eclipse of the Sun
last year, analysts and the stock market have discovered that they can now look
at Sun Microsystems without being dazzled by its marketing hype. When you've got
a company whose outlook has changed from being an $18 Billion revenue with
double digit growth, sliding towards a $10 Billion company with the prospect of
double digit shrinkage, and a share price which has fared worse than many of its
main competitors people are bound to ask questions. Increasingly they're getting
less impressed by the lack of vision coming out from the company.
effort to meet some of that criticism, Sun's CEO - Scott McNealy - appears to
be testing out a new positioning statement, when he was quoted in several
articles in the
News as saying "...we dominate 64-bit computing".
uses positioning statements in its ads and in its press releases. Positioning
statements are important because they give you a simple mental picture of how
the company wants to be perceived by potential customers, partners and
stakeholders. Although positioning statements are always intended by their
authors to be positive, they can, sometimes be negative. That happens when the
reader doesn't believe the statement, which then casts doubt on the brand behind
So, for example:- for many years Tatung claimed to be "the
leading SPARC compatible manufacturer". I argued with them in vain that the
claim was ridiculous, because Sun Microsystems is in fact the the leading SPARC
compatible manufacturer by a huge margin. It was interesting that Sun never
contested Tatung's widely advertised claims in the heyday of the workstation
market. Sun didn't need to. That positioning claim from Tatung cast a doubt on
everything that the company said, and Tatung has nearly disappeared from view as
an active supplier in the market.
To compound Tatung's problems, they
also came up with the statement "The Intelligent Choice in SPARC COMPuting
Solutions". I'm sure that sounds good if you're selling Tatung. But if you
were an existing Sun user, and looking at Tatung as an alternative choice, this
statement suggested that Sun was not the intelligent choice, and by inference
you were not an intelligent buyer. Well, no-one wants to buy stuff from a
company that insults them. So that wasn't such a good idea either.
back to Sun.
The classic example of a tarnished positioning statement
was Sun's "We're the dot in dotcom" - which worked fine during the
dotcom boom but which backfired when it became associated with the failures
of the dot-crash.
Since the crash, Sun has been using wording in its
news stories about market share along the lines that "Sun is the #1 Unix
server company". However, this year independent data showed that HP had in
fact overtaken Sun as the #1 Unix server company in Europe, so that became a
dodgy claim which Sun could no longer use with impunity. I wondered if Sun would
change that to "#1 Unix RISC server company" - but that's starting to
look a little bit contrived. So in the short term - it's likely you're going to
see a lot more of the "64 bit computing leader" phrase emerging in Sun
ads and press releases.
Now this question may sound silly - but why
can't Sun just say it's the leading SPARC compatible server company?
It's unfortunate that, for technical
reasons, many 32 bit computers clock about twice as fast as 64 bit processors.
Also the fastest 32 bit servers from HP, IBM, Unisys etc run many applications
much faster than Sun's 64 bit servers. That means that being the leader in 64
bit computing will not be perceived with the same rosy glow that McNealy might
wish. Changing the reality might work better than just changing the words. ...Sun Microsystems
- that claim, while true, was hijacked by Tatung and it's too late for Sun to
erase that positioning from all our brains.
- Sun underinvested in promoting the "SPARC" brand, in an effort
to kill off all its workstation rivals in the late 1990's. Choosing instead to
invest in promoting the Sun brand, SPARC became orphaned and is little known in
the wider computer market.
Footnote:- I've just finished reading "Managing
Brand Equity", a book by David A. Aaker. Although published in 1991 and
pre internet marketing, it's an excellent read and the ideas in it are just as
relevant today as when they were first written. It's being offered by Amazon at
a discount if you buy a bunch of other branding related books which is how I got
to see it.
See also:- MarketingViews
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