Does Google face a difficult internal challenge as it addresses the enterprise computing market with products?

2-Color-Design-Hi-Res-100px-widthPerhaps the biggest obstacle to Google for work improving its success in the enterprise computing market is Google’s approach to marketing communications. Where are the blogs? Is there an easy-to-find repository full of the kind of promotional information enterprise tech consumers have demonstrated an interest in digesting? How do Google’s communications efforts compare to its peers?

The answer to each of the three questions posed above is, unfortunately, not promising:

Where are the blogs?

Unless/until one lands on the Google for work “home page”, Google for Work, it is not likely readers will be able to locate the “for work” blog. The blog is mentioned in a vertical column located on the right of the very bottom of the home page under a curious title, “Keep in Touch”.

A search of blogger (which is now a component of Google, itself) did not produce any “Google” blogs with the content enterprise IT management traditionally has been shown to consume.

Is there a familiar spot on the web where business management can visit to read the latest news on Google’s products for enterprise computing?

If one assumes the Google Work (or is it “for work”?) page to be the online repository for any/all information about enterprise computing products offered by Google, disappointment will likely follow. “Google for Work” maintains a Twitter page, @googleforwork. A quick review of the tweets on the page revealed a lot of content located on Google + pages. All of these entries should be linked to the “Google for Work” home page. But, unfortunately, this is not the case. The Twitter page is a better bet. Though even a search of the Twitter page will not reveal all of the content published on topics related to the Google for work offers.

How does Google’s MARCOM for “Google for Work” compare?

I spend quite a bit of time working with marketing communications material published by Microsoft, arguably, Google’s most formidable challenger in the enterprise computing market. Blogs are a prominent feature of Microsoft’s core web sites:

“Blogs” are accessible via a click on a link prominently displayed on the Office home page. The link, admittedly, is located towards the bottom of the page as is the case with the blog link on the Google for work site.

On the MSDN web site, blogs are accessible via a click on the “Community” tab on the horizontal navigation bar at the top of the page, and then a click on the “Blog” hot link exposed to the site visitor.

Oracle maintains an even more extensive set of blogs than Microsoft and, once again, collects the blog content within a “Community” link. IBM does, as well, though the IBM content is not centralized.

Google should re-architect its marketing communications effort for the “Google for work” product line if it is to succeed. Some thought should also go into choosing a better brand name for the product.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2014 All Rights Reserved


Who’s losing sleep over NoSQL?

One of the biggest challenges facing product marketing within any business is successfully identifying a market segment. I would argue more businesses fail because they either:

  1. don’t understand their market niche
  2. or can’t articulate a message intelligible to their market niche
  3. The next step is to put together a portrait of an ideal prospect within this segment. Over time, if a business is lucky enough to succeed, this portrait will likely change (perhaps scale is a better word). After all, early adopters will spread the word to more established prospects. The latter are more conservative, and proceed at a different pace, based upon different triggers.

The 3 steps I’ve just identified are no less a mandatory path forward for early stage ISVs than they are for restaurants, convenience stores, or any other early stage business.

But a lot of the marketing collateral produced by early stage ISVs offering NoSQL products and solutions, in my opinion, doesn’t signal a successful traverse of this path. In an interview published on December 12, 2014, Bob Wiederhold, CEO of CouchBase presents the first and second phases of what he refers to as “NoSQL database adoption” by businesses. Widerhold’s comments are recorded in an article titled Why 2015 will be big for NoSQL databases: Couchbase CEO.

My issue is with Wiederhold’s depiction of the first adopters of NoSQL Databases: “Phase one started in 2008-ish, when you first started to see commercial NoSQL products being available. Phase one is all about grassroots developer adoption. Developers would go home one weekend, and they’ll have heard about NoSQL, they download the free software, install it, start to use it, like it, and bring it into their companies”.

But it’s not likely these developers would have brought the software to their companies unless somebody was losing sleep over some problem. Nobody wants to waste time trying something new simply because it’s new. No insomnia, no burning need to get a good night’s rest. What I needed to hear about was just what was causing these early adopters to lose sleep.

