March 29, 2007

YouTube, VIPs, and System i

Today there is a bewildering array of individual and community driven communications means that less than a decade ago simply did not exist. Blogs, Podcasts, and YouTube, are becoming very accepted, dare I say, a conventional if not expected means of getting the message out. While much of this content started as personal diatribes (blogs) being released to anyone willing to get online and view the web page, the next stage of content, i.e. Podcasts (take the content and listen later) and now YouTube (view the video now or later) has definitely caught the attention of mainstream content providers. In particular, media interests, especially those with a position to spin, or a product/service to sell, have begun to embrace these communication channels as another way to reach their various audiences and their pocketbooks. At the same time, each of these content providers, are seeking to make their constituencies feel special, part of the greater community, VIPs if you will, so that they will bond with the underlying message and become proactive supporters of the cause.

As new as these approaches may seem, they are addressing an age-old issue, i.e. how to get the message out to one’s audience and influence their actions. In IT marketing, this quandary is the focus of so much marketing attention, especially when it comes to business partners. With reported growth in the number of SMBs and their purchasing power continuing to outstrip the growth of the larger enterprise, vendors are increasingly reliant upon their indirect channels to reach a larger proportion of the business opportunity. At the same time, the number of ways in which to reach the audience is growing, and there is no longer an automatic acceptance that the only and best information comes directly from vendors, Further, user communities are becoming more differentiated along verticals, geographies, IT expertise, and behavioral demographics. So what is a vendor to do? Focus on the past, present, or future? I would argue in many cases, all of the above.

I’ll be upfront, I like the IBM System i. Yet its legacy, and for many, an outdated perception of it in the marketplace, at times limit its potential community of users. However, we have seem much change about the System i, and recently have witnessed an interesting confluence of marketing and positioning that reaches back into the platform’s legacy while at the same time pursuing new audiences, through new communication channels.

The recently launched Vertical Industry Program, aka VIP, has targeted the traditional heart of System i’s success, i.e. being the integrated platform for industry applications. The last few years have offered ISVs many alternative platforms upon which to ply their wares, be they Linux, Windows, or Open Source technologies. For some the value prop of System i may have become overlooked. Refocusing on a core market is a generally a good idea, and the support of 3400+ revitalized System i applications is testimony to the opportunity. But something that is different this time is the micro focus of VIP.

Rather than targeting a few broad verticals, VIP is focused on 80+ micro-verticals, such as travel and entertainment subsets like as gaming table or restaurant management, or manufacturing sub segments such as after-market auto parts, or labor union pension funds. While VIP has the expected partner program features such as co-marketing, technology assistance, and so forth, ultimately I think the narrower focus of targeted solutions may prove to be the success driver. Through close targeting, the channel partner as well as their customers individually become more important and may once again think of themselves as VIPs as opposed to just one of many vying for attention. With the proliferation of formal and ad hoc user communities, the feeling of importance imparted by a vendor to its partners and their customers cannot be underestimated as it is a powerful viral marketing tool.

With an eye towards capturing the attention of new users, consisting of demographically younger, Windows-centric, or Web-savvy citizens, System i has posted some videos, “IT Revenge” v1.1 - v1.4, on YouTube that tap into many of the common frustrations of SMB server administrators. While smashing a server suspended as a piƱata with a baseball bat may not seem very business like, the reality is this taps into that visceral feeling many server administrators have experienced when dealing with server sprawl, and sets the tone that System i, might be a bit different. Add to this the “i want control” advertising campaign, the iSociety online community, and The Truth web site, and you have a collection of marketing and influencing platforms that reach far beyond the traditional IT education channels. Place a seed and watch it grow might be the adage, but it is a good one, especially if the seed is planted in soil that has never before grown the new crop.

I find it ironic that the classic value of the System i, load the app, fire it up, watch it run, and then leave it alone, is so contemporary. It all gets back to why organizations deploy computers and applications in the first place. It is not about perfecting the black arts of operating and maintaining a fleet of disparate computing resources, it’s about getting business done as competitively as possible. This is as true for business partners as end user organizations. By focusing on both constituencies’ needs, IBM can help each feel like they are VIPs, and garner positive viral marketing in numerous end user communities. Getting a closer view and understanding of the customer and partner is always essential to this end. By combining more traditional approaches like the VIP program, and blogs, YouTube, and user communities, IBM is seeking to widen its marketing net, while at the same time making each of its constituencies feel unique and special. This integrated combination of old and new style marketing may be reflective of the System i, itself – a platform with a heritage of integrated simplicity and ease of use whose potential is relevant today in more scenarios than ever.

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