I remember using the phrase “You’re marketing 8 fingered gloves” with a client a few years ago. And without wanting to show any disrespect to those unfortunate or fortunate enough to have more than 5 digits on each hand, I think it illustrates perfectly the dilemma that some technology vendors face.
Imagine you are the VP Marketing for Octodigit Inc. – a manufacturer of 8 fingered gloves for men. Your market is pretty small. Really small in fact. Getting new customers is quite a chore and involves some incredibly detailed research, focus and a lot of leg work. However, when you find a prospect – an octodigit (or whatever the term is) male who works outside who has cold hands, he’d buy from you in a flash. You alone understand his unique problems. You have the solution (the 8 fingered glove) to his problem (cold 8 fingered hands).
But then again our friend has other possible solutions. No, there isn’t another 8 fingered glove supplier. Octodigit Inc. really can claim to be the marketing leading supplier of wool-based hand apparel for the discerning multi-digit male. However our 8 fingered friend is looking for a solution to his cold hands problem, he’s not necessarily looking for a glove. So he could consider a coat with big pockets as an alternative. And there is even the option of surgery which would fulfil a life-long dream of being able to wear five-fingered gloves like the majority of the rest of the planet. So our friends at Octodigit Inc. still have some selling to do but chances are they’ll be successful – but only once they’ve managed to find a prospect.
The original client who prompted the 8-fingered glove anecdote was marketing an object database, the target audience for which were self-selecting. They were highly technical individuals who were object software fanatics, they needed to persist objects to a store that maintained object properties and object-oriented principles and they needed to be able to carry out lightening fast searches of the resultant database. However, as is often the case, the business making the purchasing decisions behind these techies just wanted a cost effective solution to store and retrieve complex, related information. And as time went by, plain old relational databases were “good enough” for the task.
The result for my client was that once the fashion of object-orientation had passed, their sales slowed and they had to put their energies into other areas and recognise Object Databases as the 8 fingered niche they really are.
I admire focus. As an early market software vendor it takes huge courage to turn your back on other potential markets. As a result I really admire companies that have the self-control and self-confidence to stay focussed on their audience, their value proposition, their messages and their prospects. The challenge for vendors therefore is to segment the total addressable market in such a way that there is enough of an addressable audience for whom you are a perfect solution but at the same time ensuring that the market size gives enough opportunity for growth.
And remember that a coat with deep pockets is a valid solution to the problem of cold 8-fingered hands.
This topic came to mind recently when I looked at Solace Systems and 29West who each take a different approach to high performance messaging. One vendor certainly appears to be marketing a 5 fingered product that appears to a very broad audience, but the other, whilst not sporting 8 fingers per hand, certainly looks like a good 6 to me. I’ll post the details on them both soon.
Post script. I know the image has 6 fingers and not 8 but unsurprisingly since Octodigit’s sad demise finding a picture of a glove with 8 fingers has proved a little difficult. I also know that the depending on where you originate from, the thumb may not constitute a finger.