses from Grove City
College students and 94 response from non- GCC students. Data analysis helped direct the
formation of specific questions that were posed to focus group participants and guided
subsequent secondary research efforts. Potential focus group participants were recruited using a
snowball sampling method to gather names of FiveFinger owners. Once we knew a few owners
we were able to ask them if they knew anyone else who also owned a pair. We were then able to
hold the first focus group with four guys and another with three girls.
Two Consumer Groups
Our focus groups consisted of three women and four men. In our discussions, we perused
several topics: the group members’ initial perceptions of Vibram FiveFingers, the decision
making process they went through, their own personal reflections about the product, and their
favorite ways to enjoy their FiveFinger shoes. This research enabled us to develop a personality
profile for what emerged as three distinct categories of FiveFinger wearers.
We defined the first category as the ―Trendy Toes‖ group. These consumers are
interested in the unique design and follow the latest trends in footwear simply for look and feel.
Nicole, one of our focus group members, commented that FiveFingers are for her ―an excuse not
to wear shoes.‖ Although she is an athlete, Nicole does not use her FiveFingers for sports –she
describes them as great for adventures and general fun. For her, FiveFingers are part of her
lifestyle. She is also an avid crafter, shaved her head recently, enjoys shopping at Salvation
Army to make her own accessories, and has a very outgoing and friendly personality. She is
definitely a trendsetter. Hardly your typical footwear, FiveFingers definitely appeal to this
trendsetter user group in their obvious differentiation from standard sneakers.
The ―serious‖ consumers are the second group of Vibram FiveFinger wearers, designated
as the ―Fitness Feet‖. This group is characterized by their innate love for fitness activities such
hiking, biking, rock climbing, canoeing, backpacking, and most importantly running.
FiveFingers wearers like Joe and Carly spent lots of time during the research phase of the buying
process. They are both experienced runners, committed to improving their technique, cutting
down time, and following the latest improvements in running technology. They have both
become followers of what we would consider the ―minimalist movement‖, in particular, the
minimalist running movement. The minimalist running movement is a reaction to the $20 billion
running shoe industry, which started in 1972 with the creation of the first modern running shoe.
Since then, injuries to runners have increased by 10 percent, despite the best efforts of shoe
manufactures to protect runner’s feet (McDougall 170). Many people in the minimalist
movement believe that this increased injury rate has occurred because of the increased
sophistication of the modern running shoe.
The book Born to Run, was one of the sources Joe and Carly used to learn more about
this minimalist movement (Thomas 1). It documents a hidden tribe of indigenous people who
live in northern Mexico who have built a large part of their culture around running barefoot.
Their running abilities have been tested and proven against some of the world’s best ultramarathoners. The book has helped mainstream the minimalist running movement in particular
and the minimalist movement in general (Walker 1).
The technology utilized in Vibram shoes mimics the idea of barefoot running. Fitness
Feet capitalize on this movement and tend to wear their FiveFingers three to four times a week, if
not almost all the time. Both Joe and Carly own more than one pair of these shoes and use them
specifically for training or running purposes. In short, the performance of the shoe is the reason
why they initially bought the shoes.
It soon became apparent that there were followers within the two aforementioned user
categories. This third group is comprised of ―aspirational‖ buyers who either follow the current
trends in the look of the shoe or wish to imitate those they admire. Ali stood out as one in our
focus group who originally saw cross country teammates wearing FiveFingers and decided to
research this new footwear. Similarly, in our male focus group we saw followers who were
inspired by teammates to try the new barefoot running style.
Within our focus groups we found great differentiation in buying stimulus for
FiveFingers. In our men’s focus group, Joe noted that he originally heard about the shoes as a
post-biking recovery technique. After a bike race, competitors would slip into their FiveFingers
to relax and let their feet take a break. He read about this post-race relaxation idea in 2005 in a
mountain biking magazine where an article reviewed the benefits of wearing FiveFingers after a
bike race. In contrast, two men in our focus group first saw FiveFingers on
This site generates random websites that fall into preselected interests for users. Both gentlemen
found information about FiveFingers in articles about the new trend of barefoot running. Major
running publications such as Runner’s World and Runner’s Times have all run stories about
FiveFingers (Sagal 1)(Metzler 1). Also the New York Times has published several articles on the
movement in general (Thomas 1)(Walker 1). On the other hand, Paul originally saw FiveFingers
worn by fellow students in high school. Vibram has found that the shoe creates its own publicity,
something that is vital for an up-and-coming brand. The shoe naturally prompts non-users to ask
questions when they see FiveFingers being worn, and users are more than happy to answers these
questions (Dzierzak 1).
Vibram has no traditional advertising (Baskin 1). However, in addition to word of mouth,
word of the FiveFingers has spread quickly over the internet when Vibram enlisted the help of
barefoot running enthusiast ―Barefoot‖ Ted McDonald who ran the Boston Marathon with
FiveFingers (Baskin 1). In hopes of generating positive PR, Vibram allowed McDonald to test
out a pair of the shoes prior to their launch, and his website declares that ―they
were the first shoes that I felt came close to a true barefoot feel and would also allow me to run
more comfortably on tough mountain trails (McDonald 1).‖
Our female participants noted different stimuli prompting their interest in FiveFingers.
Similar to Paul, Nicole saw high school friends wearing the shoes and became intrigued at their
uniqueness. Carly, who belongs to the Fitness Feet group, originally saw FiveFingers on a fellow
student at Grove City College, sparking her interest to do further research. Ali also saw others
wearing FiveFingers during her cross country season and became interested in these new shoes.
Through secondary research, we found that many Vibram customers were first exposed
to the product through health expos at marathons (Your Story 1) and exposure from friends or
strangers either wearing the shoes or talking about the benefits of the shoe.
