I’m chairing what may be the first ever marketing-oriented session at the annual Flash Memory Summit in August 2013. A lively panel of experts, editors, and analysts will be discussing product differentiation in a growth market in a session called: Differentiate or Die – Marketing Flash-Based Storage Systems. So, as part of a primer on product positioning, I thought I’d explain the concept of positioning as it relates specifically to Flash-based products.

An earlier post, Competitive Positioning of Flash-Based Products – A Primer for CEOs, CTOs and Marketers, explains that your product’s position is whatever your prospective customer thinks it is, not necessarily what you want it to be. Positioning or repositioning is your attempt to influence that opinion. The post also lists the 5+1 elements of a strong position, and gives an industry relevant example.

This post highlights how customer interests change, and therefore positioning must change, as a market matures over time. Understanding this evolution is important because the market for Flash-based products is moving to a new phase. The early customers have bought their first Flash-based products already.  Those “innovators” and “early adopters” have demonstrated that there is a compelling case for Flash-based products in the enterprise.

Here are some of the use cases that gained traction:

  • Software runs faster with Flash, so fewer servers and licenses need to be purchased to support a growing user base. Users are happier, IT costs and support costs are lower.
  • Very fast IT systems give some organizations a competitive advantage in their market so Flash-based storage is mission critical for high frequency traders, some online retailers and even government agencies (think NSA).
  • Virtual servers lower IT costs, but predictable boot-storms and unpredictable surges in demand for data access can slow the system for all users. Flash-based systems make virtualization work better.
  • Flash-based systems require significantly less space and power than hard drive-based systems, substantially reducing the cost of running a data center.
  • Big Data analytics and structured databases, whether real-time or batch processed, deliver information faster when run on Flash-based systems. A batch process measured in hours can re reduced to minutes or seconds.

These tangible dollars-and-cents applications, along with the falling cost of Flash-based products, bring new customers into the market. However, these follow-on customers have different expectations to their predecessors.

Time Adoption of Innovations, Redrawn from Everett M. Rogers, Diffusion of Innovations, New York Press, 1962

Time Adoption of Innovations, Redrawn from Everett M. Rogers, Diffusion of Innovations, New York Press, 1962

Innovators (Enthusiasts): These buyers are willing to try new ideas at some risk. They can be very knowledgeable. They like to test new ideas and may not need a complete product or solution, just access to the latest technology.

There are very few, very hard to find, buyers in this market and they rarely buy in volume. In most cases, a vendor can win the positioning game at this stage if they are perceived to be a technology leader. For example, first with eMLC Flash, first with an Infiniband interface, etc.

Early Adopters (Visionaries): These buyers adopt new products early, but carefully. They seek breakthrough advantages (e.g. High Frequency Trading on the stock market using solid state disks.) They can be respected opinion leaders. They will invest in creating their own complete solution so they may need lots of support.

There are few such customers, but when you find one, you often find more in the same industry. These customers are looking for products, so with a little bit of sales and marketing, they may find you. However, many start-ups are mislead by this market and their failure to recognize the situation sows the seeds of their demise. For more, please read: Storage start-ups: What CEOs, VPs and VCs should know about the honeymoon period.

In most cases, a vendor can win the positioning game with these visionaries if they are perceived to have the lead with a product feature that’s enables the visionaries to achieve their goals. In this case, that might mean they have the fastest product, or the lowest cost per terabyte product. But it also helps to be perceived as experts in a particular application because customers need help building a solution for their particular situation. Today, that situation often involves databases and virtualization.

For those who did not notice, TMS employed Mike Ault, a recognized Oracle Guru to help customers better deploy their SSDs with Oracle databases. TMS (Texas Memory Systems), a 30+ year veteran of the industry and former client of my firm, Marketingsage, was recently acquired by IBM. TMS was very successful in its positioning for early adopters of solid state disks.

Although these Early Adopters may not buy many units, they can be very influential on the large “Majority” market that will buy in volume.

Early Majority (Pragmatists): These buyers adopt before the average firm, but are rarely leaders. They make deliberate, more considered, decisions and they want references. They have a wait-and-see attitude and like to work with proven solutions and vendors.

This is the market phase that drives the high tech industry. Sales grow rapidly because a large number of new customers enter the market. They are buying a new type of product so new vendors do not have to dislodge an entrenched direct competitor (e.g. it’s not like asking a customer to switch their existing brand of backup software). However, these buyers do not want to experiment and they are more risk-averse than earlier buyers, so well known trusted brands often win against the new lesser known brands.

In most cases, a vendor can win the positioning game with these pragmatists if they are perceived to have the best product that’s safe to purchase.

Late Majority (Conservatives): These buyers are keeping up, but not leading. They prefer simple solutions and look to the established standard. They can be resistant to change and are more risk averse.

In most cases, a vendor can win the positioning game with these conservatives if their product is perceived to be an industry standard, plug-and-play, 100% compatible option with a great warranty that’s on sale from their favorite vendor.

Laggards (Skeptics): These buyers avoid change and very risk averse. They may only purchase when there is no other choice. They buy like the Conservatives do, but only when they are forced to (remember all those UNIX gurus who wanted no part of a GUI?).

Although the real market is not likely to be a nice symmetrical bell curve, and it is hard to know exactly where the market is at, there are indications that we’ve reached the “tipping-point” and the enterprise market is entering the Early Majority phase. In this phase, a large number of new customers enter the market. Of course, as demand grows so does supply and competition.

