Tuesday Jul 17, 2007

Coca-Cola Breakfast Beverage Suite, Citrus Edition

A Minute Maid Juice Carton, with name changed to "Coca-Cola Breakfast Beverage"

Imagine that Coca-Cola followed the tech industry's lead for product naming. Since they bought Minute Maid in 1960, you could have ended up drinking out of this thing each morning.

Tech companies love to mash a bunch of stuff together under a top-level brand and then slice things up with sub-naming, suites, and special editions. Here at Sun, this approach has has given us product names like:

The argument for this approach goes something like this:

  • It concentrates our efforts on building the strength of a few key brands (such as Java and Sun).
  • It yields descriptive names which people are likely to understand from the first time they're heard.

Even if we concede these points, I would argue that they're far out-weighed by negatives:

  • The names are too long.
    • There is a reason that "Beautiful Child, Genius Edition" never makes the list of popular baby names. Parents may think it perfectly describes their child, but they're still pragmatic enough to realize that it won't fly as a name. People just don't talk that way. They don't even write that way. So if someone does mention one of these products, chances are they'll do so using their own incorrect abbreviation or permutation of its proper name. Every time that happens, we miss an opportunity for real brand reinforcement. And with today's search-driven information access, it also makes it hard to learn about the products. (Do I Google for "Access Manager" or "Sun Java System Access Manager" or "SJSAM" or "OpenSSO" or ...?)
  • They're stretching to tie products to a top-level brand where there is little natural connection.
    • What's so Java-ish about the Sun Java Desktop System? The windowing environment certainly isn't written in Java. The majority of the apps you'll use in it aren't written in Java. Java is a great brand which represents great technology, but is it really applicable here? Or are we doing the equivalent of slapping a soda brand onto a juice carton?

Of course, not all tech products follow this pattern. Open Source software projects and Web 2.0 service offerings tend to use names composed of just one or two unique words (often inventing new words or spellings in the process). And Ina Fried of CNET reports that even Microsoft is rethinking their naming strategy. The company has already simplified the name of one major new offering (from "Windows Presentation Foundation/Everywhere" to "Silverlight"). And they have a team working to reeducate the entire company on branding. Among that team's favorite tools is a poster they're plastering around Microsoft's buildings. It shows a box of Band-Aids and the caption: "You wouldn't call it Wound Healer 2.0."

Hmm... Wonder if they printed any extras.

Tuesday Mar 20, 2007

I'm a Mac. I'm a PC. And I'm Linux.

There's no denying the brilliance of Apple's "I'm a Mac ... and I'm a PC" commercials. Ted Haeger does a nice job of explaining how they put the Mac in the best possible light by playing off of our existing perceptions, "framing" the conversation in favorable either-or terms, and by just being funny and clever. Whether you like the product or not, you've got to appreciate its marketing.

Ted goes on to look at attempts to redirect the popularity and momentum of the ads, such as with spoofs inserting a Linux character. As he notes, these probably haven't done a very good job of making Linux look its best.

(Though in all fairness, I think the above was clearly intended just to be funny--not as an attempt to mold Linux's public image.)

Ted's clearly an optimist, though, and has set out to create his own spoofs which do make Linux look good. He describes in great detail how he and others at Novell tried to break the "either-or" framing of Apple's original commercials with a spoof casting Linux as a sexy female (though not too sexy--see his blog for the full reasoning).

The results are interesting, as is Ted's description of the thought process behind them. But I walked away thinking about one detail he didn't address. This was the work of Novell? As in the company which is well on its way to destroying any credibility it may have once had with the Linux community?

I could be wrong, but... Don't they have more immediate concerns than trying to sell Linux to the masses?

Friday Feb 02, 2007

Sun: Your Stealth PR Firm

In Chapter 4 of Naked Conversations (which many would call the "Bible" of corporate blogging), Robert Scoble and Shel Israel call Sun "the bloggingest of companies." True, they wrote that a couple of years ago--but since the number of Sun bloggers has trippled since then, it's probably safe to assume that the label still fits.

