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. This post is the 3 part of a primer on product positioning. It highlights a dilemma for CEOs, CTOs, and marketers who position their products as part of a new technology solution.
Riding the Solution Wave
It’s very common to position an enterprise IT product as part of an overall IT solution. For example, positioning an SSD or cache as part of a Big Data, virtualization, or Cloud solution. Usually, these solutions relate to trends that get lots of press and analyst attention. There’s nothing wrong with riding the latest wave. It can be great for PR and lead generation. However, sometimes it does not result in as many sales as you might expect. If sales are falling short of expectations, it’s important to understand what could be happening. You may be at the front end of the Hype Cycle.
The Gartner Hype Cycle describes a common occurrence in the technology industry. Early proof-of-concept stories and media interest trigger significant publicity for a new technology. The early publicity produces a number of success stories. As a result, IT people start to download white papers and attend events to learn about this latest breakthrough — triggering lots of sales leads. Some early adopters take action, most sales prospects do not. That results in a low conversion rate from market qualified leads (MQLs) to sales qualified leads (SQLs).
In this case, I believe that Big Data is somewhere approaching the “Peak of Inflated Expectations.” It’s a promising area, but at this time most people are still figuring out how they would use Big Data — more of a business question than an IT question. They need to figure out where would the data come from and when they have the data, what questions should be asked to turn it into actionable information. Those questions need to be addressed before an organization gets to storing and analyzing data. On the other hand, server and storage virtualization was the new, promising, technology 10 to 15 years ago. Many of the issues have been resolved and that technology is somewhere on the “Slope of Enlightenment” with a large number of real customers for virtualization-related solutions.
Misunderstanding the Hype Cycle/new market situation is a huge problem for IT firms, especially start-ups. It frequently results in changes of executive management as the VP of sales and VP of marketing each incorrectly assumes that one or the other is not pulling his/her weight. The sales team wants more leads. The marketers generate more leads. The leads don’t turn into enough deals so something must be wrong. Is it the quality of the leads (marketing is blamed), the quality of the follow-up (sales is blamed) or the product itself (engineering is blamed)? Of course, any of these could be real issues. However, assuming the team is qualified and experienced, and there’s nothing wrong with the product, the problem lie with the market. Put another way, the product is positioned for a young “market” that has a lot of people who are interested in learning, but few actual buyers at its current stage.
It’s not just the VP of marketing and VP of sales who suffer by misunderstanding the Hype Cycle (and the Honeymoon Period.) I could name one firm that bet it all and lost (sold at a low valuation) by repositioning their product from an intelligent cache to a Big Data solution, despite good advice to the play the cache position. Obviously, this also hurt the CEO, the VCs, and the entire team.
If your product is a critical enabler (must-have, not nice-to-have) then it may be bought as part of the overall solution. However in a new market triggered by a new technology, the early adopters will need some time to figure out what’s really needed to create a working solution. Many of the early “solutions” will fail, resulting in the “Trough of Disillusionment.” As a result, the number of vendors thins out significantly as they fail to sell product and run out of capital.
The Positioning-Publicity Dilemma
The positioning dilemma is obvious. It’s much easier to get publicity and sales leads when you position your product as part of an exciting new trend. If there is one thing worse than low sales, it’s low sales and no buzz.
Buzz matters because editorial and social media coverage ultimately lowers promotion costs and builds brand recognition. A recognized brand is twice as likely to be selected (trusted). However, you have to be pro-active at creating this publicity, especially when repositioning your products.
Interestingly enough, in June 2013 I listed 50+ vendors promoting an enterprise solution that uses Flash memory. As of writing at the end of July, that list is now 75+ vendors:
Aberdeen, Amax, Arkologic, Astute Networks, Assurance, Avere Systems, BiTMICRO, BridgeSTOR, Cachebox, Cisco, Condusiv, Coraid, DataCore, 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.
Many of the firms that I forgot to add to the initial list were very familiar to me. They were typically 10 to 15 years old and had survived the virtualization “Trough of Disillusionment.” However, to many analysts, journalists, and admittedly myself, they are not perceived to be part of the latest trends. They are perceived by the pundits as HDD RAID suppliers or suppliers of older data management software, even though their products have evolved over many generations to include SSD, intelligent provisioning, real-time de-duplication and caching. That said, I expect they are doing better on the important sales side. Of course, the positioning issues with the pundits could be fixed by a good agency – obviously not one they are using, so I’ll take the opportunity to plug mine — Marketingsage.
In general, it’s smart to position your products for a new trend. Besides the publicity advantages, you may be entering the next big market at a time when you can make a real difference. However, there are some strategic implications, particularly for start-ups whose VC funding and the ability to attract talent is based on a new trend approaching the “Peak of Inflated Expectations.” If those firms do not also position their products effectively for more mature markets, or if they are not funded for the long game, then such firms can, and do, fail.
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. 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:
- Flash Memory Summit 2013 Session: Differentiate or Die – Marketing Flash-Based Storage Systems
- The Positioning Game: 75+ Vendors Promoting an Enterprise Solution that Uses Flash Memory
- Competitive Positioning of Flash-Based Products – A Primer for CEOs, CTOs and Marketers
- Market Changes Impacting Flash-based Products – A Positioning 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).