Call for a New Game Plan

Let me give you a personal example. My company is in the business of identifying and deploying systems for other companies. In the course of my work, I’m responsible for keeping abreast of the latest developments in information technology. As I help my clients set strategy and make decisions, often the task focuses on selecting an appropriate solution from a number of vendors.

Sounds simple right? I wish it were. Today, there is little value in publicly available information for business solutions. A casual examination of the top vendors in any space reveals incredible similarity in language, value proposition, and tone of marketing collateral. It’s become nearly impossible to differentiate vendors.

Conformity doesn’t stop there. Have you ever used or tested a competitive set of products? You probably found a striking alignment of features and functionality. A typical example is in the content management space, where the top three vendors have identical product specifications and feature sets.

Where has all the originality gone? What drives the uniformity of today’s tech marketing strategy?

Risk Aversion

One theory is that companies have become too risk averse in their marketing approach. The mindset is that in a tight economy, no marketing executive is willing to risk his or her reputation on a strategy that seems outside the accepted norm.

Tight markets are the perfect time to take risks. Downdrafts tend to affect every company in a space, so it’s more crucial than ever to differentiate your company from a group of competitors. Take PeopleSoft. It has been quick to promote its unique Web architecture as different than SAP, Oracle, and Siebel in the enterprise space. As a result, its performance has steadily improved over the last year.

Missing Links

Another theory behind marketing conformity is that looking like everyone else does not expose weaknesses or shortcomings of your products and services. A lot of me-too positioning is a direct result of marketers thinking their company is not part of an emerging opportunity.

As a result, many companies fail to emphasize their core strengths adequately. I’ve noticed many tech companies lose their moorings in terms of product direction because they were too busy trying to catch the next wave. Take the customer relationship management (CRM) space. Nearly every technology company claims to support some aspect of CRM. In some cases, entire positioning strategies center on CRM, al though there is only an tenuous connection to the subject.

Oil Slick Strategy

Another cause behind today’s marketing uniformity is what I call the “oil slick strategy.” That is, companies attempt to be all things to all companies in all industries. As a result, their product set has broad coverage but little depth.

This approach has a direct impact on marketing. Companies cannot afford to venture deeply into one particular category when little is invested to foster differentiation. This strategy may work for giants such as Microsoft or IBM, but it does little good for emerging companies or even category leaders.

Call for a New Game Plan

Now is the time to develop marketing strategies that combat the conformity of the tech industry. One of the root causes behind the lag in tech spending can be attributed to the failure of companies to identify unique value propositions and differentiators. To an outsider, the tech business looks a lot like the soap business. The ingredients are the same — only the packaging is unique.

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