In July 2013 there were 75+ vendors trying to capitalize on Flash-based products for enterprise customers. This list includes some newborn vendors (not yet shipping) and some undead vendors (they look dead, but still might bite.) In general, I excluded those selling only hard disk drive form-factor SSDs (e.g Seagate) and Flash chips (e.g. Toshiba, Samsung), but I included PCIe SSD vendors if they claimed to have a product for enterprise servers. Here’s the list:

Aberdeen, Amax, Arkologic, Astute Networks, Assurance, Avere Systems, BiTMICRO, BridgeSTOR, Cachebox, Cisco, Condusiv, Coraid, DataDirect Networks (DDN), DataON, DDRdrive, Dell, Dot Hill, Echostreams Innovative Solutions, EMC, Enmotus, Fastor, Foremay, Fusion-io, GreenBytes, Hitachi Data Systems, HP, Huawei Symantec, IBM Systems and Technology Group, IceWEB, Infinio, Imation, Intel, iXsystems, JetStor (AC&NC), JBOD, JDV Solutions, Kaminario, Kove, LSI, Marvell, Micron, NetApp, Nimble Storage, Nimbus Data Systems, OCZ, Oracle, Panzura, PernixData, Pivot3, Proximal Data, Pure Storage, QLogic, Qsan, Radian Memory Systems, Reduxio, Renice Technology, Runcore SSD, SanDisk, Scalable Informatics, SeaChange, Skyera, SolidFire, Soligen, Starboard Storage, sTec, StorageQuest, Super Talent, System Fabric Works, Tegile Systems, Tintri, VeloBit, Violin Memory, Virident Systems, WhipTail, and X-IO.

If we wait, most will be gone by the end of the decade. A handful will be gone because they will have won the positioning game with the global players and been acquired so the bigger firm can compete in this market. Unfortunately, most of today’s vendors will just be casualties who could not differentiate themselves in a way that attracted enough customers, or who could not defend their position from competitors claiming the same benefits at a lower cost.

What is the time-frame for success or failure with Flash-based products sold to enterprise customers?

The answer differs depending on whether you are a major global player or a start-up hoping to be acquired. If the history of the IT industry is a guide, I would say that the global players like EMC, IBM, HP, Dell, and NetApp are just getting started and will play for the next 10+ years.  They already have the sales channels, promotion budgets, and customer base in place. They are trusted brands adding a new line of products to complement all the others.

However, if the start-ups and JBOF (just a bunch of Flash) vendors are not hearing alarm bells, they are not listening. The strategic acquisitions, where the large players buy smaller firms for their technology (not customer base), are in full swing and there can’t be more than a small handful of healthy buy-outs left to go in this round. To survive with iterative technology innovations (rather than major breakthroughs) the smaller firms need to get their sales and marketing right within 12 to 24 months (4 to 8 quarters, if they are lucky) — at the time of writing in July 2013, that means they win or lose somewhere between 2H14 to 1H15. In most cases “losing” results in a change of senior management and a zombie company hoping for a reboot before having to sell the IP assets at a loss.

That’s good news for the firms who have/get their marketing act together now, because in 2 years time they will be on more solid footing with fewer competitors in a large market. In this case, marketing means:

Opening new sales channels. A reseller (incl. OEMs and service providers) is only going to sell one or two brands. With 3 to 6 months to sign, and 3 to 6 months to sell, you can see why the time to act is now. Resellers mitigate end-users’ risk (very important in the Majority market) because they already have a trusted relationship with their end-user customers. They also supply complementary products and expertise so the end-user gets a complete solution. For the vendor, they deliver quick access into new market segments without the high capital costs of doing it themselves.

Build a large prospect list. Email marketing allows you to consistently and frequently promote to named prospects, often prior to their brand-selection decision. It’s relatively low cost and effective. However, it only works when your contacts have subscribed (self-identified and shown an interest in what you have to say). Buying or renting a 3rd-party list won’t do it effectively enough so investment in lead generation is important.

Not everyone who shows an interest in learning (e.g. a subscriber downloading a white paper) is ready or able to buy a system costing tens-of-thousands of dollars (or more) so only a small percentage of your marketing-qualified leads will become sales-qualified in any given quarter. Therefore, you need to (properly) nurture that list. The response rate will be a bell curve from “hot” (buy quickly) to “cold” leads (don’t buy), but 6+ months average would not be unusual. As a result, you need to front-load your lead generation efforts to build that list sooner rather than later.

It takes months and quarters to get a lead gen. machine humming so if you wait to add the talent (employees or agencies, like Marketingsage) or wait for an inexperienced team/agency to experiment with tactics you will likely run out of time — your revenue won’t equal your capital burn rate so you’ll get weaker and weaker with each passing quarter as competitors become the hard-to-dislodge incumbent suppliers to both resellers and end-users.

Build your brand. A typical buyer will only consider 2 or 3 products, not 5 or 60+. If they do not know who you are or what you stand for (i.e. your perceived position as the fastest, best VDI solution, lowest cost, etc.) you will not be considered at all. It’s easy for EMC, HP, Dell, etc. to be recognized and considered, but not so for the other 50+ players. Even if they make it to the small consideration set, the recognized brands are 50% more likely to be selected because familiarity and trust often go hand-in-hand. Branding and positioning are closely related.

Takeaway Points

1. The market is evolving. The new buyers of Flash-based products are more risk-averse. To win the positioning game you need to convince a high volume of potential customers that you have the best product that’s safe to purchase for their particular needs.

