Momentum is fleeting

Vendor Score
IBM 105
HP 85
Sun 80

Momentum is a dangerous drug.  Like any narcotic, it distorts one’s perception and leads to poor decision making.

(Yes, I’m getting ready once again to pony whip Sun Micro)

Not long ago, the good folks at Gabriel Consulting Group surveyed 197 corporate UNIX customers to determine their perception about the Big Three UNIX vendors – IBM, HP and Sun.  IBM came out on top, Sun came out on bottom, and this echoes a change in fortunes for UNIX server shipments.  GCG asked IT buyers about their experiences with and perceptions of the major system vendors, and polled on a range of topics including:

  • Raw Performance
  • Processor Performance
  • Observed Performance
  • Operating System Features
  • Operating System Quality
  • System Management Suite
  • Partitioning/Virtualization Suite
  • RAS Features
  • Overall Technology
  • Technology Futures

In the Roaring 90’s Sun might have well outscored the others, but today sits on the bottom of the list.  This is truly amazing given HP’s internal struggles through the Carley years, the Itanium debacle, their seeming lack of market navigation, and HP’s perennial inability to effectively market IT wares.  You have to screw-up bad for HP to outsell you.

This is why momentum is a two edged sword.  Momentum is great in creating a brand image of strength.  People side with winners, and this includes technology buyers.  For example, most techies will happily admit that SuSE Linux works better out of the box and provides IT less grief than Red Hat.  But Red Hat gets most of the sales in part because they are perceived as the market winner.

But momentum can blind a company to changes in the market, and changes in customer perception.  Momentum can be attributed to many things, but rarely is it attributed to permanent market preference.  Brand preference is built on customer loyalty, which is created through much more than just products.

Brand preference becomes more critical as your market becomes more commoditized.  When the differences between your products and those offered by competitors are minimal, customer loyalty and brand preference will determine who wins the sale.  Sun was the "dot in dot-com", and later was the "dot in the dot-bomb."  They sold well into an explosive market when times were fast and money flowed like liquor at a congressional caucus.  But without building underlying brand loyalty, those sales vanished when times got tougher, money became scarcer, and new alternatives became available.

I asked a few random techies what they thought IBM, HP and Sun stood for as technology companies.  Many thought IBM was their business partner.  HP loyalist claimed HP simply had the best engineering.  But none of this handful of techies could describe what Sun Micro was or why they were different or important.

If you don’t create your brand, the market will assign one to you.  And if they don’t bother to assign you one, then you have no brand value what so ever.  And that is the beginning of negative momentum – the grand slide toward oblivion.


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