Cool. But what can it do for you? There is, of course, the obvious benefit of reading the blogs. Whether you're wondering how our kernel geeks plan to top Solaris 10 or how one of our accountants' kids did in a dance recital, we've got a blog for you (if not ten of them).

But I think there is also a less obvious benefit. If you're smart, we'll even do your PR work for you--free. Just tell us how you're using one of our products, and one of us (if not ten of us) is bound to blog about it. Even if you could find a PR firm with 3,000 agents (and counting), they certainly wouldn't beat our price. And if you believe in the "new media" ideas being advocated in works such as Naked Conversations, you know that the right blogging really can trump traditional marketing.

So if you're comparing technologies, don't forget to include the "free marketing" benefit in your list of pros and cons. The technology comes first, of course. But in the case of a tie, why not go with the company that can handle your technology and PR needs?

For an example of this kind of blogging, see our new Stories blog, where we profile users of GlassFish and related technologies. We think it's a win/win situation, with positive exposure for everyone involved: Sun, the GlassFish community, and the profiled users. It's nice when interests align, isn't it?

Friday Jan 19, 2007

Where to find affinity badges?

Is there some centralized source for affinity badges?

Jonathan has a few nice ones on his blog:

Download Java Download Netbeans Download Solaris

And Deepak has a nice tutorial on using affinity badges, providing these examples:

I like that each set has a consistent style (with complementary dimensions, colors, and fonts to the degree possible). So back to my original question... Is there some centralized source for finding such sets? A "badge directory" of sorts for Sun-related projects (or beyond)?

Saturday Dec 30, 2006

Bribery 2.0

A lot of people are talking about Microsoft's recent giveaway of fancy new laptops (preloaded with Windows Vista) to influential bloggers. Some are calling it a terrible breach of ethics by both Microsoft and any accepting bloggers. I don't agree. Instead, I think Robert Scoble's take is right on. In short, he says that Microsoft is smart to try to get bloggers talking about its product, and that bloggers can ethically choose to accept such an offer so long as they disclose it in their writing. Sounds right to me.

That does not mean, however, that Microsoft couldn't do a better job of executing on its intentions. For a model, I would recommend Sun's "Try and Buy" program. (Yes, Sun is my employer and that makes me biased--but it doesn't necessarily make me wrong.) This program allows anyone to receive a variety of Sun hardware products for a free 60-day evaluation. Sun even pays the shipping costs in both directions.

Now obviously these are different programs. But at their core, I think both are forms of loss leaders intended to help products gain increased exposure (and, the companies hope, subsequent increased sales). Where I think Sun gains the high ground is with its true grass-roots approach. Participants don't have to be on any special prescreened list. Some will turn out to be IT pros with big budgets, some will turn out to be bloggers with large audiences, and some will turn out to be friendless and living in their mom's basement.

That's okay. I would argue that it's better to be too broad with special treatment than to narrow; better to give everyone access and rely on probability to catch the movers and shakers than to try to identify them up front. I'm not sure what to call it. Maybe it's the difference between a shotgun and a sniper rifle. Maybe it's the difference between top-down and bottom-up thinking. Or maybe it's just better use of new media concepts in product marketing.

Whatever it's called, I think Sun's approach has more "get it" factor than Microsoft's. Like open source ideas are doing for software and Web 2.0 ideas are doing for content, this kind of modern marketing should be about enabling a bubble-up meritocracy. No one can guarantee ahead of time who the key influencers will be for a particular product. So the best thing a vendor can do is to improve access for everyone and then let the market of ideas do the rest.

Again, I'm not suggesting that Microsoft (or anyone else) is wrong to provide special access for targeted influencers. I just think it's better to start by providing open access for all and treating targeted add-ons as an afterthought than to do things the other way around.

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