Need Recognition
Through our secondary research, we have found that customers have physical problems
that make them aware they need a different shoe. There have been many success stories about
customers’ physical problems being healed as a result of wearing various shoe products from
Vibram. The customer will have various knee, ankle, and foot problems, but because of the
natural element the shoe gives your body, users will find that their lower body becomes stronger,
particularly the ankles and the feet. For example, an apostle for Vibram FiveFingers, Nick
Campitelli, had a foot injury known as sesamoiditis in his big right toe, which caused his
sesamoid bones to fracture in his big toe. The fractures caused great pains when he ran until he
discovered Vibram FiveFingers. Nick Campitelli became an apostle of Vibram FiveFingers,
when he experienced no more pain from his sesamoiditis after using Vibram FiveFingers (Your
Story 1).
Problem awareness may also come about for different reasons than physical pain. One
athlete and customer, Michael Renstrom, needed a shoe that would allow him to use his
athleticism in the water and the road. A normal running shoe doesn’t do well in the water and a
normal water shoe does not do well on the road. Michael Renstrom needed to find a shoe that
would be versatile enough for both water and road sport and Vibram FiveFingers gave him just
the right solution (Your Story 1).
In our focus group, Joe’s recognition of need occurred after seeing the article review
about biking. As a biker himself, he was interested in getting a pair of his own. Joe now owns
four pairs of FiveFingers and uses them in many different functions. His original need
recognition was sparked by his love of biking and he purchased the shoes originally for that
purpose. Importantly, it was after Joe came to college and watched others running in FiveFingers
that he decided to change his behavior and use FiveFingers for running.
For others in our focus group the need recognition seemed to originate with seeing others
wearing the shoes, either in high school or Grove City College. Once observing FiveFingers in
action, our focus group members decided that they too might have need for the shoes, especially
for running. Importantly, our Fitness Feet group highlighted the fact that their need for
FiveFingers centered on a love for running and their desire to improve. Nicole, a leader in our
Trendy Toes group, recognized her need for FiveFingers while she was out on the beach with her
boyfriend and his family. Conveniently, a waterfront store had one pair of FiveFingers left in her
size, so she bought them immediately. In Sean’s case, his problem awareness peaked when he
wore through his normal running shoes on a regular basis. He decided to look into FiveFingers to
combat the problem.
In contrast, Cindy realized the need to retrain her body to run naturally. She says,
FiveFingers ―teach you to run correctly‖. After reading the book, Born to Run, she was
convinced of the benefits of barefoot running and wanted to buy FiveFingers in an attempt to run
better. Cindy stated that ―as a runner you are always looking at new technologies in that area‖.
For her, FiveFingers offer the lightest and most beneficial shoe, which means an important
competitive advantage over competitors. Competition was an important factor for Cindy, and she
noted that keeping up on the new technologies in running is an excellent way to go about this.
Arguably, barefoot running seems to be the newest trend in running.
Another member in our focus group, Paul, expressed the need for a shoe that would help
prevent injury. A major problem confronting runners today is injuries. Every year 65 to 80
percent of runners suffer an injury (McDougall 170). Worse, despite the dramatic advancements
in running shoe technology of the past 40 years, there is nearly no evidence that running shoes
prevent injury. Dr, Craig Richards of the University of Newcastle reported in the British Journal
of Sports Medicine that there are no evidence-based studies that can show that running shoes
make a runner less prone to injury (McDougall 171).
Astonishingly, some researchers believe that human beings are designed to run without
shoes. Researchers from the American Academy of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation
concluded that a shod runner exerts more stress on their knee, hip, and ankle than his barefoot
counter-part (Walsh 1). For thousands of years humans ran barefoot. Irene Davis, the director of
the University of Delaware Running Injury Clinic when so far as to say that she believes humans
evolved to run barefoot and that by putting on shoes, we are taking away the natural function of
the foot (Walsh 1).
Barefoot running strengthens the tiny muscles in the feet that running shoes normally
weaken (McDougall 175). Further, wearing running shoes encourage improper form. When are
person laces up with a pair of Asics or Adidas , they tend to land heel first. Barefoot running
forces an athlete to use proper form, landing on the balls of their feet rather than the heel.
The impact of running can be up to twelve times a person’s body weight (McDougall
173). It stands to reason that regardless of the amount of padding that a running shoe provides,
the human foot cannot withstand this amount of pounding directly on their knees for very long.
Additionally, the surfaces that runners encounter today are far more dangerous than what
their ancestors encountered. Pieces of glass and metal litter the ground. In fact, one of the
primary reasons that the American Podiatric Medical Association warned runners to take caution
before taking up barefoot running was the threat of puncture wounds (Thomas 1). However,
often, because of where they live, suburban runners have no choice but to run on these dangerous
surfaces. Enter Vibram FiveFingers. They provide durable, flexible and puncher proof protection
for a runner’s foot while not inhibiting the development of foot muscles or a person’s natural
running motion (Parks 1).
Information Search
On our survey, respondents were asked to rate their perception of the trendiness and
practicality of FiveFingers on a scale of 1 to 5 (1 being ―hideous/not practical‖ and 5 being ―very
cool/very practical‖. Figure 1 shows the perceptual disparity between Vibram owners’ and nonowners’ view of the shoe.
As expected, owners perceived the shoe as significantly more trendy and practical than
the non-owners. The average owners’ rating was 4.3 for trendiness and 4.5 for practicality,
whereas the average non-owners’ rating was 2.3 and 3.1 respectively. Therefore, while nonowners were inclined to think of FiveFingers as more on the un-cool side of the scale, they could
see the usefulness and benefits of it. One of the typical responses was: ―I have heard they are
great for your feet‖. Of those who had heard positive reports of the shoes, did not think they
were hideous, very few were skeptical and most of them would consider purchasing them. Some
non-owners viewed the shoes as unhealthy and dangerous because of the lack of arch support
and protection. There were also those who would not buy them for the sole reason that they
thought FiveFingers was just a ―fad, like Crocs‖ or a ―flashy marketing gimmick‖.