I’m familiar with the group of developers Wiederhold portrays in the above quote. I’ve referred to them differently for other software products I’ve marketed. These people are the evangelists who spread the word about a new way of doing something. They are the champions. Any adoption campaign has to target this type of person.

But what’s missing is a portrait of the tough, mission-critical problem driving these people to make their effort with a new, and largely unknown piece of software.

It’s incumbent on CouchBase and its peers to do a better job depicting the type of organization with a desperate need for a NoSQL solution in its marketing communications and public relations efforts.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2014 All Rights Reserved


Has Samsung fallen victim to its own product marketing strategy?

Once the leading manufacturer of smart mobile devices (based on volume of units sold), Samsung looks to have fallen on some tough times. But is the stall in its revenue momentum the result of its own product marketing strategy? In this writer’s opinion the answer is yes.

Lots of analysts follow Samsung. The trend in market commentary about this manufacturer is to 1) remark on deceleration in global sales of Galaxy smart phones, and tablets, and 2) to posit notions as to how Samsung is attempting to remedy the slower sales growth based upon public announcements of changes. The latest example of 2) is an article written by Ming-Jeong Lee, which appeared in the online Wall Street Journal on September 24, 2014. The title of this piece is Samsung Drains Software Power from Mobile. Lee interprets Samsung’s decision “to move a number of software engineers out of its mobile unit to other parts of the company” as an indicator its decision to retreat, to some extent, from the competition for smart mobile devices, presumably based on the above mentioned decelerating revenue condition.

But readers may want to consider some other points about Samsung’s decision to move software personnel elsewhere. We maintain a Samsung Galaxy Note 2.1, 10.1. We find the software to be very much below our standard for suitable usability. There are many annoying features of the software, too many, in fact, to mention here. So from our perspective, this decision may actually be good news, and a pointer to Samsung finally deciding to make some long overdue personnel changes in a team responsible for a large segment of how consumers actually engage with Samsung tablets and smart phones.

This writer points to other reasons for Samsung’s current slower pace of revenue growth for these products. The comparatively clumsy user interface (which is also cluttered with overlapping features) pales as a point of weakness when compared to Samsung’s hyper pace of introducing new product, and, thereby, rendering products already consumed obsolete. Again we point back to our own purchase and must note strong dissatisfaction with the paltry resale value of our tablet, should we decide to sell it, and the lack of new software enhancements to the user interface, etc.

We don’t think it’s credible to assume mid market consumers of smart mobile devices will just continue to purchase new models, year after year. Granted, Samsung is not the only advocate this tacit product marketing assumption to cannibalize a current customer base for new product sales. Android certainly has a seat at this table as, this writer would argue, does Apple. Nevertheless, Samsung may have a highly valuable opportunity to recharge revenue growth should they 1) clean up the clunky and ineffective user interface (perhaps when they launch Tizen, which should be a free-of-charge upgrade for any/all existing Samsung customers) and, 2) come to market (after serious premarketing) with a set of new features consumers truly find useful.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2014 All Rights Reserved


Microsoft Struggles to Promote the Surface Pro 3 to a Mass Market

On August 10, 2014 Microsoft debuted a new set of video ads for the Surface Pro 3. A lot of the ad content is comprised of a feature comparison between the Surface Pro 3 and Apple’s MacBook Air. A lot of opinion has been expressed about this set of ads as simply the latest example of an ongoing comparison, dating back to the late 1990s, when Apple kicked it off with its infamous Mac vs PC ads.

Does Microsoft stand to benefit from this approach? In this writer’s opinion the answer is “no”. The original Apple campaign was likely effective as the result of a successful effort to bridge the gap between product and consumer. The “Mac” of the ad amounted to one type of person (consumer), while the “PC” was a radically different type of person. The ad then left the viewer to identify with one, or the other. Much has been written about the success of this campaign, so there is no need for us to spend time exploring it further here.

The current comparison is strictly product to product. One can argue the music background on the first of the new ads, with its female vocalist, is suggestive of a personality type, but the actual content is strictly feature to feature review. But, this writer would argue, PC consumers buying Macs are buying them more for what a Mac says about someone who owns one, than the actual features of the device. Sadly, the round of ads from Microsoft fail to speak to this human behavior pattern.