In this market, “safe” does not just mean a reliable product. It’s is not just about MLC vs eMLC vs SLC technology or redundant components. A safe purchase is also about proven interoperability (e.g. certifications), ease of integration (e.g. same brand as server), warranties, references (e.g. customer case studies), endorsements (e.g. awards), familiar brands names (e.g. firms they read about in the press, see at events and hear about regularly) and trusted suppliers (e.g. vendors they have experience with).

2. Marketing is more important now. If technology innovation remains iterative (not ground breaking) and quickly matched by competitors, sales channel development and marketing promotions will separate the winners from losers.

3. Time is short. If you are not one of the big global vendors, your time frame for success is very limited (I’m predicting 2H14 to 1H15) for most. In this case, success might mean getting acquired or becoming profitable before the initial capital runs out. Of course, profits come from customers. The early winners have the advantage of revenue, references and incumbency.

About this Series on Positioning and The Flash Memory Summit

Join me and a lively panel of experts, editors, and analysts at what may be the first ever marketing-oriented session for CEOs, CTOs, and marketers at the annual Flash Memory Summit in August 2013. We will be discussing product differentiation in a growth market in a session called: Differentiate or Die – Marketing Flash-Based Storage Systems on Wednesday, August 14, 9:50-10:50 am. This is an Open Session so you can register for free up until 8/11/13.

You can follow this blog by signing up in the left sidebar. You can find related posts like these by clicking the Flash Memory Summit 2013 category:

  1. Flash Memory Summit 2013 Session: Differentiate or Die – Marketing Flash-Based Storage Systems
  2. The Positioning Game: 75+ Vendors Promoting an Enterprise Solution that Uses Flash Memory
  3. Competitive Positioning of Flash-Based Products – A Primer for CEOs, CTOs and Marketers
  4. Positioning and Hype for Flash-based Products – A Primer for CEOs, CTOs and Marketers

You can suggest questions and discussion topics using the comment box below or by sending me, David Lamont, an email at blog [at] marketingsage.net. If you’d like to support this topic and enhance your own social media reputation, please click the “Share This” and “Like This” buttons below. Your support is appreciated.

About the Author

David X. Lamont is an accomplished marketer of IT products and a partner at Marketingsage, a PR and lead generation firm that specializes in marketing data storage, data management, and enterprise software products. He can be reached by email at blog [at] marketingsage.net. Fellow marketers and IT professionals are invited to join his network on LinkedIn and to subscribe to this blog (see sidebar).

I’m chairing what may be the first ever marketing-oriented session at the annual Flash Memory Summit in August 2013. A lively panel of experts, editors, and analysts will be discussing product differentiation in a growth market in a session called: Differentiate or Die – Marketing Flash-Based Storage Systems. So as part of a primer on product positioning I thought I’d explain the concept of positioning.

Playing Mind Games

Positioning starts with a product. In this case, products typically include a solid state disk, a Flash-enabled appliance or caching software. However, in marketing, the term “product” can include services, a person, an idea, and a vendor.

I’d be hard pressed to name a service, person or idea that should be included in this specific post, but the 75+ vendors competing for the attention of the enterprise buyer with Flash-enabled storage solutions are definitely relevant.  I’ll narrow the field to those competing for enterprise buyers. In most cases, the solution is a hardware product that uses Flash memory, but not always. Some vendors develop software products that mitigate the need for additional hardware, essentially fulfilling the same customer need. This June 2013 list includes some newborn vendors (not yet shipping) and some undead vendors (they look dead, but still might bite.) In general, I excluded those selling only hard disk drive form-factor SSDs (e.g Seagate, sTec) and Flash chips (e.g. Toshiba, Samsung), but I included PCIe SSD vendors if they claimed to have a product for enterprise servers.

Aberdeen, Amax, Arkologic, Astute Networks, Assurance, Avere Systems, BiTMICRO, BridgeSTOR, Cachebox, Cisco, Condusiv, Coraid, DataDirect Networks (DDN), DataON, DDRdrive, Dell, Dot Hill, Echostreams Innovative Solutions, EMC, Enmotus, Fastor, Foremay, Fusion-io, GreenBytes, Hitachi Data Systems, HP, Huawei Symantec, IBM Systems and Technology Group, IceWEB, Infinio, Imation, Intel, iXsystems, JetStor (AC&NC), JBOD, JDV Solutions, Kaminario, Kove, LSI, Marvell, Micron, NetApp, Nimble Storage, Nimbus Data Systems, OCZ, Oracle, Panzura, PernixData, Pivot3, Proximal Data, Pure Storage, QLogic, Qsan, Radian Memory Systems, Reduxio, Renice Technology, Runcore SSD, SanDisk, Scalable Informatics, SeaChange, Skyera, SolidFire, Soligen, Starboard Storage, sTec, StorageQuest, Super Talent, System Fabric Works, Tegile Systems, Tintri, VeloBit, Violin Memory, Virident Systems, WhipTail, and X-IO.

It’s possible that a majority of enterprise storage products are purchased, not because they are the best, but because they are adequate and have a particular vendor’s brand name on them. The vendor’s reputation is an integral part of what’s purchased.

That said, position is not so much about the product as it is about how the product is perceived in the mind of the prospective purchaser. Your position is whatever an individual prospect thinks it is, not what you think it is. Your position is relative — worst, worse, good, better, best product for the problem the purchaser is trying to solve. Also, your position can change.

“Marketing is Too Important to be Left to the Marketing Department” (David Packard) — Good CEOs and CTOs Step Up

Positioning or repositioning is about trying to influence what others think of you and your product. These tasks usually fall under the purview of the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO). But in reality, positioning is one of the most important responsibilities of the Chief Executive Officer (CEO), whether he or she acknowledges that responsibility or not. It’s the CEO’s responsibility because the engineering department does not report to the CMO.  That’s a key point, because in the IT industry the founding Chief Technology Officer (CTO) has by far the most influence on a product’s positioning. In most cases, the foundation for a product’s position is set long before a marketer is even hired. To succeed in the positioning game, the product needs to be designed to be the best at something — something that buyers care about enough to pay for.

