Monday, August 29, 2011

HP Gets Ugly ; What I would do as CEO

In the past two weeks, the business press has recently been busy excoriating HP CEO Leo Apothekar, for a series of earnings shortfalls, downgrades, communications missteps, and a confused strategy (for example here’s the New York Times’ take on it).
Mr. Apotheker certainly deserves to be pilloried, but recall that he did not take over in the best of circumstances. As far as Mr. Hurd’s tenure, he deserves a lot of credit for running a tight financial ship, but was not successful in innovating.  Being able to manage operations and generate profitability in the PC business is commendable, but it’s very difficult to create any sticky value when you’re building commodity PCs with someone else’s chipset, running someone else’s operating system. 

When Mr. Apothekar took over as CEO, it seems that he and his management team lost the operational discipline that Mr. Hurd had brought, which showed in decreased margins, market share, and profitability. In addition, Mr. Apothekar has so far failed to properly inspire and provide a compelling vision for HP’s deep pool of extremely talented people.  For example, look at its misguided TouchPad product, which had no well-defined purpose, and was doomed before it started. Was this truly targeted at consumers? If so, did HP really think that it could possibly be successful without at least a minimal ecosystem of applications?  Such a decision makes no sense!
But let’s try to look forward for HP – it seems clear to me what HP needs to do, to maximize its opportunities, given the many constraints of its corporate software landscape.  Specifically, HP has no dominant position from which it's feasible to leverage itself – it’s not a dominant OS vendor, it’s not a dominant chip manufacturer, it’s not a leading mobile vendor, it doesn’t have platform middleware, and it doesn’t have business applications.  That’s 5 strikes against it, and makes it very difficult for HP to compete against (respectively) Microsoft, Intel,  Apple (etc), Oracle, and SAP.  [The only 2 exceptions to this are its strong printer business (which are difficult to leverage), and its up-and-coming networking business where it’s competing against Cisco and Juniper].

Having said that, HP still has a broad set of strong IT operations-focused products which can and should be leveraged – including their PC line.  These are the strengths that I would leverage as CEO – rather than looking at the portfolio as a set of independent products, I would set a mandate that HP’s business products need to work better together than separately – that by engineering servers, PCs, system management software, and even networking gear to connect, share information, and cooperate, HP’s customers would benefit from owning an ecosystem of HP products.

For example, HP has a very strategic relationship with Microsoft. Why not leverage this to create an HP-specific version of Windows, which leverages some HP-specific hardware aspects to improve the PC’s manageability, security, or reliability? Why not have their servers be automatically part of HP’s excellent server management software, to eliminate manual tasks and improve IT efficiency?  Sure, this requires engineering work and coordination across divisions, but that’s OK – it adds tremendous value, and will help differentiate HP, and thus increase the value of their products to customers. This will, in turn, increase the price that customers are willing to pay for their products.
Wow, this has been a long posting, but worked up some steam writing this. I worked for HP a few years ago, and I know of the strengths that they have. It really makes me sad to see such potential going to waste.  Mr. Apotheker, get focused – you can do better!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Hurricane Irene and Marketing

Those of us living in the Northeast US and New England are bracing for this weekend’s onslaught from Hurricane Irene. Between cleaning my gutters, recharging the household lantern, and putting away the kids’ yard toys (to prevent them from turning into lethal projectiles), I’ve been tracking the storm on the excellent website.  As you may recall, the Times recently shifted to a digital subscription model, providing everyone with 20 articles free per month, after which paid access is required.

Looking through the hurricane coverage, I noticed today that the websites states “During this emergency, The New York Times is providing unlimited free access to storm coverage on and its mobile apps”.  This policy decision is a testament to both the central role that the web now plays in our lives, as well as the ongoing importance of the media  in their classic role of good journalism -- (performing primary research, as well as capturing official information), and distilling and packaging so that it has maximum relevance and impact for their target audience.   Think about this – how wonderful it is to have dedicated, intelligent people focused on pulling together raw information from city, state, and federal government agencies, weather forecasts, and local businesses, and presenting it to us in a single place, in a readable and engaging format. (Can you tell that I’m a fan?)

In addition, this decision also great marketing – reinforcing the New York Times brand as a trusted provider of valued information – while simultaneously providing a public service in a time of crisis for the region.

So, how is this relevant to us in the enterprise software space, or (more broadly) those of us marketing and selling to businesses?  We need to be very careful not to fall for the First Fallacy of B2B Marketing** – believing that B2C approaches, principles, and metrics apply to us. Very often, they don’t!

For me, as an enterprise software marketer, the lesson is not to be afraid of giving things away.  When we have an audience, a customer base, or an ecosystem, it’s often better to err on the side of freely providing more information, rather than trying to charge for everything.  What do you think? What are you charging for today (or hiding behind registration) that might be more valuable if freely available?

** More (much more) on this topic in future postings.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Why I Write Anonymously

For a lot a reasons, most of which will be readily apparent to regular readers of this blog. For those of you new to Marketing (Analyzed), or those who perhaps have not yet had their second cup of coffee, I’ll spell them out here:
  • First and foremost, this gives me the opportunity to be critical, and brutally honest in my writing and thinking.  Part of my marketing responsibility is to contribute most/all of the content for our official corporate blog, and I often have to rein myself in while writing it
  • Second, and somewhat ironically, it actually allows me to reflect upon my professional experiences more transparently than if I wrote under my own name.  I will, however, respect the privacy of those with whom I interact – for example, I might talk about an interaction with “a large banking firm”, but wouldn’t identify them
  • Third, writing  anonymously gives me much greater freedom to talk about my own approaches, failures, and mistakes than I could otherwise.  Without this shield, I’d be unable to be self-critical, or critical of my employer – the things I write about could well be used as ammunition by competing firms
  • Finally…it’s more fun!  I can take greater writing risks, toss in occasional profanity, and be as silly as I happen to feel

Friday, August 5, 2011

Welcome to Marketing (Analyzed)

Thanks for deciding to join me on this journey, as together we explore, analyze, and learn about enterprise software marketing.  I hope to be able to provide some interesting (and occasionally insightful) commentary, spark a few conversations, and have some fun along the way.  This is not intended to be a monologue! Please feel free to comment, suggest, and constructively criticize. I’ll even accept guest writers.  Complaints are not tolerated, and persistent whingers will be blocked.