These ads may run against the grain of enterprise IT organizations, which would be very unfortunate. These organizations are most likely to motivate corporate users to scrap orders for MacBook Air laptops and replace them with orders for the Surface Pro 3. Enterprise customers are accustomed to evaluating products head to head (so-called “best of breed” comparisons are the norm), but strictly on a feature basis, without any attempt to add tone to the presentation by associating buyer type to products.

Bottom line: these ads attempt to plant one foot on either side of a gap between consumer and enterprise IT. This posture is not sustainable. The next round should position the product on one side of the gap, and preferably the enterprise IT side, where Microsoft has more friends.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2014 All Rights Reserved


Do Better Informed Consumers Deliver More Sales Than Their Less Informed Peers?

Implementing a strategy to better inform customers about specific differences between one’s product and a product manufactured by a competitor includes a tacit agreement to compete to be the best. ISVs should carefully consider the ramifications before implementing this strategy. With the exception of clones and direct copies, no two products are the same, nor are they ever targeted at the same consumer. So this strategy may not pay off as expected.

Anyone visiting Microsoft.com recently will notice a number of direct comparisons between the Surface Pro 3 and Apple’s MacBook Air, and the soon-to-be-released (this writer, who owns a Windows Phone 8.0 Nokia Lumia 925, would hope) Cortana personal assistant and Apple’s Siri. The underlying premise supporting this type of marketing communications is product equivalence. The Surface Pro 3 and the MacBook Air are two versions of the same solution, as are Cortana and Siri.

But, we argue, this underlying premise is a fallacy. Dr. Michael Porter has written about this competitive approach, and unfavorably. Dr. Porter’s ideas on the topic have received commentary in this blog before, so there is no need to revisit them. It may suffice to simply equate this approach with a “zero sum game”. One competitor wins everything, while rivals receive nothing at all. When the results are combined, the total is a zero — no one really wins.

One may argue this effort has a highly successful ancestor — the television ad campaign Apple undertook in the first year or two of the new century. This campaign purported to be a competitive comparison between Mac and PC, albeit in the form of two personae — one guy representing the Mac, and another, stiffer, bespectacled, stouter, more formal guy representing the PC. Regrettably, this argument doesn’t work.

The ad is actually a caricature of the “head to head” product comparison communications method. The subtle suggestion, of course, points back to the presumed male viewing the ad, to whom a question will likely appear (seemingly out of the blue), “do I want to be the Mac, or do I want to be the PC?”.

Unfortunately, the comparisons on Microsoft.com do not possess this same subtly and can only be construed as direct product to product comparisons. In the opinion of this writer, they are not likely to be persuasive and, even if they are, they will not likely lead to a lot more profitable sales.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2014 All Rights Reserved


Simpler Branding May Drive Higher Levels of User Adoption for Microsoft’s Office 365 Business Productivity Cloud SaaS

For most business users, Microsoft’s Office suite is a familiar set of computer tools. But some of this familiarity is associated with a hybrid “feature rich” and “hard to use” brand. Simplifying this branding, by turning down the “hard to use” component may help Microsoft’s efforts to persuade more of its business customers to migrate to its Office 365 cloud, SaaS offer.

Tom Petrocelli touches on some of this problem in an article posted to CMS Wire on August 7, 2014. In The Barriers to Working like a Network in Office 365. Petrocelli focuses, specifically, on the collaboration features of Office 365, which makes sense given his reference to “work like a network”, which is a concept Jared Spataro (Microsoft’s General Manager of Enterprise Social) presented in a post to the Office Blog back on March 3, 2014.

This writer has first hand experience with the Office 365 conundrum resulting from a combination of “two many features” and “too many ways to get it down”. It took weeks for him to figure out OneDrive for Business, and how it interacts with SharePoint Online (another component of the Office 365 suite).