Public/private use
66% of respondents indicated that FiveFingers should not be worn in public as an
everyday shoe. Of those who said no, 38.2% of respondents reasoned that FiveFingers are only
for running, whereas 62% used negative justifications such as FiveFingers are inappropriate,
unprofessional, weird, stupid-looking, and ugly. One non-owner respondent said: ―It has a
specific purpose…but it would be like wearing cleats everywhere.‖
The four owners who answered our survey also implied that Vibrams are specifically for
athletic purposes, as one responded to the question of whether or not it should be worn in public
as an everyday shoe: ―They are like tennis shoes, used for athletics.‖ Another was hopeful that
Vibrams would become more popular outside of athletic activities, ―I don't think they've quite
reached that point yet, but it's only a matter of time before they do. Even now, there are some
circumstances that I think they could be worn in public, but not quite every day or everywhere.‖
Although Vibram has succeeded in having their product perceived as athletic footwear, they have
much work to do in order to also have FiveFingers also perceived as alternative footwear.
One participant, Joe, first purchased a Vibram FiveFinger shoes in 2006. He was on the
very cusp of this product’s rising popularity and has become an opinion leader within his friend
group, especially amongst the cross country and track teams. Ali, another member of the focus
group, mentions him in her original sighting of Vibram FiveFingers. Joe is an early adopter of
this product and has influenced the buying decisions of the early majority through his
enthusiastic endorsement of Vibram FiveFingers.
Even though Vibram is a company that produces rubber soles for footwear such as work
boots it was interesting to find that Vibram does not face a perceptual issue in selling their
FiveFinger shoes. Marketers may have initially noted a potential perceptual problem in selling
lightweight running shoes, but our research found buyers had no second thoughts about buying a
running shoe from a company that produces soles for work boots. As a whole Vibrams’ other
uses for rubber production did not concern Five Finger buyers in the least.
After first seeing Five Fingers online, our participants decided to look into the shoes on
Vibram’s website. The website seemed to be the common information source for the product.
Participants who fell into our FitnessFeet group delved into further research on barefoot running
and the physics behind running in FiveFingers. Wearing them is a lifestyle change in the way
you run, and several participants in our focus groups noted that they had watched training videos
from the website to learn how to use their FiveFingers effectively. Many also read the book,
Born to Run, which confirmed the practicality and benefits of barefoot running for your body.
The barefoot movement also has several influential opinion leaders. Abebe Bikila who
won the 1960 Olympic Marathon in Rome barefoot is an often referenced figure. Just last year,
on the fiftieth anniversary of Bikila’s run, Sirja Gena crossed the finish line of the Rome
marathon barefoot in honor of Bikila’s historic effort (Bikila Marathon 1).
Another influential leader in the media includes Christopher McDougall author of Born
to Run a 2009 New York Times Best Selling book. In addition, the Vibram FiveFingers was
named one of the best inventions of 2007 by Time magazine (Best Invention 1). Furthermore, the
brand has become increasingly chic. Numerous celebrities have been seen wearing the strangeshaped footwear from actors Channing Tatum and Matthew McConaughey, to former NFL star
Eddie George and Google founder Sergey Brin (Parks 1).
Evaluation of Alternatives
When deciding on a shoe to buy, consumers have an almost endless selection of footwear
to choose from. There are shoes made for every activity and sport, outfit or occasion, from high
heels to sandals to ski boots. The footwear market is split into so many segments; it’s no wonder
girls tend to have so many shoes. In the sea of diverse laces, treads and straps it’s hard to
imagine space for another innovation, yet Vibram has done precisely that with something
distinctively new.
FiveFingers were not on the market until 2005 and have started building momentum,
recently catching more attention. Although FiveFingers have progressed into a much wider
market, most are still shocked when they see the footwear because they are completely unaware
of the shoe. Because of their novelty, FiveFingers have gained recognition in the minds of
consumers and those consumers are still struggling to determine how to categorize the shoe.
Does it belong with other running shoes, casual shoes, or the workout shoes we know already? Is
it just another shoe? Across the board, the answer is no.
In a broad classification, Vibram Five Fingers is a shoe. In a smaller yet still massive
segment it qualifies as a running
or fitness shoe. Vibrams are
primarily positioned as a
practical, unique, and healthy
alternative to traditional running
and fitness footwear. However, to
truly analyze the evaluation of
alternatives, the other intended
uses for the shoe such as water
sports, yoga, travel, and casual wear must also be considered.
For each use there is a different evoked set. A typical evoked set may contain three or
four brands, yet the average consumer tends to choose from an even smaller choice set
containing only the brands having a positive perception. The size of the evoked and choice sets
depends on the intended use and the size of the related market segment. In the case of a running
shoe one might decide between Asics, Adidas, Nike and New Balance, while for casual shoes
Sperry, Sketchers and K-Swiss are common options. This is how the typical evaluation of
alternatives goes. A consumer first becomes aware of the brand, secondly becomes aware of the
problem and finally goes through a search process and evaluation of alternative solutions.
In the evaluation of alternatives, Vibram Five Fingers is unusual because it often is the
evoked set. While Vibram was first in the market, it does face competition from the Nike Free
and the Masai Barefoot Technology shoes (Foster 1).
Furthermore, the vast majority of runners still prefer
a standard running shoe over the shoeless technology.
New, shoeless technology is only around 10 percent
of the entire running shoe market (Leung 1). So we
were surprised when we asked participants in our
focus groups whether they considered alternatives or
looked at other shoes in their searches and they just
stared back at us in silence. Of all the participants in
our focus groups, only one actually thought of
Vibram Five fingers as a substitution to his current
running footwear needs. How could it be that only one person even considered alternatives and
more importantly, why? After analysis there seem to be three contributing factors – first the
relative newness of the product, second the uniqueness of the product and third the absence of
Survey Data
Our survey data indicated that where a person lives can influence personal perception of
Vibram FiveFingers shoes and ultimately how they evaluate the shoe against more traditional
footwear. Our questionnaire segmented respondents into three separate groups according to
location: rural, suburb, and city dwellers. Running a correlation analysis between the questions
―describe hometown‖ and ―would you consider buying this?‖ yielded the following results:
The correlation analysis measures the strength of relationship between two variables by
determining the correlation coefficient (cc). The cc ranges from -1 for a perfect negative
correlation and +1 for a perfect positive correlation. The cc in this correlation analysis is 0.18,
signifying that there is a positive relationship, albeit a weak one, between the two above
variables. The data below demonstrates how these results are not only statistically significant,
but also socially significant. Isolating the responses to the question ―would you ever consider
buying this?‖ according to stated hometown yielded the following percentages:
As shown in the above results, a substantially greater percentage of respondents living in
rural areas indicated they would consider purchasing the shoe when compared to those living in
city areas. Furthermore, there was continued disparity across how individuals living in Rural,
City, and Suburb areas responded to the question ―describe how you feel about the product.‖
35% of City dwellers responded ―weird,‖ while Rural and Suburb dwellers viewed the product
more positively, with only 10% and 13%, respectively, responding ―weird.‖ The prevailing
stereotypes of rural and city dwellers contradict our findings, as city inhabitants are pegged as
more trendy, innovative, and open-minded and rural inhabitants as more traditional and closeminded. It is certainly unusual to see a niche, trendy product requiring extensive ―consumer
education‖ to gain the most traction in rural areas. A zoomed in perceptual map of how different
hometown respondents rated the product on a likert scale of 1-5 for ―trendiness‖ and
―practicality‖ demonstrates the perceptual variation across respondents.