4+1 Must-Have Features of a Strong Product/Position

A successful and sustainable product and/or position:

  1. Is valued by the market. Customers have to want it and be willing to pay for it.
  2. Can be differentiated from similar products. It has to have a unique valued quality that makes it stand out.
  3. Is defensible. Others can’t (credibly) make the same claims.
  4. Is promoted consistently and frequently. People can’t buy what they don’t know about.

There’s one other factor that is almost always critical to a strong position, especially for those selling enterprise IT products. That factor is: Time. It is possible that a product and company can burst onto the scene and immediately establish a strong position, but when this happens it is definitely an exception. Sorry, but that inaugural press release announcing you as “the leader in …” is just the beginning of a long process that usually requires a great product line, as well as consistency and frequency of communication to the right people, at the right time, through the right channels.

In a nutshell: Customers = Innovation x Marketing.™ More realistically, Customers = Innovation x Marketing x Time.

Parameters for Positioning Flash-Based Products

So what product features are valued by enterprise buyers of flash-based storage products? Here’s a high-level list that almost always starts with performance and price:

  • Performance – IOPS, Latency, Cache
  • Price Range – $1K to $100K+, TCO
  • Capacity – TB, Data Reduction (compression, de-dupe)
  • Power – Low Watts, Sleep Mode
  • Persistence (reliability) – Wear leveling, component redundancy, ruggedness
  • Form – PCIe, Rack, Software
  • Interface – PCIe, Infiniband, Fibre Channel, SATA, DIMM
  • Application – Features applicable to Big Data, Cloud, Virtualization, High Frequency Trading, Oracle Databases, etc.
  • Assurances – Vendor, warranty, endorsements

Interestingly, price is not always a key factor for Flash-based products. For some industries, performance trumps everything because high performance is critical to their ability to succeed in their own marketplace. Examples include High Frequency Traders and some online retailers. Persistence, reliability and ruggedness are key for many military and industrial applications. However, as the market grows and matures the percentage of one-feature buyers diminishes. For most, a mixture of performance, price and additional features determines who wins the positioning game. I’ll add more about market stages in a later post.

An Example of Solid Positioning: Texas Memory Systems

Texas Memory Systems (TMS) is a textbook example of strong product positioning, in any market, not just the the solid state disk market. Before they were bought by IBM, TMS marketed themselves (with the help of my firm, Marketingsage) as “Makers of the World’s Fastest Storage.” Here’s how TMS met the essential features for a strong sustainable position:

“World’s Fastest Storage” — Simple as it may seem, TMS said they made storage products. It’s important to inform people about the type of product you sell. Although I suspect some would disagree with me.

Here’s a positioning statement from another firm: “…a global leader in enabling businesses and service providers to transform their operations and deliver IT as a service.” Can you guess what they sell? It’s a big firm. Who are they? If you don’t work there and haven’t looked it up, leave your answer in the comment box below.

Performance is the most valued feature for many SSD purchasers, especially those in the early phase of the market. Being the fastest is the best possible position. It’s a differentiated position because no one else can be the fastest. Most importantly, TMS took steps to defend its claimed position. First of all they trademarked the “Makers of the World’s Fastest Storage” phrase and successfully prevented competitors from using it. However, it takes more than trademarking a statement to hold a position in a prospect’s mind. TMS consistently backed up their claim by releasing product after product with record-breaking performance specifications. They backed those specifications up with independent benchmarks and customer testimonials. Additionally, it helped that they were selling high performance products for over 30 years. It takes time and consistency for a position to stick.

Although TMS claimed the pole position for those interested in fast storage, it does not mean that everyone was aware of them or accepted their claims. In my biased opinion, TMS punched above its weight but could have done better. Promotional budget aside, a stubborn refusal by the owner to adopt some basic marketing practices left them with a website and trade show booth that made them look out of place alongside the principal suppliers of enterprise IT products. This made it unnecessarily difficult for TMS to convince some of the prospects they reached that they were the success they claimed to be.

The medium matters

Cardboard signs: An illustration that the medium matters to the credibility of the message. In general, the message and its delivery should conform to the expectations of the market.

About this Series on Positioning and The Flash Memory Summit

Join me and a lively panel of experts, editors, and analysts at what may be the first ever marketing-oriented session for CEOs, CTOs, and marketers at the annual Flash Memory Summit in August 2013. We will be discussing product differentiation in a growth market in a session called: Differentiate or Die – Marketing Flash-Based Storage Systems on Wednesday, August 14, 9:50-10:50 am. This is an Open Session so you can register for free up until 8/11/13.

You can follow this blog by signing up in the left sidebar. You can find related posts like these by clicking the Flash Memory Summit 2013 category:

  1. Flash Memory Summit 2013 Session: Differentiate or Die – Marketing Flash-Based Storage Systems
  2. The Positioning Game: 75+ Vendors Promoting an Enterprise Solution that Uses Flash Memory
  3. Market Changes Impacting Flash-based Products – A Positioning Primer for CEOs, CTOs and Marketers
  4. Positioning and Hype for Flash-based Products – A Primer for CEOs, CTOs and Marketers

About the Author

David X. Lamont is an accomplished marketer of IT products and a partner at Marketingsage, a PR and lead generation firm that specializes in marketing data storage, data management, and enterprise software products. He can be reached by email at blog [at] marketingsage.net. Fellow marketers and IT professionals are invited to join his network on LinkedIn and to subscribe to this blog (see sidebar).

