A History Lesson
Continuing on from this blog entry, I’ve decided to create another mini series of blogs, this time looking at the difficulty of differentiation in markets where software standards have created homogeneity amongst the offerings of the protagonists.
So first a little bit of a history lesson…
I surfed the wave of middleware resurgence in the early stages of the new millennium and had great success marketing various technologies. Initially, working with some of the best people in the industry, I introduced SonicMQ to the world while at Sonic Software (now Progress Software). This was a market proposition that was heavily based on standards. Well at least we made sure that the debate was about standards – JMS in this case. My ex-colleague Dave Chappell was talking to developers all over the world and writing books that led the debate on JMS and other standards. We de-positioned the competition as being complex and proprietary and we enjoyed great success. Obviously the competition reacted by introducing their own JMS-based products, a move which we expected but by then Sonic had introduced the Enterprise Service Bus (ESB) and had moved the debate on to standards that enabled a service oriented architecture (SOA).
All the while I was creating marketing programs that stressed Sonic’s commitment to standards and, by implication, I was de-positioning other vendors’ technologies as being the Devil’s spawn due to their reliance on proprietary features. “How,” we asked “would organisations ensure interoperability between their, and their trading partners’ infrastructures if they didn’t conform to the emerging standards?”
Sonic enjoyed great early market success with this strategy as did the other vendors in the JMS and related markets such as Fiorano, Cape Clear, PolarLake, et al. These vendors punched above their weight and went into battle and won against some of the industry’s heavyweights. All of this was made possible by their commitment to standards. These companies existed because a) standards made it easier for them to build software and b) customers wanted to move away from vendors’ costly and proprietary solutions and ran with open arms to this new breed of standards-based middleware.
For a while the old school vendors held out. Claiming that their incredibly feature-rich offerings justified their proprietary methods and high price tags because they could do more “stuff”. But the slow move towards standards gathered pace and eventually turned into an avalanche as, helped by maturing software standards, first the least established proprietary vendors and then latterly the market leading EAI vendors validated the market by introducing their own standards-based products. Sonic had won the battle.
But then the problems became obvious. When your product is based around freely available specifications and built with the help of common libraries that are available to others, how can you differentiate when your competitors are using the same specifications and standards? If the software must conform to these standards, differentiation, at least at the product level, becomes a challenge.
Obviously not all animals are equal so some degree of difference exist between standards-based products. During customer evaluations these come to the surface. In fact in the sales situation where prospects can be engaged in detailed discussions about a technology and the company that is behind it, it’s actually not too difficult to draw distinctions between different approaches. But within the marketing organisation, where we’re tasked with creating a credible, unique space in our prospects’ minds by placing 130 words on a web site, how can you do this?
It’s not easy and there are no hard and fast rules or guarantees but I’ll take look at some of the techniques that can be used to achieve this in upcoming blogs.