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March 28, 2011

Be Different

By: thejunctioncoil

The new Nokia CEO has caused an earthquake with his “leaked” letter that is now known as “Nokia, our platform is burning”. It’s been quite clear that Nokia is hurting, both market share, perception and revenue wise, and moving to Windows Phone could definitely be a short-term win. I’d argue though, that long-term this would be just another nail in the coffin for Nokia, or as their ex-head of smartphone division so eloquently put it: “some finish boys pee on themselves in the winter. it feels warm for a few minutes’.

Differentiation is the key between the successful ventures and the wanna-bes (same as in people by the way).

I’ve personally been going around this past year saying that the salvation to Nokia would be being bought out by Microsoft in a vertical integration move, where both companies work to create a truly differentiated product. In a world where Google offers a as-good, better or slightly-worse (doesn’t matter which camp you are in) operating system for free, you can’t create a new eco-system around a paid one. Your OEMs will constantly think they can have a better margin using that “other OS”.

In an extremely noisy marketing, branding and consumer-oriented world, the question is how do you rise above the noise?

When we founded Aternity, we had to decide how we are going to monitor the activities performed by the user, whether use an agent running on the machine where the user is using the apps or deploy to a network sniffer located at the datacenter where the apps are running. We went ahead and spent our hard cash on doing market research to answer the question “is installing an agent on every user machine okay?”; in retrospect, I’m not sure why we did that, and whether that’s ever helpful, but we did. Of course, the research said that this is no problem what-so-ever with installing software on each of the end-user machines. Fast forward some 2 years later, and we were in sales cycle hell. A typical sales call looked something like:

  • Explain the problem [5 mins, totally understood, they are hurting daily]
  • Explain our solution. It has great (the best) analytics, deepest support for protocols & applications, and yet - ”Oh wait – is this an agent-based solution?” – apologize for our agent [~ 1 hour]
  • Explain benefits [the customer wasn't really listening at that point]
  • Get ~ 25% “call-back” rate

That’s not really a scalable business model. Sometime around that period, we brought in a professional CEO to Aternity: Trevor Matz. He’s an absolute rockstar, whose one of the first calls for action was bringing in a marketing strategy consultant.  I was quite skeptical about this whole move. How could marketing help? After working a couple of days, the feedback was something like: ”so, where is your user?” – “on the end point” – “where is the best place to monitor the user?” – “the endpoint” – “so the best way to monitor the user is by putting an agent on the end-point, no?”.

This wasn’t marketing, it was common sense, something we apparently lacked. But the more important thing was that we were the only ones that actually did that in the marketplace. This made us different. Different made it so that if we explained the above to the customer, the rules of the game were changed so that when they compare products, NOT being on the end point would be considered bad for our competition. Eureka.

If it wasn’t clear, I can’t claim we did anything incredibly smart intentionally (this same technical difference allows us to monitor many more apps than any of our competitors too, making this an even bigger advantage), but luck does count. More about that in a future post. in my mind, much of life is about creating the opportunities to take advantage of luck.

In the non enterprise world, the question is different but very related: “what would make me tell my friend about this pure awesomeness?”. Hint: it’s not going to be about it being better than something. That’s simply not a thing that sticks onto memory. I don’t remember the number of times I told friends and would-be-buyers about the magnetic power supply cord of the MacBook; it’s just a wonderful “be different” design ah-ha moment.

Foursquare is another example. Location-based-services have been around for who knows how long, with very little success. Being a lurker of coffeeshops that I am, I have heard people explain what it is many times. In almost all cases conversations that start with: “it’s a software that allows you to check-into places” go no-where in converting the other person. When the conversation goes towards the badges & mayorship, though, you see the spark at people’s eyes and the subsequent market download. Yes, of course, you could attribute it to the competitive nature of the gameplay, but my point is that the user wouldn’t have gotten there without it being, well, different.

So, “what’s in it for me?”, you ask. The first and foremost point is that you need to product design to be different, and if you weren’t able to product manage to it, at least market to it. It will create the opportunity for people to want to know you, remember you and hopefully talk about you. In a world where word-of-mouth is the most (only?) effective marketing medium, this is huge.

(thank you @yanivg, @birsch, @yaronsamid, @rongura, @mporat, @amitos for reviewing my drafts!)

4 Comments

  1. Micha

    28/03/2011

    I really enjoyed reading the post.

    For more on how android changed the mobile eco-system by providing handset makers with a free OS – there is a great post by Bill Gurely – http://bit.ly/ftohuU

  2. Arie Shpanya

    28/03/2011

    Great post.
    Thanks for reminding something that we all sometimes tend to forget in this constant mouse racing

  3. Zvi

    29/03/2011

    Your marketing consultant seems to be familiar with TRIZ/TIPS [1] or similar methodology.
    It works by contradiction: take your most biggest disadvantage and turn it to be your biggest advantage.

    [1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TRIZ

  4. eden

    29/03/2011

    Micha, Arie – thanks!

    Zvi, interesting perspective. I know TRIZ as an (very interesting) invention framework but wasn’t aware of use in other contexts.

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