How to Read Marketing Material

Author: John Honovich, Published on May 28, 2008

Almost all IP video info is vendor marketing. Good decision making requires critically reading and analyzing this material.

At first, I did not believe that most information was vendor marketing material. Obviously, web sites and press releases are marketing materials but you also have articles and reports from magazines. However, almost every article I find across a dozen magazines is written by a vendor (usually the head of marketing). Moreover, most of those articles are clearly promotion pieces for the vendor's offerings. They argue the merits of the trends behind their company's offerings with minimal attention or fair treatment of opposing views. Even news reports are routinely copies or excerpts of press releases.

As such, you really need to be careful and cognizant of the motivation and structure of the information you are reading. I have had to re-train myself to be more critical of what I read as I realize how consistently this is an issue. If you want to make good decisions and quickly discern what is the true value of what you are reading, I encourage you try the techniques I share here.

At the same time, I am hoping vendor's consider modifying their marketing materials. As I will discuss throughout, in the long run, I believe all parties will benefit from clearer communication.

Here are my key recommendations for reading marketing material:

  • Determine how well the offering works
  • Determine what benefits the offering provides over the next best alternative
  • Determine what the cost of the offering is

How well it works

Marketing material routinely speak in glowing terms of what their offering does. This is great for establishing the conceptual potential of a product, which is a necessary element of communicating value. It sets the stage for what is fundamentally different and what customers might expect to gain from the offering.

The problem is that it is so vague that it is impossible for readers to determine how well it fits for their environment. Most importantly, very rarely does the material discuss how well the offering works or how well it might work in different applications. I have seen this happen for 2 reasons: (1) the vendor is not sure which segment the product is a fit or (2) the vendor wants to launch the widest possible net and not lose any prospects. In either scenario, it becomes very hard for a reader to make a realistic determination of the fit for their needs.

I do not think this is ultimately beneficial for any of the parties. The vendor might get a short term win by an immediate sale. However, even for the vendor, it still could be a problem. If the deployment goes poorly (and often does if the fit is poor), the chances for repeat business and referrals is low. Essentially it becomes a very high cost sale that does not grow the long term market.

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As a reader, you need to clearly ask yourself how well this offering will work. Consider what operational or environmental issues may undermine the project. Since it is unlikely you will get a clear and fair assessment from a vendor, you need to do this yourself to make good decisions.

The next best alternative

Most marketing material gloss over the benefits of your existing systems or processes. For instance, NVR vendors routinely claim benefits that any low end DVR can deliver. Megapixel vendors make assumptions about camera deployments that you would almost never use in deployment. Essentially, the comparisons are skewed to maximize the positive positioning of their products. (Note: this is not unique to any product category, NVRs and megapixel cameras are simply two of the big products of the day).

This causes confusion about the specific differentiators of the product offering. Truly innovative aspects can be lost in long lists of routine existing features and functionalities. End users can be motivated to purchase more complex or expensive products that do not truly generate more value for their organizations.

While it is hard for vendors to truly understand competitor's offerings deeply, more clearly and fairly stating actual advantages can help customers make better decisions more quickly. Though I honestly have little hope of this element changing, clearly considering what truly is a new benefit can help determine the actual value for your organization.

The cost of the offering

Vendors rarely discuss costs of their offering. Generally, vague statements are offered like 'substantial ROI' or 'significantly increased value.' Vendors are justifiably concerned about interfering with their dealer's ability to set end user pricing. They are also often worried that disclosing price will scare off some buyers and that it is better to promote their general benefits and handle pricing once the customer is engaged.

The huge downside of not discussing costs is that it's impossible for readers to determine 'value' or 'ROI'. Without having an idea of cost, by definition, you cannot calculate financial return. And it's not just a mathematical issue. This is a very practical issue as readers cannot discern whether an offering is feasible for their budgets. I see this all the time with articles on RAID, QoS, IP multicast, redundant servers. The costs for these features/products can be very expensive. It is hard for anyone to assess fit without having a ballpark sense of cost.

It would be very valuable if vendors provided rough costs for their products. It does not need to be a negotiated price, a simple MSRP would work fine. Readers need to know the general range pricing is in. For instance, is your megapixel camera close to $500, $1000, $1500, $2000? Setting an approximate range is good enough to allow a reader to gauge how that would fit in their budgets and how much value the product would need to deliver.

Keeping these points in my mind when you read marketing material can help you better assess the true value of the offerings being promoted. Until marketing materials become more clear (if ever), applying this should help in evaluating this information.

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