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Messaging clarity to win Mindshare: SAVE (Simple, Aha, Visual, Execution) July 7, 2010

Posted by Bernard Lunn in Enterprise Sales, Enterprise Web 2.0, Strategy Workshop.
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Note: I wrote this 10 years ago and remembered it when facing a similar issue today.

Software market leadership starts with mindshare. Winning the mindshare battle requires intense clarity about your message. If you can distill your message into a single word or phrase that defines your market, you have a big competitive advantage.

Of course it is not that easy. Thousands of marketing professionals get paid millions of dollars every day to come up with cringe-inducing phrases and tag lines that last as long as snowballs in hell. What makes it so hard is that messaging clarity has to be based on a very deep understanding of the dynamics of your industry and the position of your company within that industry. If your message does not seem real, it does not stand a chance. In fact it has to seem so real and obvious that when people hear it they assume they have heard it before.

History Lesson – Information Bus

However that final touch of clarity that is enshrined in a single phrase or word, can make all the difference. I learnt this the hard way in the early days of the market for real-time application integration middleware. In case you are thinking 2001, let me set your clock back about a decade to 1991. This was when technology such as Publish & Subscribe, real time messaging bus and Enterprise Application Integration was being adopted on a large scale in the first vertical niche market – financial trading rooms on Wall Street.

My company, Aregon, was an early innovator with solutions dating back to 1984 that were the first implementations in the industry. We were the technical pioneers. However when customers started to ask us whether we had an “Information Bus”, a term invented by a rival company, things started to go wrong.

How To Respond When A Rival Has Mindshare?

None of our responses was very effective.

For example, “no, that is not what we call our technology, let me explain” left people cold. Customers saw the Information Bus concept and automatically “got it”. They did not want to waste time understanding some new concept. Coming up with an alternative message is doomed unless you catch things very early and you are very, very good coming up with an alternative.

Replying that “yes, we have an Information Bus and ours is better for the following reasons” will get you sales but will automatically relegate you to the position of follower. You can build a good business as the number two or three vendor in the market and, if you time it right, you can sell out at the right time for a reasonable valuation. That is what happened to Aregon. However that is a far cry from being the market leader in a large market, which was what happened to Teknekron, which was later renamed TIBCO (as in the The Information Bus Company) and became the leader in the booming enterprise integration market.

Why Was Information Bus Messaging So Powerful?

The payoff from getting it right is huge. However there are very, very few examples of great successes. Why was Information Bus so powerful as a message?

  • It was simple and easy to understand for the target audience. This does not mean “dumbing down” for everybody. This was a smart, sophisticated audience and they could count on a certain level of base knowledge.
  • It was based on a genuine “aha moment”. As related by Vivek Ranadive, TIBCO’s founder, the moment came when he asked a software expert to describe why so many software projects failed. As a hardware engineer Vivek, could not understand why well-tested components could not simply plug into the system Bus. Why not do the same with software?
  • TIBCO created a clear and simple diagram of the Information Bus that anybody could draw on a napkin and understand in a heartbeat.
  • The company made sure that everybody stayed on message. Execution consistency is critical to success. The phrase enabled a dialogue that went into increasing levels of details as the company engaged in customer dialogues. Yet at every level they could come back to the simple Information Bus concept and diagram.

Think SAVE – Simple, Aha, Visual, Execution.

Don’t Force It

Hiring external consultants to create your messaging is usually a mistake. At best external consultants can act as facilitators, drawing out what is already known but hidden. Great messages cannot be forced out; they have to emerge. You cannot set a firm deadline and it is better to have no message than a bad one.

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Ease of Adoption/Scale of Impact Quadrant July 4, 2007

Posted by Bernard Lunn in Enterprise Web 2.0, start-ups.
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For years I have had a crudely drawn quadrant on the wall next to my desk to remind me what to look for in a start-up:

On one axis – Impact

On the other axis – Ease of Adoption

This used to be a trade off. Before Windows, ease of adoption was unheard of. Microsoft got the adoption by riding on the PC manufacturers. Then Google barged right into the top right hand corner with massive impact and totally easy adoption. There was a view that ease of adoption without lock-in is inherently a weak and unsustainable position but the lack of traction of all the Google challengers seem to be proving that this is not the case.

Classic enterprise software was in the big impact/hard to adopt category. This was where there was a trade off. You could build something that fitted into another vendor’s ecosystem – easy adoption but limited impact – or you could work to create something that became an ecosystem by getting totally entrenched into major companies.

I believe those days are over. The new wave of Net Native Enterprise 2.0 software makes adoption much simpler and organic. There is much less need to (as Steve Jobs calls it) “crawl through the corporate orifice” to get adoption. You won’t get VC to fund a “storm the barricades” type of frontal assault with big sales and marketing budgets.

