I've been involved in the marketing end of the business on-and-off for many years at EMC.
I've probably made every mistake in the book at one time or another (including some very infamous ones), but -- probably because I never got fired -- I ended up accumulating some useful wisdom about how to avoid certain egregious mistakes.
Based on what I've seen over the last few weeks, I thought it'd be interesting to share my take on a few gaffes I've seen.
Rule #1 -- Don't Insult The Intelligence of The Press
I learned this one early on. Most of the folks who cover our industry (press and analysts) are incredibly smart, and very experienced. When you're on the phone with one, very often they know more about what's going on in the industry than you do.
So, a few days ago, IBM called a cloak-and-dagger press briefing to make a "big storage announcement" with a "major IBM executive".
Turned out the event was all about a re-spun IDC report showing that IBM was now #1 in market share for all forms of storage taken in aggregate: external disk, internal disk, tape, probably memory sticks as well.
I'm not going to argue about the accuracy of the report. Given my understanding, it's a viable claim.
I'm not going to argue about the relevancy of the metric. Someone, somewhere probably cares that IBM sells more branded writeable media than anyone.
[note: I wonder if the CD/RW vendors count here? DVD/RAM? Tape media? Office paper? I dunno.]
I don't think many customers care about this metric (other than the guy who has to explain why he's buying IBM storage), but that's not my call.
Where I think they blew it is that they insulted the intelligence of the press and analyst community: they promised a big announcement, and ended up delivering a bit of respun fluff, all wrapped up in breathless prose. Not to mention wasted a few people's time.
The press reaction was predictably harsh, and rightly so.
And the old saying "any press is good press" doesn't really apply here.
Rule #2 -- Don't Announce A Product When Your (Bigger) Competitor Is Doing The Same
I used to work in product marketing, and when you're looking at announcement dates, obviously you want to pick dates that other things aren't happening on. We were never good at it, but we tried.
So (whether intentionally or accidently -- you never know!) Hitachi did their TagmaStor announcement within a day or two of when EMC did their ControlCenter 6.0 announcement.
Guess which one won the mindshare battle? (at least given the web traffic statistics we have access to)
Turns out there are many more ControlCenter users out there than Tagma customers, or (potentially) everyone who was an HDS customer already knew what was in the announcement. Or people are much more interested in SRM than another high-end storage array from Hitachi.
Either way, I don't think the collision helped HDS a whole lot.
Rule #3 -- Be Careful Of What You Think Is News
Many of the smaller vendors spend a lot of effort to breathlessly promote their first few customers.
Now, I've written a few over-the-top hype press releases in my time, but some of these make a really big deal that someone (finally) decided to take their new product, and actually trust it to run a piece of their business.
Maybe I'm different than most people, but the fact that a vendor thinks it's big news that someone is actually using their product -- well, maybe that's not quite the message you want to send out.
Better to position it as "one more success" rather than "golly gee whiz, we finally have a public customer".
Rule #4 -- Try Not To Take Extreme Sides In Technology Battles
I try to follow this rule, but I am not always successful, simply because I get a bit passionate about certain areas of technology.
Example: FC vs. iSCSI. Don't take sides: the market will probably need both. FC drives vs. ATA drives: same thing. Large arrays vs. small arrays. Client-vs-target dedupe. The list goes on and on.
Most reasonable approaches to technology find traction in the marketplace, sooner or later. They may end up in a different place than you first thought, or it might take a bit longer than you thought -- but very rarely do technologies "win" or "lose".
I occasionally see spokespeople who take a very extreme view on one topic or another. You're not helping your cause when you do that.
To the extent that you can, it's always useful to acknowledge the strengths and weaknesses of competing approaches, and (always, always) remember that customers decide these things, not vendors.
Rule #5 -- Acknowledge Your Competitors
There are a bunch of companies out there (including EMC) who've been pretty successful at one aspect or another of the business. Everyone knows who they are. Everyone knows what they've done. To not acknolwedge this further erodes credibility in an already tenuous situation.
Better to acknowledge what your competitors have done well, and then deliver your message / position / spin on top of that.
Simply pretending that they don't exist doesn't help your cause.
I'd like to see a few more people at EMC follow this particular rule, but that's another story.
Rule #6 -- Don't Build Your Campaign on Marketing Survey Fluff
A perennial favorite.
For very short money, just about anyone can fund a survey, white paper, study, comparison, etc. that shows your stuff is better than their stuff. Just about everyone in the "independent" camp has lost their virtue at one time or another.
If you or your company takes money from vendors, you're not independent, so don't claim you are. In my more cynical off-the-record moments, I like to joke that we've got the best independent research money can buy.
What's worse, I've never met anyone who takes that sort of stuff too seriously. At best, it's just one small factor in a very complex decision: who are you going to trust with your information?
Rule #7 -- If You're Going To Criticize A Vendor (Or Their Product), Try And Have Your Facts Straight
I can't begin to count where I've seen direct statements from competitors (and analysts!) about EMC that were just plain wrong. We're not talking about nuanced interpretations here, we're talking about simple factual statements that are untruths.
Now, if you read one of those statements, and you happen to know the truth (which, fortunately, is usually the case with a lot of knowledgeable people), the incorrect statement doesn't help your cause.
You come across as ill-informed, less-than-smart, or downright evil -- none of which are particularly attractive brand attributes for any company or individual.
Again, I'd like EMC to do better at this one as well.
Rule #8 -- It's All About Customers (Or Should Be!)
I read a lot of vendor-produced material (press releases, data sheets, white papers, etc.).
It's amazing how long someone can go on talking about technology, products, trends, competitors, marketplaces, etc. and never mention the "C" word -- customers.
Well, isn't that what it's all about?