I’m chairing what may be the first ever marketing-oriented session at the annual Flash Memory Summit in August 2013. A lively panel of experts, editors, and analysts will be discussing product differentiation in a growth market in a session called: Differentiate or Die – Marketing Flash-Based Storage Systems. So, as part of a primer on product positioning, I thought I’d list the players in the game. In this case, I’ll narrow the field to those competing for enterprise buyers. In most cases, the solution is a hardware product that uses Flash memory, but not always. Some vendors develop software products that mitigate the need for additional hardware, essentially fulfilling the same customer need.

As you can see from the list of 75+ (below), there are enough vendors, products, and brands to make any buyer’s head explode. But if they wait, most will be gone by the end of the decade. A handful will be gone because they won the positioning game with the global players and were acquired for big bucks. Most will just be casualties who could not differentiate themselves in a way that attracted enough customers, or who could not defend their position from competitors claiming the same benefits at a lower cost.

Vendors Promoting an Enterprise Solution that Uses Flash

This June 2013 list (with a July update) includes some newborn vendors (not yet shipping) and some undead vendors (they look dead, but still might bite.) In general, I excluded those selling only hard disk drive form-factor SSDs (e.g Seagate) and Flash chips (e.g. Toshiba, Samsung), but I included PCIe SSD vendors if they claimed to have a product for enterprise servers.

  1. Aberdeen
  2. Amax
  3. Arkologic
  4. Astute Networks
  5. Assurance
  6. Avere Systems
  7. BiTMICRO
  8. BridgeSTOR
  9. Cachebox
  10. Cisco
  11. Condusiv
  12. Coraid
  13. DataCore
  14. DataDirect Networks (DDN)
  15. DataON
  16. DDRdrive
  17. Dell
  18. Dot Hill
  19. Echostreams Innovative Solutions
  20. EMC
  21. Enmotus
  22. Fastor
  23. Foremay
  24. Fusion-io
  25. GreenBytes
  26. Hitachi Data Systems
  27. HP
  28. Huawei Symantec
  29. IBM Systems and Technology Group
  30. IceWEB
  31. Infinio
  32. Imation
  33. Intel
  34. iXsystems
  35. JetStor (AC&NC)
  36. JBOD
  37. JDV Solutions
  38. Kaminario
  39. Kove
  40. LSI
  41. Marvell
  42. Micron
  43. NetApp
  44. Nimble Storage
  45. Nimbus Data Systems
  46. OCZ
  47. Oracle
  48. Panzura
  49. PernixData
  50. Pivot3
  51. Proximal Data
  52. Pure Storage
  53. QLogic
  54. Qsan
  55. Radian Memory Systems
  56. Reduxio
  57. Renice Technology
  58. Runcore SSD
  59. SanDisk
  60. Scalable Informatics
  61. SeaChange
  62. Skyera
  63. SolidFire
  64. Soligen
  65. Starboard Storage
  66. sTec
  67. StorageQuest
  68. Super Talent
  69. System Fabric Works
  70. Tegile Systems
  71. Tintri
  72. VeloBit
  73. Violin Memory
  74. Virident Systems
  75. WhipTail
  76. X-IO

If I missed a vendor, please let me know.

About this Series on Positioning and The Flash Memory Summit

Join me and a lively panel of experts, editors, and analysts at what may be the first ever marketing-oriented session for CEOs, CTOs, and marketers at the annual Flash Memory Summit in August 2013. We will be discussing product differentiation in a growth market in a session called: Differentiate or Die – Marketing Flash-Based Storage Systems on Wednesday, August 14, 9:50-10:50 am. This is an Open Session so you can register for free up until 8/11/13.

You can follow this blog by signing up in the left sidebar. You can find related posts like these by clicking the Flash Memory Summit 2013 category:

  1. Flash Memory Summit 2013 Session: Differentiate or Die – Marketing Flash-Based Storage Systems
  2. Competitive Positioning of Flash-Based Products – A Primer for CEOs, CTOs and Marketers
  3. Market Changes Impacting Flash-based Products – A Positioning Primer for CEOs, CTOs and Marketers
  4. Positioning and Hype for Flash-based Products – A Primer for CEOs, CTOs and Marketers

You can suggest questions and discussion topics using the comment box below or by sending me, David Lamont, an email at blog [at] marketingsage.net. If you’d like to support this topic and enhance your own social media reputation, please click the “Share This” and “Like This” buttons below. Your support is appreciated.

About the Author

David X. Lamont is an accomplished marketer of IT products and a partner at Marketingsage, a PR and lead generation firm that specializes in marketing data storage, data management, and enterprise software products. He can be reached by email at blog [at] marketingsage.net. Fellow marketers and IT professionals are invited to join his network on LinkedIn and to subscribe to this blog (see sidebar).

 

FMS 13 Banner

I am delighted to be chairing what may be the first ever marketing-oriented session at the annual Flash Memory Summit in August 2013. A lively panel of experts, editors, and analysts will be discussing product differentiation in a growth market in a session called: Differentiate or Die – Marketing Flash-Based Storage Systems on Wednesday, August 14, 9:50-10:50 am. This is an Open Session so you can register for free up until 8/11/13.

Product differentiation is a strategically important topic for businesses that develop products using using flash memory. It’s important because there are many ways to position such products, competition is fierce, and the process of positioning (or repositioning) is difficult, costly, and time-consuming. To succeed, these flash-based products must appeal to as many customers as possible. They must also appeal to the press, analysts, and investors.