The survey data also indicated that the Vibram five-finger shoes did not have broad
appeal and attracted a specific niche market, comprised of athletic, independent, and trend-setter
personality types. As a result, this product would be overlooked in the evaluation of alternatives
by the majority of footwear consumers. A percentage analysis of the raw data yielded these
results for the following questions:
The percentage results analyses show that only 17% responded that they ―liked‖ the
product and that only 38% of respondents would ever consider buying the shoe. This number
should be further discounted to account for the aspirational respondents who would like to see
themselves as ―trendy‖ in order to reflect the true number of willing purchasers. These findings
were consistent with our hypothesis that the shoes were very polarizing, causing consumers to
either passionately support or oppose the product. The following negative responses to the openended questions demonstrate this point:
"Well, let's be honest. They're pretty ugly"
―These shoes are like a freak show for the feet."
"The society is not ready to accept this style."
"It kind of creeps me out. They are like giant blue feet. It reminds me of
the blue-footed booby."
 ―They might just be fad right now though, like Crocs."
 "These shoes are mostly pointless other than being a marketing gimmick‖
 "They look uncomfortable. I don't want to see your toes."
Hypothesis Testing
Our group formulated two hypotheses prior to collecting research on this project. First,
we postulated that a greater percentage of city inhabitants over rural inhabitants would consider
buying the product. This hypothesis was based on both collective personal experience with
Vibram shoe owners and a cross-reference of the adopter curve for similar unique, innovative
products. The early adopters for products such as the iPhone, mp3 players, and even cloud
computing were comprised mostly of young individuals in cities or college campuses. Similarly,
we expected that the same product progressiveness would extend to unique footwear. To test our
hypothesis, we filtered the data and discovered that 53% of rural inhabitants responded that they
would consider buying the product. We then filtered the data to isolate city inhabitants and ran a
hypothesis test postulating that 54% or more of city inhabitants would respond that they would
consider buying the product. Our hypothesis test yielded the following results:
Percentage Hypothesis Test Analysis Results
Would you ever consider buying this?
Frequency Percent
Total of All Categories
Statistical Values
Std Err t or z* df Sig
-3.11 25 0.00
*z is used when df >120
Does the sample support the hypothesized percent?
At 95% level of confidence, this hypothesis is NOT SUPPORTED
Does the sample support the hypothesis of greater than the hypothesized percent?
At 95% level of confidence, this hypothesis is NOT SUPPORTED
Does the sample support the hypothesis of less than the hypothesized percent?
At 95% level of confidence, this hypothesis is SUPPORTED
As shown in the test analysis results, our postulation was not supported on the
hypothesized percent or a value greater than the hypothesized percent. These results are
consistent with our primary research, which indicate that Vibram’s core users are not trendy
yuppies that are concentrated in any specific area, rather they exist is small geographic pockets
and make purchasing decisions based on private, as opposed to public, convictions. Therefore,
the diffusion of acceptance for this product is highly unusual. Our findings indicate that users are
influenced to buy the product not through traditional, location-related means (e.g. seeing
someone use the product, experiencing the product in a store, talking about it with friends),
rather through unconventional, location-unrelated means (e.g. reading a blog about the product,
finding the product through social news sites like Digg or Reddit).
Our second hypothesis was that a greater percentage of non-single respondents over
single respondents would indicate that they would consider buy the shoe. Our hypothesis was
based on the assumption that singles would be more concerned with appearing stylish and would
be less inclined to take a ―fashion risk‖ by purchasing such a unique, polarizing product. To test
our hypothesis, we first filtered the data and discovered that 43.5% of non-single respondents
indicated that they would consider buying the shoe. We then isolated the data for single
respondents and postulated that 42% or less of single respondents would consider buying the
shoe. Our hypothesis test which yielded the following results:
Percentage Hypothesis Test Analysis Results
Would you ever consider buying this?
Frequency Percent
Total of All Categories
Statistical Values
Std Err t or z*
-1.06 112 0.29
*z is used when df >120
Does the sample support the hypothesized percent?
At 95% level of confidence, this hypothesis is SUPPORTED
Does the sample support the hypothesis of greater than the hypothesized percent?
At 95% level of confidence, this hypothesis is NOT SUPPORTED
Does the sample support the hypothesis of less than the hypothesized percent?
At 95% level of confidence, this hypothesis is NOT SUPPORTED
As the results show, the sample supported the hypothesized percent. The difference
between the sample percentages for the single and non-single respondents was only 6.3%, which
was less than we anticipated. This finding was supported by further data analysis, which showed
that 75% of Vibram shoe owners surveyed were non-single. These results are consistent with our
overall findings concerning product usage in the public eye. An overwhelming majority of
respondents indicated that the product should not be used as an everyday shoe, most of whom
cited the unappealing appearance of the shoe as the underlying reason. Continuing then with the
basic assumptions inherent in the hypothesis test, singles are more attuned to public sentiment
and have more of a vested interest in broadening their appeal to the masses, as opposed to the
non-single whose focus is more directed on pleasing an individual. The purpose of the shoe then
is more to utilize than accessorize.