The aversion instilled from this confusion was further exacerbated by what he could only assume to be a poorly coordinated offer, by Microsoft, for its Office 365 business customers: each subscriber to Office 365 for business would receive 1 TB of cloud storage for its OneDrive for Business service, but only 25 GBs of storage for SharePoint Online. This made little sense as, on the surface (no pun intended), SharePoint Online appears to have all of the components required to provide business consumers with a fast and accurate method of finding just the content they need, should they opt to use enterprise search. In contrast, OneDrive for Business did not appear to have the same capabilities. The fog only cleared when he discovered OneDrive for Business is actually a SharePoint Online Document Library, with some added features.

Petrocelli’s article, and the personal example, above, both talk about too many ways to get things done when business consumers need to collaborate. But this post purports to talk about too many components of a product branding message. Where’s the connection? The connection can be found in the market messaging Microsoft is presently creating and articulating around its efforts in the enterprise search market. In this writer’s opinion, there are too many components to this message, which, ultimately will likely only confuse business consumers.

If Microsoft can renovate its product branding strategy around some simpler themes, the process of persuading business consumers to migrate to Office 365 can only get easier. The related costs may be less, as well, helping the profitability of the product.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2014 All Rights Reserved


Product Development Assumptions Must Factor In Predictable Regulatory Positions

I’ve posted to this blog on earlier dates on the topic of Google Glass. I don’t like the product for a number of reasons. This list includes concerns about regulatory agencies efforts to prohibit sale of the product. I think it’s mandatory for technology businesses to factor in the stance of regulatory agencies when they think about building solutions for markets. So, with Google Glass, and the new text to speech email reader products automotive manufacturers have announced, any useful product plan must anticipate likely regulatory action to ban the sale of these products for specific markets. Further, this type of product plan should include an assumption of how likely regulatory efforts will affect market size. The most notorious example of computing solutions crossing the regulatory line is, of course, Napster.

So where, if at all, does it make sense for technology businesses to undertake development for these markets? I think this type of “edgy” product development only makes sense for very large businesses, like Google. They have the financial resources to weather the losses likely to result from these types of efforts. The only legitimate driver, in my opinion, is an effort to brand the company as the leading edge of product innovation, and, further, one with the courage to question the positions taken by regulatory agencies.

This type of branding effort carries with it the “rebel” label, which has proven itself to be a very attractive label for the U.S. consumer market. Apple wielded the “rebel” brand to great positive effect. Perhaps Google is after the same territory.

But it’s very risky for early stage technology businesses, especially those running on self-financing, to challenge regulatory agencies. There are better ways to achieve a rebellious brand as a market leader than this type of effort. One last word on this topic: from what we’ve read recently, it looks as if European regulators may soon enforce privacy policies likely to substantially raise the cost of operating cloud services in an approved and legal manner.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2013 All Rights Reserved


Gauge Market Behavior to Choose Products for Development

Technology products should never be developed simply on a hunch about important problems markets need to solve. Business intelligence must be gathered from markets to support allocating any resources to build products.

I think products like Google Glass are an example of how not to develop products. Google appears to have designed this product to solve a common need for a less obtrusive method of maintaining a constant bi-directional connection to electronic communications than currently offered by smartphones, tablets and PCs. But I don’t think this need actually exists. In fact, if one reads an article authored by Matt Haber and published to The New York Times website back on Sunday, July 7, 2013, A Trip to Camp to Break a Tech Addition one gets the sense the market is waking up to the debilitating nature of constant bi-directional electronic communication. Numerous studies point to much lower levels of productivity for people who do not take breaks from work.

My conclusion also applies to a new trend in automotive features development, which is proceeding in precisely the same direction. In other words, the major automobile manufacturers are adding text to speech computing systems to vehicles. The purpose of these systems is to permit drivers and passengers to listen to email, and text messages read to them while in transit. Once again, I don’t think there is a pressing need in the market for mobile data communications for this type of device.