Are these constituencies looking for the same things? Are they still responding to technology underpinnings such as SLC or MLC, or benchmarks such as latency and IOPS?  Do they focus on features such as on-the-fly de-dupe, reliability and price, or are they more responsive to benefits such as TCO and ROI? Or, are they looking to solve problems with Big Data, cloud, databases, and virtualization?  And in the end, do any of these details matter more than the brand name on the box?

Great Panel of Opinionated Experts

So who can help us answer these questions? It would be great to ask all the buyers directly, but we don’t have that luxury. Besides the logistical challenges, each buyer represents just one viewpoint in a large and diverse marketplace. However, the press and analysts have their fingers on the pulse of the broader market. They communicate with the broader market and they’ve been on the receiving end of almost every vendor pitch. Additionally, the buyers look to these people to help them form their opinions on the best SSDs for their situation. So, we’ve invited some of the most knowledgeable people in the SSD industry to share their opinions on what matters. They include some of the smartest, most experienced editors, analysts and VCs in the industry:

Panel Photos

Rich Castagna, Editorial Director, Storage Media at TechTarget. Rich oversees content for Storage Magazine, SearchSolidStateStorage.com, SearchStorage.com, SearchVirtualStorage.com, SearchCloudStorage.com, SearchDataBackup.com, SearchSMBStorage.com, SearchDisasterRecovery.com, SearchStorage.co.UK, SearchStorageChannel.com and Storage Decisions seminars and conferences. Rich has been involved with high-tech journalism for more than 20 years; previously, he was executive editor of ZDNet Tech Update and Cnet Enterprise; editor in chief of Windows Systems magazine; senior editor for Windows magazine, and senior editor and technical editor for PC Sources. Rich has written more than 600 computer technology articles.

Mark Peters, Senior Analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group. Mark is an ESG senior analyst focused on storage systems. His particular areas of emphasis are block storage; virtualized storage; all types of solid-state storage; and the challenges of power, cooling, and space efficiency in data centers. Mark has more than 25 years of data storage industry experience and has held senior management roles in sales, marketing, product management, business development, and customer intimacy in the U.S. and internationally.

Chris Preimesberger, Editor-in-Chief of Features & Analysis, eWEEK. Previously he served eWEEK as Senior Writer, covering a range of IT sectors that include data center systems, cloud computing, storage, virtualization, green IT, e-discovery and IT governance. His blog, Storage Station, is considered a go-to information source. Chris won a national Folio Award and he has served as a judge for the SIIA Codie Awards since 2005. In previous IT journalism, Chris was a founding editor of both IT Manager’s Journal and DevX.com and was managing editor of Software Development magazine. Chris has won more than a dozen regional and national awards for his work.

Gaurav Tewari, Director at SAP Ventures. Gaurav is a venture capitalist focused on growth and later-stage investments within Software/SaaS, Internet, Digital Media, Mobile, and Technology-Enabled Services. Prior to joining SAP Ventures he was with Highland Capital Partners and led or was instrumental in their investments in Violin Memory, Criteo, Marin Software (MRIN), , Affine Systems, Beyond the Rack, Cafemom, Coremetrics (IBM), Navic Networks (MSFT), Rent the Runway, StyleFeeder (TWX), and Yipit.  Previously, he was a Corporate Strategy executive at Microsoft, and a management consultant with McKinsey & Company, where he led strategic initiatives for Fortune 500 companies.

Frank Berry, Senior Analyst with IT Brand Pulse, a trusted source of product testing, IT Pro research and industry analysis about data center infrastructure. Prior to founding IT Brand Pulse, Frank was vice president of product marketing for QLogic, and vice president of worldwide marketing for Quantum.

David Lamont, Partner, Marketingsage. I am a marketing professional and strategist with over 25 years of storage experience, including 10 years marketing solid state products. I’ve helped large storage vendors including IBM and Seagate as well as innovative storage and Flash vendors such as Texas Memory Systems, Tegile and GridIron Systems. I share insights on Flash, storage and marketing topics on this blog and on the Words To The Wise section of Marketingsage website. I am a founding partner at Marketingsage, an agency that helps storage marketers with content development, publicity and lead generation.

About this Series on Positioning and The Flash Memory Summit

You can follow this blog by signing up in the left sidebar. You can find related posts like these by clicking the Flash Memory Summit 2013 category:

  1. The Positioning Game: 75+ Vendors Promoting an Enterprise Solution that Uses Flash Memory
  2. Competitive Positioning of Flash-Based Products – A Primer for CEOs, CTOs and Marketers
  3. Market Changes Impacting Flash-based Products – A Positioning Primer for CEOs, CTOs and Marketers
  4. Positioning and Hype for Flash-based Products – A Primer for CEOs, CTOs and Marketers

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About the Author

David X. Lamont is an accomplished marketer of IT products and a partner at Marketingsage, a PR and lead generation firm that specializes in marketing data storage, data management, and enterprise software products. He can be reached by email at blog [at] marketingsage.net. Fellow marketers and IT professionals are invited to join his network on LinkedIn and to subscribe to this blog (see sidebar).

Here’s are some interesting survey results that support a CEOs active in social media. The chart comes from a MarketingCharts article.

CEO Social Media

In general, CEOs active in social media use blogs to communicate. From a marketing perspective, CEO blogs do help put a face on a company and they can help with press and analyst relations. They may even help enhance a firm’s credibility, attract new customers, and give the company a competitive edge, but that really depends on the content rather than the CEO’s personality or style.