We also included a questionnaire for our participants in the focus group which asked for
favorite brands, movies, hobbies, and activities. We also asked for a ranking of price, style,
design, and color. We found no specific correlation between the rankings of these characteristics.
For the girls, design was the most important followed by price in their purchasing decision. For
the guys, their answers varied with design, price, and style all holding a spot as ―most important‖
for their purchasing decision. Although we thought gathering this information would be helpful
in identifying our consumers, we found that it lead to little value in our analysis. We also
conducted a session of word associations with Vibram Five Fingers which helped us figure out
the different perceptions surrounding the product. Additionally, we tried to conduct personality
tests, but were unable to ―officially‖ use these as a method for gleaning information. Out of all
the participants asked to voluntarily participate in a personality test, we had two participants
from our male focus group who took the personality test. Because we did not
have a significant number of responses, we did not include these in our analysis.
The Vibram Five Finger footwear is a major innovation. In 1972, the first modern athletic
shoe was created by Nike (McDougall 169). Since this time, essentially ever athletic shoe has
been of the same motion reducing, support providing form (Dzierzak 1). Though the product
category has vastly diverged, essentially we recognize every single athletic shoe created as being
of the same form of the original. Now, the Vibram Fiver Fingers offers runners a completely new
approach to running. Michael Martin, Director of Sales for Vibram explains, ―The five-toe
design provides independent range of motion. No one else has that (Dzierzak 1).‖ Additionally
the Vibram removes the stability that regular running shoes provide and allows the user to have
the sensation of feeling the earth underneath them once again (Dzierzak 1).
A shoe with toes is a completely new concept for everyone. Vibram is an anomaly
among footwear and has therefore created a new category. When considering toe shoes for
running, there is only one brand name – Vibram. In this sense the shoe is its own evoked set and
choice. Vibram maintains its competitive advantage primarily through the absence of
competition. And at the moment it’s difficult for other big brands to step and copycat Five
Fingers due to the patents that Vibram owns. Except for a couple Vibram knock offs, this
market is dominated by Five Fingers.
Counterfeiting is an issue that is aggressively fought by Vibram, who repeatedly warns
customers on their website of the lower quality of the fakes. To further combat this, Vibram
makes it blatantly tells their customers to contact them if any new counterfeiters arise. While this
might reduce hits for counterfeiters on Google, others can be easily found through a quick
Google image search. Interestingly, although this is an issue, none of our focus group
participants were tricked into looking at fakes. Some participants were aware that fakes are out
there but no one was taken to a site selling knock-offs.
Purchase Phase
The current business trend toward online retail is clearly seen in Vibram’s distribution
channels. Much of Vibram’s business is done online, and with one exception all of our focus
group participants bought their shoes online. Of course, the primary downside to online buying
is the inability to evaluate the product in person. For Vibram there is a particular issue with
sizing as most customers are first time buyers and have never sized their feet for Vibrams, which
are only measured in UK sizes. Vibram has addressed this issue by providing a conversion chart
specifically for their shoes while bloggers have also helped by providing endless sizing reviews
and tips for measuring your feet.
The second most common point of purchase was at brick and mortar retail stores.
Running stores everywhere seem to be stocking these shoes. Our one brick and mortar
participant bought hers at a beach shop.
In one of our focus groups the issue of inventory outages was discussed and found to be
somewhat common. As the shoes gain popularity, stores are having a hard time keeping the
shelves stocked while Vibram has an even bigger problem finding the capacity to produce
enough. Part of this is due to booming popularity and part is due to market diversification. As a
company traditionally focused upon researching and developing new soles and rubber materials
for shoe producers, Vibram is inexperienced in making and selling shoes. The adjustment
between supplier and wholesale/retail may be causing difficulties.
Five Fingers are used in a variety of ways, such as running, casual wear, or post-workout
comfort relaxation. The wide variety of uses found in our research was hardly surprising, since
Vibram intentionally advertises the shoes for multi-purpose, inviting customers to use the shoes
in whatever way they see fit. Vibram asked its Facebook fans to name ―the most unique place or
activity where they had worn their FiveFingers?‖ The fans responded with largely outdoors or
athletic activities. However other responses included grocery shopping, business meetings and
church, one user even reported wearing theirs to a wedding (Walker 1). In addition to these
specific locations, the word ―everywhere‖ was used often capitalized or with an exclamation
point. (Walker 1).
Owners of the shoes quickly become fans after slipping on their pair for the first time.
Martin describes what he calls the ―Aha!‖ moment: ―once customers put Five Fingers on and
wiggle their toes, almost universally — but not always — you see this little smile creep across
their lips.‖ (Dzierzak 1) In the focus groups we tried to get participants to describe how it made
them feel. The participants used words like freedom, excitement, hardcore, agile or ―ninja-like‖,
it seemed like they were trying to describe the indescribable.
However, we did find a few common issues with the shoes. Before discussing issues it
is important to note that Five Fingers have limited uses, and most customers realized this in
evaluating it. Vibram, on its website also admit to the shoes limits stating, ―We don’t believe it is
the only footwear you will ever need. There are many times when you need the protection and
security of a shoe or boot. Like all things in life, there is a balance.‖ (Vibram Site) Customers
were disappointed in the product when, dirt or sand got caught inside the shoe, the shoes got
minor tears in the seams, and how easy it was for the shoes to develop a stench.
Tears in the seams of the shoe are a common issue with heavy use. The guy Focus group
participants expressed this concern but were not
bothered by it. The tears are minor enough that
they don’t affect the use of the shoe and simple
enough to be fixed using thread and needle.
Participants said they noticed Vibram gradually
improving their product because the newer five
finger models seem more durable and less prone to tear.
The worst and most severe issue with the shoes was the stench they can generate. A
combination of toe jam, sweat, and water can accumulate to an acrid smell. For the girls, who
used the product less heavily, it wasn’t a big issue, but for the guys a significant portion of the
focus group was spent discussing this issue. While running and wearing the shoes’ odor is not a
huge problem, but once the shoes come off the stench ensues.
