How Are You the Firefox of Your Market?

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Some of you might recall that last week I was encouraging open source projects to be more like Apache; but as their CMO Susan points out, ActiveGrid apparently has gone ahead and chosen exactly the opposite. Chastened and humbled by this setback ;), I’ll turn instead to another piece of advice I’ve been doling out in increasing volume over the past couple of weeks to projects of all shapes and sizes: Be (More) Like Firefox.

It’s an example I like to use not just because of the 100M downloads, or the fact that Google is apparently paying $1 for Firefox referrals, but because it’s something even regular people can understand. The importance of the last point varies, but as I was discussing with one customer just last week, if you’re trying to sell business people on the values of SOA, you could pick a worse example than Firefox.

What do I mean by that? Well, let’s take an example, say, the marketing and selling of a platform for business services – an SOA platform, in other words. You, as a salesperson, have two options:

  • Option A: You walk in, and explain first what a service is, then how they’re assembled in a services oriented architecture, then what the benefits are in terms of time to value, component reuse, reduced development of redundant code, etc. For the technical folks, you’ve sold them on something they’re already likely to be open to. As I put it in a deck from last week: “you had IT at hello.” For the business folks, however, you may want to have some smelling salts on hand to wake them up. And good luck getting budget.
  • Option B: You walk in and ask if any of the folks are familiar with Firefox. Receiving enough answers in the affirmative (as I do with just about every audience I speak with, technical or otherwise), you say, great. What we’re delivering is the Firefox of business platforms: lightweight, focused on delivering high performance on a set of core features rather than delivering every feature under the sun, with an architecture designed to be built on and extended in a thousand different ways.

Is it a model that’s perfect for every product out there? No. But if you harbor platform ambitions, Firefox is probably one of the most popular platforms going at the moment so comparing yourself to it probably can’t hurt.

When I talk to people about this, I usually get one of two reactions: oh, that’s a great idea, or generalized discomfort from marketers reluctant to describe their terribly unique product or service in the context of other, often competitive, products. As understandable as that may be, I’m generally a bit more pragmatic: if product comparisons are the shortcut to customer comprehension – particularly of complex, difficult to describe products, I’m all for it. But perhaps that’s why I’m not in marketing.

In any event, I encourage all of you out there building platforms to consider describing your products in terms regular people – not analysts, not geeks – can understand. Whether that’s Firefox or not is up to you, but remember the old adage: he who educates best, wins.

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