So while I’d say many of these overwhelming positive figures are the result of serious brown-nosing by the executives who completed the survey, there is real merit to a CEO presence on social media. Unlike lower level employees, the CEO’s message carries more weight and his or her perspective is usually more interesting to a broad audience, especially if they are willing to express an opinion and engage in debates.

From a sales/marketing perspective, is blogging a good use of a CEO’s time? It is for plain speaking, lead-from-the-front, types who engage in product-centric discussions — assuming they can quickly write a blog for themselves, without a PR manager and lawyer scrubbing everything but the buzzwords from it. Only a minority of CEOs have the personality, product knowledge, confidence, writing skills, and computing skills to do that.

About the Author

David X. Lamont is an accomplished marketer of IT products and a partner at Marketingsage, a PR and lead generation firm that specializes in marketing data storage, data management, and enterprise software products. He can be reached by email at blog [at] marketingsage.net. Fellow marketers and IT professionals are invited to join his network on LinkedIn and to subscribe to this blog (see sidebar).

It’s that time of year when many students and recent graduates take on their first “real” jobs — those jobs related to their chosen careers. Most of these jobs are low-level, low paying, and not all that glamorous. Some would call them “crappy” jobs.

If you now have one of these crappy jobs, embrace it and give it 110 percent. You may give it 110% because that’s just who you are. But if not, consider this. One day you’ll be the boss and you’ll need some student or recent graduate to do similar low-level jobs for you. You’ll want those jobs done well by people you can trust. When you do your job well today, you can legitimately expect the same from your (future) team. So jump in. Go beyond expectations. Arrive early. Stay late. Volunteer. Ask “can I help with that?” Before long you’ll earn the reputation you need to advance to the jobs you really want.

It’s better to do something for nothing, than nothing for nothing

It’s entirely reasonable to expect to be compensated fairly for the work you do. And, there are many people who, as a rule, will not work (or give 100%) if they feel that they are not adequately compensated. That’s understandable. However, I follow a different rule that serves me well.

I believe it’s better to do something for nothing, than nothing for nothing. Volunteers and unpaid interns obviously agree. Here’s why: A low- or no-pay work opportunity gives you experience, contacts, satisfaction, and references that you will not get if you don’t do the job. In turn, those benefits can help you get paid more down the road. Therefore, if you have nothing better to do, and an opportunity arises that will add to your capabilities or contacts, you should consider it, even it is unpaid. If you take it, give it 110%. After all, you cannot reuse wasted time and 40 hours on Facebook will never equal one hour of on-the-job experience.

You never know what lurks in those piles of paper in the office. Today, I excavated an old Gartner report entitled “Cool Vendors in Data Protection, 2006.” To refresh your memory, this was the heyday of disk-based backup and nothing was cooler than Continuous Data Protection (CDP). Overcome with nostalgia for heated debates about “true CDP” and recovery granularity held in bars at SNIA conferences during that era, I just had to read this old gem.

Seven years after the coronation of the six cool vendors, only one remains. The other five must have made big bucks, right? After all, Gartner knows best and cool surely pays…..

  • Asempra Technologies sold its assets to Bakbone (acquired by Quest, in turn acquired by Dell) for a reported $2M in 2009.
  • Mendocino Software faded away quietly in 2008.
  • Mimosa Systems was acquired by Iron Mountain in a deal valued at $211M in 2010. Since then, it has been passed through to Autonomy and thence to HP.
  • Revivio’s IP was picked up by Symantec in 2006.
  • XOsoft was purchased by CA in 2006 and rumor at the time suggested that the return was good.
  • Asigra remains as the lone standing vendor of the group, having adapted its offering and message to grasp the opportunities presented by Cloud. Closing the circle, CRN thinks Asigra is still cool, naming them one of the 20 Coolest Cloud Storage Vendors for 2013.

Check back in another 7 years!

 About the Author

Agnes Lamont is an accomplished marketer of IT products and a partner at Marketingsage, a PR and lead generation firm that specializes in marketing data storage, data management, security, and enterprise software products. She can be reached by email at blog [at] marketingsage.net. Fellow marketers and IT professionals are invited to join her network on LinkedIn and to subscribe to this blog (see sidebar).

Living and working in the Silicon Valley as I do, it’s almost inevitable that I meet with a lot of active and aspiring entrepreneurs. On the whole, the early company founders tend to be engineers whose passions drive them to create proofs of concept for their ideas. If the late nights don’t do them in, an embryonic company is formed. Marketers tends not to be added until such time as the product progresses into something feasible and there’s a little money in the bank to launch, communicate and promote what’s on offer. Generally we don’t see this until VCs are involved.

For a lot of early entrepreneurs, raising money is the next hurdle once the prototype is looking good. This is definitely a lot easier for those who are independently wealthy or blessed with a network of supportive, talented friends who’ve cashed out of their last company to EMC, Cisco, etc., but are too young to retire. Aptly- named angel investors supply an alternative.

Although the Silicon Valley is rife with tales of Venture Capitalists and IPOs, less is understood about angel investors, even though they have helped the likes of Google and Apple get their start. A great resource for tracking angel activity is the Halo Report, which is published by The Angel Resource Institute, Silicon Valley Bank and CB Insights. Here are a few quick facts:

  • The majority of angel investment activity is concentrated in California and New England.
  • Internet and healthcare-related ventures accounted for approximately half of all angel investments in 2012.
  • Angel investment rounds are averaging around $1-$1.2M.*
  • Pre-Series A valuations for companies with angel investments average around $2.6M.

