Wednesday, May 30, 2007

It's Like the BMW 5-Series...

xkcd had an amusing comic strip the other day referring to Godwin's Law. In case you're not familiar with the law, it states:

As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one.

In the spirit of Godwin's Law, I'd like to propose Steve's Law:

As a marketing discussion grows longer or involves an increasing number of people outside of marketing, the probability of a comparison to some aspect of a car approaches one.

I've lost count of the number of times someone has tried to compare the realities of selling a complex piece of networking gear to an (occasionally) educated enterprise customer to some aspect of a car. I understand how this happens -- it's an easy parallel to try and draw and most likely everyone in the room will be able to follow it. Ditto with using the iPod as an example.

The problem with doing such a comparison is that the analogies are usually bogus. No matter how hard you try, you can't make a firewall an ultimate driving machine.

In general, I'm loathe to draw comparisons between consumer focused products and their marketing campaigns and selling high tech to enterprises. The two are completely unlike one another. And don't give me that line about enterprise buyers being a subset of the consumer space. That isn't true and you know it.

To start with, a consumer is generally making a purchase that only impacts himself or possibly his family. With rare exception (e.g., a house), a consumer is typically spending an inconsequential amount of money. If the purchase is wrong, he may be pissed off, but it is unlikely you're going to be changing his life in a measurable way. By comparison, an enterprise buyer is likely to affect a significant number of users and their ability to get work done. A bad buy not only costs the company hundreds of thousands of dollars in equipment, but possibly millions of dollars of lost productivity. Screw up bad enough and your job is in on the line.

In addition to impact comes education. Someone looking to commit a few million dollars into a storage area network is going to do homework on the topic first. He's going to get a handle on the market, who's who, learn about the technology itself, and possibly even sit down and assess what features really matter to his business. When selling to this person, you assume a level of education and given the potential price tag, you spend the time making sure they understand the ins and outs of what you're pitching. This is not the same as going to Consumer Reports, seeing what they picked for the best spatula, and then heading down to the local Spatula City.

The differences go on. And really, if you're still not sold, you haven't read this far anyway and are probably working on an email to me about how your pre-chasm-crossed-blue-ocean-long-tail-enabled-technology is so much like the BMW family line that you're using the same product numbers.

There are of course valid exceptions to the Steve's Law. There are times when a good consumer based example highlights an element of a marketing campaign that you're trying to explain. For example, in a positioning exercise where everyone in the room may be struggling with the very idea of what marketing positioning is, there are some excellent consumer based examples worth highlighting. They give a baseline to point out what a market position is, why it matters, and why it is not the same thing as a tagline.

Just don't try to show how 7-Up being the un-cola is the same thing as iSCSI the un-Fibre Channel.

Ugh, I had to control my gag reflex just typing that...


Blogger bronson said...

"iSCSI [is] the un-Fibre Channel."

Yes! It's all natural, using simple ingredients, and far more transparent. Steve, that's the most sellable iSCSI pitch ever! You're a genius!

Now, what was that bit about how silly consumer comparisons are bad? :)

7:38 PM  

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