This will probably limit impact, unless there is a network effect, however I see fewer sustainable network effects leading to Windows type dominance in future. For example, WordPress and other blogging tools attempt this but I think it is a weak concept (much as I love WordPress) as no blogging tool will get dominance and nobody wants to limit their network to one arbitrary set of bloggers.

That is probably the reality of Enterprise 2.0. Despite the great efforts of marketing departments to drum up new paradigms, we are simply into a very long and sustained roll-out of Net native versions of what we have always had in the enterprise. This will lift the boats of every enterprise software player that plays well in that environment and enables some new niche players to emerge, but I doubt we will see anything of the scale of Oracle or SAP emerge.

Most of the Web 2.0 start-ups that I am seeing fall into the low impact/easy to adopt quadrant. I am sure that statement will raise a lot of hackles and I am not trying to offend. I have worked in many start-ups and I am very aware that any traction looks like massive impact for a start-up and should be shouted from the rooftops. I am certainly not trying to rain on any parade.

The barriers to entry are now so incredibly low – use Amazon S3/EC2 for infrastructure, mashup code and deploy online, use RentACoder to get cheap brains. Get it out into the Blogosphere and let the widgets propagate virally. So no problems on the ease of adoption front.

But big impact? Go outside the Web 2.0 Bubble (I am not referring to financial bubble more like “boy in the bubble”) and ask a random selection of ordinary people what recent innovations on the Net have made an impact on their lives? It is a bit sobering.

Usually massive impact means that the solution is solving some huge “pain point”. Personally I think the Web works pretty well. Sure there are some minor annoyances but not anything that I would spend any money to fix. I can see some Web 2.0 tools making life easier, but in small incremental ways, not really life changing ways – not like the PC, email and search.

The reality is that the massive impact deals only come about every decade or so. I don’t believe the next one will be in IT and I say that as somebody who has made his career in IT. The massive impact ones have to be addressing real “pain”. There are plenty of pain points out there – disease and global warming come to mind – and the Web will have a massive impact on helping with these big problems by spreading knowledge. These are all about big science. Fix the problem and adoption ain’t your problem (a real cure for cancer won’t need a marketing budget).

Of course there is a ton of money to be made in media niches and office/Net productivity tools. YouTube is entertaining, like those best of home videos on cable, but changing the world? It is the breathless we are changing the world hype of a lot of Web 2.0 that is a bit old.

The one thing that stands out as big impact is social networking, whether for dates (younger crowd) or deals (mortgage payers). It fulfills as basic a need as email did. I suspect we are at the early stages of social networking and something new will emerge that makes it more sustainable. I do not buy the notion of the “social graph” as the new platform. I believe that Social Networks actually have a reverse scale effect. When there are too many people in one network it loses the whole point of a relationship, it just feels like a big anonymous place and we avoid it to look for more personal ways (online and offline) to build and maintain those relationships.

The Internet is The Platform and nobody controls that. Thats just fine with me.

The Internet Changes Everything. The Ease of Adoption/Impact quadrant is no longer applicable. Possibly Crossing The Chasm is out of date (I am still figuring that one out). In an open “services” Internet, the idea of a dominant platform is almost certainly dead.

Reflections of a WordPress newby on Enterprise 2.0 May 24, 2007

Posted by Bernard Lunn in Enterprise Web 2.0, start-ups.
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As a newcomer to blogging – this is my second post – and somebody who is old enough to remember using a Telex machine to send a proposal, I needed to use something that was pretty intuitive. After about an hour working with WordPress I can say that WordPress is as good as it gets; it is as close to “free, perfect and now” as I have seen. I can see that there is tons of functionality that I have not yet used and I am motivated to experiment and learn more as my experience to date indicates that my frustration level will be low.

During 30 years in the software business, I have got used to the idea that software is mostly pretty bad – no, lets be frank very bad. Pre the PC I learnt that software was monumentally hard to develop, always (I mean always) over budget and and the green screen text stuff was for people in back offices and data centers only. My first hands-on experience was with a Mac (great) and then decades of frustrations with Windows.

WordPress is part of a new wave of software that looks like it may actually get it right. This looks like second generation Net native software. The first generation of Net native got the “wow” factor but rather the same way one goes wow when you see a dog walking on its hind legs (amazing that Rufus can do it, but he still does it very badly). The second generation takes Net native as a given and really focuses on usability. It has to be usable as adoption is based on thousands of individuals voting every minute with their mouse.