*I think this number is a bit skewed towards group angel and “superangel” investors, as many individual angel investments are sub-$200,000, as recorded anecdotally.

 Angel investors are often seasoned entrepreneurs themselves, so can bring passion, expertise and support beyond what you might ordinarily expect from a later stage investor. They tend to be savvy to the fact that failure rates for early start ups are high (about 50%), but are willing to invest across several companies and/or limit their activities to an area of personal expertise (e.g. storage management software, but not hardware) to mitigate their risks, absorb losses and still achieve expected overall investment returns of 2.5X.

Check out:

Angel Resource Institute – www.angelresourceinstitute.org

Returns to Angel Investors in Groups by Robert Wiltbank, Ph.D. and Warren Boeker Ph. D. – http://sites.kauffman.org/pdf/angel_groups_111207.pdf

About the Author

Agnes Lamont is an accomplished marketer of IT products and a partner at Marketingsage, a PR and lead generation firm that specializes in marketing data storage, data management, security, and enterprise software products. She can be reached by email at blog [at] marketingsage.net. Fellow marketers and IT professionals are invited to join her network on LinkedIn and to subscribe to this blog (see sidebar).

Like kids squabbling over a bag of candy, disagreement over resource and budget control seems inevitable between sales and marketing. Sure, there are instances where politics, greed, and ambition fuel the tension between these groups, but I think that’s the exception rather than the rule. In my experience, both groups typically share the same goals and aspirations and genuinely want to work together amicably, albeit on their terms.

After many years working with sales and marketing across sectors including storage, data management, and security, I’ve come to the conclusion that, fundamentally, sales and marketing executives are wired differently. In a pre-technology era, I reckon they would have been hunters and farmers respectively. Sales executives tend to be high-energy optimists with a temporal focus on the short-term: this year; this quarter; even this deal. Like hunters, they can hyper-focus on their target, track it, and set up the perfectly-timed kill-shot. They can net a lot of protein and feed the corporate family as long as they have a ready supply of potential prey.

Marketing executives, like farmers, play a long game with planned diversity. They are the analytical planners, the visionaries who work diligently day after day to grow their crops. Good farmers know their soil and seasons, read the weather, prepare the ground, plant the seeds when conditions are right and nurture them daily. They stagger the plantings, thin the seedlings and cultivate them until they are ripe for harvest. They rotate the crops and make the soil richer year after year.

The hunters and the farmers are equally valuable and effective in feeding their community, but their methods and philosophies are fundamentally different. The same is true of sales and marketing in our modern, technologically-enabled corporate world. It’s understandable that sales typically favor events, turnkey sales appointment setting services, and blitz campaigns to drive leads. Marketers are more likely to analyze costs and likely outcomes and favor continuous, evolutionary campaigns that generate leads from multiple sources, based on multiple value propositions, and nurture them throughout a cycle that allows for education, evaluation and the vagaries of budgetary discretion until the qualified leads are ready to be harvested. Communications are consistent and sustainable.

Next time you’re caught in the crossfire between sales and marketing vying for budget dollars and competing demand generation plans, I hope this little analogy will help you value both approaches and clarify the results you need and how to prioritize and support the activities that are most beneficial for your organization. Like the kids with the candy, the outcome ought not be decided based on who screams loudest!

About the Author

Agnes Lamont is an accomplished marketer of IT products and a partner at Marketingsage, a PR and lead generation firm that specializes in marketing data storage, data management, security, and enterprise software products. She can be reached by email at blog [at] marketingsage.net. Fellow marketers and IT professionals are invited to join her network on LinkedIn and to subscribe to this blog (see sidebar).

We’ve all been duly awed by the Dell buyout announcement. Over the years, the company has amassed quite a portfolio of storage and data protection and management offerings, having acquired companies such as EqualLogic, Compellent, Quest, AppAssure and SonicWall. Although many of these acquisitions brought robust technology and contributed handily to Dell’s revenue, the company never made the transition to becoming a storage company. This begs the question as to what will now happen to these lines as Dell sharpens its focus and remakes itself into a seller of products rather than an architect of share valuations. Only the most naïve amongst us harbors any ideas that the latest chapter in Dell’s story might lead to storage innovation and a bid for leadership in the space.

Only 3% of Dell’s revenue is from storage, with software and peripherals yielding 16%, of which data protection software is a part. The overall business distribution is more even with 30% of net revenue coming from large enterprise, 20% from consumer and 25% each from SMB and public sector organizations.

Anecdotally, Dell does not exercise the kind of account control as players such as EMC, IBM, Oracle, or Cisco.

HP has not been shy in making generalized predatory rumblings about picking over Dell’s portfolio, and I suspect Dell is a subject of strategic debate in many more functional boardrooms too. Wouldn’t you love to be a fly on the wall over at EMC and NetApp? These storage giants, along with the myriad of smaller storage and data protection vendors, are no doubt strategizing furiously about how to woo customers and key talent away.

On the face of things, storage and data protection represent relatively small, albeit growing, potatoes to Dell. But in the highly competitive mid-tier storage market, these potatoes undoubtedly look mighty appetizing. Dell will need to make big moves quickly if it’s going to keep control of its pricey ($24.5 billion) lunch. In any case, the storage market is sure to heat up over the coming months.

About the Author

Agnes Lamont is an accomplished marketer of IT products and a partner at Marketingsage, a PR and lead generation firm that specializes in marketing data storage, data management, security, and enterprise software products. She can be reached by email at blog [at] marketingsage.net. Fellow marketers and IT professionals are invited to join her network on LinkedIn and to subscribe to this blog (see sidebar).