To combat the issue of stinky shoes, many remedies and solutions have been proposed. It
usually is not enough to just air them out after use; more aggressive odor fighting techniques
must be used to gain any positive results. One method required washing your shoes, air drying
them, then putting them in a freezer for a couple days. Another method soaked the shoes in a
super concentrated mixture of industrial strength cleaner intended for wet suits. That seemed to
work for several days but eventually the stench came back. And this is the conclusion from
research in the focus groups and online; no matter what people try from bleach, to odor eaters, to
complex methods of airing and drying, the stench will come back unless they are regularly
washed. In addition to regular washing many bloggers recommended the use of Injinji® brand
toe socks, which Vibram sells on their site.
As every product will have its problems, effective companies will monitor what their
customers are saying and try to remedy the issues quickly and professionally. In researching use
and evaluation of the product we were also interested in how well Vibram maintained positive
Public Relations and positive brand perception through their customer service. Not much was
discovered about the customer service, and with the prominence of this smell issue it is
interesting that the problem is not addressed at all on their website. No tips or guides are given to
help solve this problem whatsoever.
One purpose for our survey research was to gain primary research on common
perceptions of Vibram’s customers and product. On our survey, we asked the open-ended
question: ―Please list three adjectives to describe the type of person you think would wear this
Below is a bar graph of the six most common responses:
Approximately 87% of non-owners who were polled used adjectives like ―adventurous‖,
―sporty‖, ―athletic‖, ―active‖, and ―runner‖ to describe what they thought of a Vibram owner.
13.2% of the repondents used adjectives like ―odd/weird/eccentric‖. About 50% of those who
stated ―odd‖ also used adjectives like ―cool‖ and ―hip‖ indicating a more positive perception of a
Vibram owner, while the other 50% associated ―odd‖ with adjectives like ―socially awkward‖
and ―ew‖, indicating a much more negative kind of ―odd‖.
Of the four Vibram owners who responded, they also used the adjectives ―adventurous‖,
―outdoors-y‖, and ―athletic‖ to describe themselves and others who own Vibrams. However, for
all four of the owners, their first of the three responses was ―athletic‖. Of the 100 GCC
responses, 79% of responders’ first adjective was ―athletic‖. The data above verifies the
assumption that people who wear Vibrams are associated with athleticism supporting Vibram’s
mission to position their product for running, fitness, and outdoor sports. Vibram has gained
their core customer, fitness buffs, primarily through word-of-mouth. While Vibram has done
very little advertising, they have managed to achieve the perception they want for their product
and company.
Although our survey sample of Vibram owners was only four individuals, they all
responded similarly and can be categorized as Vibram ―apostles‖. When asked to use one word
that best describes how they feel about Vibrams, they answered: ―enthusiastic‖ and ―awesome‖.
Although we were unable to ask whether or not they would recommend it to others, their obvious
excitement indicates that they are vocal about this product enough to at least discuss it with those
who inquire.
Our secondary research found information to help verify and add to our primary research
in survey data and focus groups. We found that the problem awareness stage of the CDP is
closely linked to the post-purchase phase of the CDP, because the people that have their problem
solved become apostles for Vibram, while the people that have their problem continue or worsen
become terrorists for Vibram. The apostles loved the shoes for a range of reasons and had some
success stories to justify their love of Five Finger shoes. Many customers overcame various
knee, ankle, and hip problems, one customer liked how the shoe kept her feet cool in the sun,
several customers loved the sensitivity their feet had with the ground while wearing the shoe, and
the list goes on. The overall point of the apostles is, these shoes allow your feet to work as
―mother nature intended.‖ (Review Vibram 1)
The terrorists also have something to say about the shoe and their comments were not so
positive. One consumer claimed ―a five mile run in the five finger shoes did more damage to her
feet than a pair of cheap Nike’s for fifty miles.‖ (Review Vibram 1) Several customers
complained about the stitching ripping easily and the sole of the shoe thinning quickly. Other
customers complained of the inconvenience when taking the shoes on and off. Many customers
complained of getting blisters as a result of the shoe.
The quality perceptions of the customers are very polarized as we could see from the
terrorists and apostles for this brand. A nickname that has come about to associate the brand is
―Five-fingers Suck.‖ (Review Vibram 1) This name has come about by judging the shoe based
on its looks, people think they look goofy and weird. Some customers that have even become
apostles had to get through the hurdle of the look of these shoes. While an initial perception of
these shoes was ―five fingers suck‖. Vibram has tried to build a perception of their brand by
positioning themselves as a product that allows one to run basically barefoot without fear of
injury from rocks and glass. The barefoot running allows an individual to strengthen their feet,
ankles, and knees because ankle support and cushion is not there to hinder the development of
those leg muscles.
A perception outsiders have of the customers that where these shoes is, ―those shoes are
for the earthy environmental type.‖ While this perception of the shoe and the type of people that
wear the shoe may be based on some fact, the secondary research showed that customers, who
buy Vibram Five Fingers, at least with a psychographic description, are the ―athletic adventurous
types of person that enjoys extreme sports from hiking to sailing to running.‖ (Review Vibram 1)
The apostles have made rather outlandish statements about these shoes. The entire lives
of Generation X, and much of the lives of the baby-boomers, have had their sensory dominated
by leading shoe brands such as Nike and Adidas. The marketing of these shoe companies have
built a perception into consumer’s minds that people need more gel cushioning and more ankle
support to reduce lower body pain when we exercise.
So how is it that the customers of Vibram Five Fingers have found their physical
problems cured by Vibram Five Fingers? It seems to go against what leading shoe companies
have taught most of us our entire lives. A Harvard University Study entitled, ―Biomechanics of
Foot Strikes and Applications to running Barefoot or Minimal Footwear‖ gives scientific
justification to the success stories of the Vibram Five Fingers Apostles.