This is not how the Enterprise works. Somebody makes a decision and everybody has to use the clunky monstrosity. Of course people do still vote with their mouse but in destructive, passive aggressive ways that derail the project. These are the projects where the CFO at the post-mortem meeting asks “So are are you telling me that after 3 years and $x million we are facing a write-off decision? Can somebody tell me how we got here?”

I can see how systems like WordPress can avoid this by growing more organically. Add a few colleagues/partners as posters. Add some traditional semi-static pages. Add some social network, a bit of video and a podcast or two. Pretty soon I have a modern CMS, with minimal implementation costs and all on a pay as you go basis.

This is what the analysts are touting as Enterprise 2.0. At a 30,000 foot level it makes sense. History has a way of repeating itself and Web 1.0 went from individual to Enterprise and the big Enterprise Net roll-out is still in full swing. Does that mean WordPress type companies should hire some hot-shot sales guys to knock on CIO doors? As somebody who has knocked on a lot of CIO doors, I think not. The possibly vicious cycle goes like this:

  1. Get VC by writing a Business Plan with aggressive revenue projections
  2. Hire expensive sales guys who will promise whatever it takes to get that revenue target
  3. Build whatever clients want/demand without the time to design it right
  4. Clunky monstrosity here we come

This can end fine with a trade sale, everybody walks with some money vowing to do it right next time. Actually I think we have a lot of teams with precisely those scars who are determined to do it right this time.

The Net has not only changed the way we deliver software. More importantly it has changed the way people buy software. The enterprise gatekeepers have less power. The gatekeepers still have veto power but only if the software breaks the rules on privacy and security. It is not just start-ups buying this way, it is self-managed teams and departments. Try it free and use the credit card to buy a bit and expense it; the credit card vendors do a good job at expense tracking and those miles and other benefits are nice bonus.

Then at some level of usage, the corporate department may come in to give it the blessing and negotiate volume discounts. The trick is not letting those negotiations drive the featuritis that becomes spaghetti code (as in “we will buy 500 copies if you add xyz feature now”).

I am hopeful that this is a genuinely new era for software and that the teams who have enough experience with the old ways will stick to their design vision and keep it growing with Einstein’s famous phrase in mind:

“Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not one bit simpler.”

B2B Media and Web 2.0 Start-Ups May 23, 2007

Posted by Bernard Lunn in B2B Media, Enterprise Web 2.0.
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History sometimes repeats itself, although usually with a surprising twist. Web 1.0 started with the Consumer and went onto B2B. Will some Web 2.0 technology trace the same steps?

I spend my time working with “traditional” B2B Media companies, the industry specific magazines, web sites and trade shows that connect buyers and sellers in all major markets. These companies are often derided in the Web 2.0 Blogosphere as mainstream media or dinosaurs. So a quick reality check may be in order. B2B Media in the USA alone is a $31.1 billion revenue business and the breakdown of that revenue may surprise those still muttering about “dead trees”:

  • Trade Shows $11.3 billion (36%)
  • Print Magazines $10.9 billion (35%)
  • Online “eMedia” $4.3 billion (14%)
  • Other (mostly databases) $4.6 billion (15%).

The growth (28%) and the margins (25%) are in online. If you ask a random sample of B2B Media CEOs about their priorities, it is very clearly “online, online and online”. Many now describe their business as online with print extensions. In some cases this is delusional, in some aspirational and in a very small number of cases it is already fact. Private Equity money is pouring into the industry and smart, aggressive new management teams are ensuring that the transition to online is real.

This leads to a lot of partnership opportunities. Web 2.0 start-ups want access to market and B2B Media want more online traction. But this is not the environment for bleeding edge technology. In Geoffrey Moore Crossing the Chasm terminology, you will find a few Visionaries and a lot of Conservatives, but not a lot of Early Adopters.

This relative conservatism suits the B2B Media audience demographic, which tends towards the Baby Boomer “digital immigrant” that still likes print but also uses new technology that crosses into the mainstream. RSS is an example. RSS is not a subject to quicken the pulse of a Read/Write Web reader, but the opportunities created for start-ups when something as fundamental as RSS cross the chasm to the mainstream are significant. The future clearly belongs to the “digital native” generation that grew up with MySpace and Instant Messaging, but in the B2B world the checks are still signed and deals decided by the Baby Boomer with bifocals scanning a print magazine.

B2B Media executives do not expect any silver bullet; no single feature will transform their business. They do need lots of new features that in aggregate make a difference to their mission of connecting buyers and sellers. This may suit the reality of many of the smaller, younger Web 2.0 start-ups that get referred as “a feature, not a product and certainly not a company”.  These may not be the transformational deals that start-ups dream about, but they maybe the niche markets (“bowling pins” in Crossing the Chasm lingo).