I don’t think it’s just a Utah phenomenon, I think it has more to do with the mindset of many engineering types. The mindset is “a good product sells itself.” Reality is slightly different. Cases in point Novell vs. Microsoft, Betamax vs. VHS, and Apple vs. the PC. Two examples of situations where the better product failed, at least in part, because of marketing, or lack thereof.
In the late 90’s Novell had Netware, and Microsoft had Windows NT (the “NT” stands for “New Technology”). Each piece of software was intended to allows businesses to create local area networks (LANs) and manage computers, printers, servers, and other network-connected devices.
Although Microsoft’s tagline during their recent lawsuit has been “freedom to innovate” it’s doubtful whether Microsoft has ever been truly innovational. Microsoft typically buys or borrows (some would say “steals”) other ideas and then releases them as their own product. As far as I can tell, Windows NT was Microsoft’s lame attempt at ripping off Netware. The problem was not that NT was better than Netware–any tech guy knew Netware was a lot better–the problem was that Microsoft did a pretty good job of convincing people that despite NT’s shortcomings, it was good enough, and it was cheaper.
There is absolutely no doubt Novell had a better product, and yet today Microsoft is what it is, and Novell, while still a decent-sized company compared to many companies, has come nowhere close to being as successful as Microsoft, when indeed, they should have.
The differences that made Microsoft great and Novell so-so have to do with more than just marketing, but there’s no doubt marketing has played a big hand in it.
Novell’s message during the late 90’s was “we have the best product.” Microsoft’s was “our product costs less, is easy to use, and is good enough even if it doesn’t have all the features Netware does.”
That message from Microsoft, combined with what I’ve heard was a simpler licensing process, more customer-friendly service, and lots of advertising to get the message out is what, I am convinced, made Bill Gates the richest man in the world, while Novell’s execs are merely the richest men in Utah. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but wouldn’t it be great for Utah if Novell was a $100B company instead of a $1B company, and had 50-100 times the employment capacity it has today?
Since I run a marketing firm myself that likes to pick up business from Novell, I can tell you I wish Novell were a bigger company so there was more business to pick up.
The fact of the matter is that good marketing will triumph over a good product any day. In this world, perception is reality. If you can convince a customer through messaging, advertising, design, etc. that a product is better, then whether or not the product is really better doesn’t matter. All that matters is whether the customer thinks it is or not.
Update 24 Dec 2013: I wrote this almost 10 years ago. The players have changed, but does the principle still hold true? I think for the most part it does, except that the matter is a bit more complex than merely good tech vs. good marketing. There are strategic partnerships, government intervention, and Clayton Christensen’s theory of how modularity always beats integrated solutions. There’s more to it, unless you throw in the caveat “all other things being equal.”Liked it? Share it!