The study asks the question, ―how is it that humans could run for millions of years but the
modern running shoe was not invented until the 1970’s?‖ (Lieberman 1) The fact is that when
humans run barefoot or with minimal foot wear their feet hit the ground on the fore-foot instead
of the rear-foot. ―Shod runners‖ or runners with a modern running shoe, typically strike the
ground on their heal, because the cushioned heels make rear-foot running more comfortable.
(Lieberman 1) Through kinematic analyses, a fore-foot landing of the feet, even on hard
surfaces, results in a more plantar flexed foot landing and more ankle compliance during impact
which decreases the mass of the body colliding with the ground. (Lieberman 1) Runners receive
injury when their foot hits the ground, hitting heel first increases the impact your body has with
the ground between 1.5 times to 3 times greater than the impact a runner receives when hitting
the ground with the balls of their feet. (Lieberman 1) The impact of running on your heels
commonly leads to stress fractures and plantar fasciitis. The article also verified the consumer’s
success stories because running shoes with supports and stiffened soles lead to reduced arch
strength and weaker foot muscles. When a runner hits the ground on average 600 times per
kilometer (Lieberman 1), it makes sense that the increased impact on your body from heal
striking compared to striking on the ball of your foot increasingly accumulates more damage to
your lower body. The Vibram apostle’s success stories do have scientific evidence to support
their claims of physical healing by wearing Vibram Five Fingers.
The post-evaluation of Vibram customers shows two very polarized groups of people as
either apostles or terrorists. The users all function as salespeople, either as apostles or terrorists,
since it is common for strangers to come up and ask the user about his or her shoes.
Ethical issues
Vibram is a brand well-known through word-of-mouth from spectators and apostles alike.
The uniqueness of the shoe brings the questions and attentions of curious onlookers, and owners
of the shoe are very willing to spread the news of this revolutionary product. Since the product’s
inception in 2005, the only advertisement that Vibram utilized could be found in running and
cycling magazines. As can be seen in Figure 1, the ad did not describe much and was probably
meant to pique interest in athletes who would be the innovators and early adopters. In 2006, the
brand grew from 10,000 pairs sold to 1.5 million sold in 2009, and is expected to double those
numbers in 2011 – again, without the traditional advertising methods.
At the end of 2010, Vibram decided to hire Nail Agency to create a microsite that
demonstrates how the human body is built for running. The site is called, and has caused polarizing reactions. The point of the microsite is
to insist that the human body is engineered for running. As the microsite starts up, the loading
page is a black screen covered with hundreds of patented shoe technologies which are then
gradually deleted to indicate that there is no need for them (Ad Figure 3). In this sense, the
message is effective, that is, once the viewer gets over the shock of seeking two naked people (a
woman and a man censoring themselves with their hands) with words tattooed all over their
bodies (Ad Figure X). This site forces the viewer to ―zoom in‖ and ―scroll‖ around their bodies
in order to read the scribbles, making the viewer’s experience both awkward and inappropriate.
Although the viewer cannot actually see any private parts, this microsite experience is
unnecessary and unethical.
As much as this site is inappropriate, it is also confusing. The whole theme is about
―eliminating technology‖, but their FiveFingers’ website and print ad (Ad Figure 2) brags about
how there are over 200 patented technologies that belong to their brand. This print ad is also
inappropriate as it is just their crude (humorous is probably what they were going for) intention
to ―flick off‖ the companies who created knock-offs of FiveFingers. What makes both of these
advertising efforts more intolerable is how Vibram very recently created a line of their shoes for
The Vibram website accepts consumer-submitted pictures of people wearing FiveFingers
in various sports and activities. These pictures embody what Vibram users are all about and
capture it much more tastefully than the microsite and print ad. Vibram is making their
marketing job significantly more difficult than it has to be – they speak to their consumers with
their product, and they should let their consumers speak about their product (Ad Figure 4 & 5).
The website did win site of the day October 9, 2010 from the Favorite Website Awards website.
Through our secondary and primary research, we have hopefully demonstrated why, how,
where, and when consumers buy or use this product. And though consumers buy FiveFingers for
a variety of reasons, from post-workout relaxation to injury prevention, it is arguable that these
shoes will only continue to gain popularity. In spite of Vibrams' somewhat misguided advertising
campaign, questions will continually be asked of FiveFinger wearers, creating in turn an
exponential growth of FiveFinger sales. With the growth of the barefoot trend and this extreme
loyalty demonstrated by FiveFinger owners, Vibram will undoubtedly continue its profitable
production of the FiveFinger shoes.
Interactive Microsite
Image from:
Original source:
Tattoos on both bodies read:
[CHEST]: You know how to run, just like
you know how to SNEEZE, how to CHEW.
You know how to run, yet in the name of
progress, new running technology is
constantly being created & marketed;
foams, gels, arch supports. Soft things
that make you soft. Artificial things that
change the way you run. But after billions
of Dollars and decades of development,
there is still no evidence that any of this
has made any of us better or healthier
And now energized by the notion that you
are all the technology you need, the
natural running movement grows stronger
by the day.
[LEGS] We’ll never out engineer the
human body, so instead we made Vibram
five finger Bikila. It’s a shoe.
What the Bikila has. What the Bikila does
not have.
Its designed to enable natural running
even on unnatural surfaces.
Buy it!
See the technology inside
Note: Yes, it felt very inappropriate to
read their bodies and hard-to-read tattoos
made it even more awkward.
Print Advertising
Image from:
Print Advertising
Vibram ads developed by
Cercone Brown Group:
Durability obsesses us.
Grip obsesses us.
Traction obsesses us.
Images from:
Focus Group Discussion Outline
Discuss survey: hobbies (running)
o What do you wear them for?
Word associate: Vibram Five fingers
Word associate: how do you feel when you where these shoes?
o How did you first find out about five fingers
o Why did it interest you
o How research
o How long to purchase
o Were there any alternatives?
o Were you hesitant? Why?
o Did you have any regrets? Problems with the shoe. Why?
 If there was one thing that you would complain about it what would that
 Customer service
o Would you buy this product again?
o Would you recommend this product to a friend/anyone?
o Customer service? Promo
What do you know about Vibram?
If you could be anywhere in the world in your Vibram shoes where would it be?
