Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Enterprise marketing and Web 2.0

I came across this little gem of a print add on the back of the latest Economist magazine (pretty much the only off-line publication I read these days). It's a comparison of Oracle and SAP numbers for last quarter (despite the fine print saying that the numbers are actually from two different quarters). Oracle is obviously doing something better than SAP. That something is 'applications growth' - which sounds like its applications grow better (maybe they're fitter?).

It's complete drivel of course. It's a comparison of growth rates with no indication of market share for context so you have no idea who is actually performing better. It's a hell of a lot harder to grow if you are the dominant player.

What's really interesting though is the strategy behind it. This is a 'Leadership' strategy. Oracle is trying to convince potential customers of their leadership: that they are a viable choice; that they are beating out the competition; that they are doing this consistently. It's all about being the biggest, best, cutting edge, most innovative, etc, etc.

This strategy is repeated for almost every large enterprise software company and many banks, consultancies and financial institutions. There are slight variations on it of course: Royal Bank of Scotland talks about 'making it happen' rather than 'words'; EDS 'gets things done'. But by and large, it's all the same positioning. The term 'Thought Leadership' is a byproduct - the notion that in certain industries, you should be looking for companies with 'thought leaders' (people who push the intellectual boundaries of their discipline).

But how does this strategy play out in a Web 2.0 world where collaboration, collective intelligence, factual scrutiny, two-way conversations and openness are the new rules? Does Web 2.0 level the intellectual playing field? I think it does. You're just as likely to find consultants and industry 'thought leaders' blogging these days. And their facts being questioned. Which is a good thing. Too many of these pundits lived in rarefied air for too long. Writing undisputed and unchecked white papers. The white paper is like the anti-blog - a typically biased opinion piece filled with selective and dubious facts enshrined for all eternity as a pdf with no way of commenting on or questioning the numbers or argument.

Which brings us back to the print ad at the top of this post. One of the most unabashed, arrogant attempts to position a company as a leader I think I have ever seen. And it's like the white paper - unaccountable because it's not a conversation. Unaccountable to its statement, to its facts, to its implications. If the bar for this ad had been 'would I put this in a blog post and let people comment on it', it would never have seen the light of day.

I don't think the notion of being a 'leader' or 'thought leader' is incompatible with the 2.0 world, but the substance of strategy is very different to what it was 20 years ago. Companies like Oracle haven't grasped this if this ad is anything to go by. Enterprise software in general I think is going to struggle.

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1 comment:

CK said...

"I don't think the notion of being a 'leader' or 'thought leader' is incompatible with the 2.0 world, but the substance of strategy is very different to what it was 20 years ago."

I think that thought leaders will shine in 2.0. They'll freely contribute their thoughts and encourage others to build upon them.

But...most will worry this is threatening. Not at all the case. Entire communities can be built around thought leadership. This is a very interesting area/arena for me as I do a lot of this in my client work and I see it as a boon, not a risk.