Interestingly enough, in both the case of Google Glass and the automotive text to speech systems, there are serious questions about whether regulatory agencies will even permit the marketing of either device. Regulatory agencies are seriously concerned about the chance for driver distraction implicit to either product. So whether market participants actively pass up on buying these products, or not, may be entirely inconsequential. Regulatory agencies may prohibit sales of these products, altogether.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2013 All Rights Reserved


On the Risks of Building Applications Entirely for Cloud Computing

As I write this post I’m traveliing to a client engagement via air, and have no access to the Internet. On a flight like this one (I’ll be aloft for 5+ hours), I can get a lot of the writing I need completed, so my attention can be fully focused on my client’s needs once I arrive at the engagement (a Developer conference). But Microsoft’s OneNote product is not helping me to get my work done.

While I’m very enthused about Microsoft’s newly reorganized business model, and the widespread use of its SharePoint collaboration/enterprise document management/Intranet computing solution, I’m not keen, at all, on OneNote. I need to mention the opinion of one of my clients, who is very enthused about the product. But my client used to be a software developer and, evidently, is more adept at making his way through the features of OneNote. On the other hand, I can’t find out how to use the product, despite watching the Office video tutorial. What’s even worse is what I take to be the contagion represented by the original Windows 8 operating system and its much publicized summary dismissal of the “Start Button”, which was no where to be found in the first version of this new O/S.

The OneNote 2013 version of this disease is a complete absence of a “Save” button. I couldn’t save my work. After all, I’m aloft with no access to the Internet. While I can be sympathetic with the Microsoft developers who, striving to build a “nothing but cloud” application, assumed users would be “always on” the Internet, or, perhaps, something else, I’ve got to say the lack of a “Save” button makes no sense at all and should be fixed right away.

When I tried to add a new notebook, the new notebook I added was somehow disconnected from my work space, so I couldn’t save my work to it. All of this is not good new. I’ll take my client’s word on the great value represented by OneNote, but I can’t personally attest to it. I simply can’t figure it out, at all.

I’m concerned with this kind of over zealous attention to a new direction, on the part of Microsoft. While the problems, with regard to OneNote may be laughable, the same approach with regards to bigger ticket products like SQL Server, SharePoint, or Lync can, inadvertently, produce a disaster. In fact, wasn’t this the problem with the original launch of Windows 8?

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2013 All Rights Reserved


Is Twitter Another Search Engine Like Google?

In this second of two posts built around an article by Alexander Eule, “How Twitter Might Actually Be Worth $31 Billion”, which was published on November 9, 2013 on barrons.com, I’ll take a closer look at one of the assumptions at the core of Eule’s argument — Twitter is competing in Google’s market.

In his article Eule states “In fact, at current prices, they assume that Twitter’s nascent Internet ad strategy will be even more effective than the groundbreaking model created by Google . . . ” I disagree. As I wrote in the prior post to this blog, Twitter is not competing in Google’s business. The public can’t find anything on Twitter. The same restrictions hold true for facebook. Without a facebook account it’s still very difficult to access content published on facebook. So Twitter is much more a competitor to facebook than it is to Google, or even to LinkedIn.

So all of the financial projections included in this article (most notable of these being the $18 Billion “operating” profit on $47 Billion in sales, presumably, for the current fiscal year, which Eule claims for Google) aren’t relevant, at least as I see it, to Twitter. Google is available to the public for unlimited viewing of content. It doesn’t have a facebook-like product, despite a lot of effort to craft Google Plus into one.

Neither do I find the products Google offers to be comparable to Twitter’s online real estate offer. Google is in an ever growing number of horizontally managed businesses. Increasingly, quarter after quarter, the real Google revenue drivers can be elusive. Are they making money from click advertising, only, or is Motorola Mobility, or Chromebook hardware contributing substantially to their bottom line? Further, if Google’s Q3 2013 Quarterly Earnings Report can provide us with useful information about the true profitability of their business, then I don’t see how Eule gets to the $18 Billion figure. GAAP net income for the quarter was $2.970 Billion, a little over 40% of Microsoft’s total ($6.4 Billion) net income for the comparable business period (Q1 FY 2014).

In my opinion Twitter, like facebook, will face some daunting challenges monetizing its precious online real estate to its real customers — the 230 million “Twitterers”. If Google is posited as being in some enviable position, I prefer the Microsoft story.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2013 All Rights Reserved