Questionnaire results from Male Focus Group
*Names have been altered to maintain the anonymity of our participants
Questionnaire results from Female Focus Group
*Names have been altered to maintain the anonymity of our participants
Focus Group Notes
Focus Groups - Girls
Wednesday, March 16, 2011
9:00 PM
Cross-country and track(10k) (off this year)
New life
Knitting/crocheting club for Lillian-walker house
Soccer, track (hurdles - in highschool too)
Mechie, president of SWE
Wind ensemble- alto clarinet
Less outgoing
Athletic, swim, water polo (at least 3 hrs a day),
Crafty, sewing, decorations
Outgoing, free-spirit
Word associate:
 Awesome
 Fun
 Comfortable
 Unique
 Keeps you from having to wear real shoes
How do you feel:
 Ready to go do something
 Less tied down
 More freedom
 More movement
 Go on an adventure/do something different
 Climb a tree
 hardcore
 Gets stinky - can't take them off
Why do you wear them?
 Carly: combo of running benefits (land right) and keeping from wearing real shoes,
especially in the summer.
 Real shoes: grew up in suburban woodsy area, more fun to run around barefoot.
 Liked idea at first because of barefoot idea, but then read "Born to Run" and
convinced her of benefits. Risk of injury of running wrong.
 "born to run" - found tribe and ran with them with Vibrams
 First found out:
 Ali: from cross-country team (Husk and Sam and Luke)
 Carly: saw Zach Jew and heard about them, internet search for "toe shoes"
 Nicole: saw it in HS, then saw a few random people and thought they were cool.
 Random people: runners, athletic
 What about shoes:
 Nicole: likes different, "they look like they are nothing",
 Carly: as a runner, always looking for lighter, most comfortable shoe with new
technology...if other hardcore runners are checking them out, she should too, to
stay competitive
Ali: better running technique
Ali: online - KSO's
Carly: online, read book and then did more research (4-5 months)
 Bought bikilas at a store, but would have ordered online
 Bought sprints
Nicole: bought at a store - only had sprints and KSOs
Hesitations: PRICE!!!!
 Carly: looks aren't as important as reasons, had extra cash
 Nicole: trouble finding them and then price
Perception: POSITIVE
Regrets: none
 Carly: getting used to them for running
 Nicole: stink
 Ali: not good for cold/wet
 Top kind of peels off, but not defective - just wear and tear
Would you buy again/another pair:
 Carly: yes
 Nicole: happy with hers, doesn't run...but would buy another pair
 Ali: expensive, probably would replace
Vocal: will defend if it came up
 Nicole: "Greatest things ever"
 Depends on WHERE you are and how you're asked
Knowledge of Company: not much
 Carly: sailors use them
 Ali and Nicole: definitely
 Carly: not to classes
 Rain: dries quickly
 Nicole: Europe backpacking (and bringing rainbows)
 Carly: Paraguay/Argentina - wished she had them last year in SA for hiking (Table
 Ali: Australia/NZ - good scenery and terrain
Focus Group - Boys
Thursday, March 24, 2011
9:37 PM
Rock-climbing, running, hiking - feel one with nature, move toes independently
Word associate:
Athletic, feet, minimalist, Sports, Comfort, healthy, calf muscles, Smell, Freedom, fast, man-heels, versatile
Pride, freedom, excitement, earthy (grass/dandelions), repulsed (smell)
Frodo, Legolas, Moses,
Sean: Cooper Thurston, then running shoes broke and then started running in them
Thomas: Ad online (stumble upon) - "barefoot running fad"
Joe: Review in Mountain Bike "Bike" Magazine: 2005 - bought them as a biker.
Why: unique AND functional
Thomas: shin-splints, funky, intrigued
Joe: because no one else had them, then bought Bikilas (4th pair - favorite) because of health benefits running, KSO
treks for anything else
Sean: wanted to get better at running
Paul: researched heel strike vs. ball strike
How research:
Thomas: searched sporting goods stores online, drove 45 minutes to find them (sizes)
Paul: ordered from Vibram website, sized foot himself
Joe: wasn't available online at the Thomase
How long until purchase:
Paul and Thomas: a year
Sean: 2 months
Joe: parents bought for him, a few months
Paul: his running shoes were still new, wanted to try for his bad knees
Thomas: inaccessible, distribution issues, always taught that you "need support" but ads told that it helps your feet
Joe: skeptical at first about for running, still a little skeptical
Sean: never heard of fore-foot striking but after a week of research was no longer skeptical
Alternatives: these are not really alternatives to Vibram
Indoor track shoes/racing flats
Nike frees
Sean: cross-country, Dr. Lyle wouldn't let him race in them
Smell: BAD
Smell solutions: the toe socks, wash and put in freezer
Can corrode feet/give fungus
Injinji socks
Thomas: Seam on big toe/toes
Joe: easy to sew it back together, KSO treks rubs heel a little
Sean: bought KSO treks knock-offs! Rips because he runs on the side
Paul: Pros outweigh cons, no foot deteoriate, wash them regularly
Recommend to friend:
Paul: YES, legs feel better after workout, mom is not cool enough (not good for old people), they are beneficial and
more natural
Sean: YES, mom went barefoot and ended up hurting her foot
Joe: YES, to everyone
Thomas: hiking, 75-year old women wearing them too
Boots, soles, soles for boots/running shoes
Low/shortage on supplies, not enough facilities
Consumer service:
Upgrading models as complaints come in
Quality of fabric is more durable
Where would you be:
Paul: Colorado
Joe: British Columbia
Thomas: New Hampshire, hiking, climbing
Sean: Romping on beaches (but terrible for beaches)
Sample Survey
Works Cited
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Foster, Jordana Bieze. "Barefoot-like designs challenge footwear conventions." Jordana Foster Freelance Medical Writer. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Apr. 2011.
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Lieberman, D. E. (November 2009). Foot strike patterns and collision forces in habitually
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< >.
McDougall, Christopher. Born to Run. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2009. Print.
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2011. <>.
Your Story. (n.d.). Retrieved April 11, 2011, from Vibram Five Fingers: story/