We at Toigo Partners tend to be skeptical about "marketecture" that emanates from many technology vendors. Even if a vendor offers a good product that contributes measurable business value, too often the marketing agents for the firm "stretch the truth" to differentiate their wares from those of their competitors. In the process, hype and misinformation enter the discussion.
So, we call the vendors on their exaggerations and false claims. Or we seek to introduce caveats and considerations that consumers would be wise to heed before buying the vendor's wares. As a result, we sometimes have left the impression that we are anti-vendor or anti-tech.
Nothing could be further from the truth. About a third of our clientele are vendors. We are very selective about what products or technologies we embrace, basing our choices of consulting projects on the value of what the vendor offers. We have turned down very lucrative contracts in the past with vendors whose products or services - or whose sales practices - did a disservice to consumers. But, we delight when we locate a high value product or service and become its fiercest advocate.
We believe that the secret to technology advocacy and evangelism is to be creative. We try to frame the business value case for a good product or service in pop culture. In 2016, we introduced the idea of a Zettabyte Apocalypse (or "z-pocalypse") to capture the idea of unprecedented levels of data growth and to underscore the need for better storage utilization efficiency and improved data management. To articulate this multi-dimensional challenge to IT, we created an "avatar" - Barry M. Ferrite, a trusted storage advisor and artificial intelligence, with the sarcastic tone of Max Headroom and the accent of Arnold Schwartzenegger. The backdrop of Barry's public service announcements, which played to hundreds of thousands on social media, were film clips from George Romero's film, Night of the Living Dead.
This over-the-top method of communicating information about the data deluge resonated with more IT and business planners than most white papers or news articles on the subject. It also provided a springboard for discussing tape technology, archive platforms, tiered storage architecture, storage virtualization, and many other topics -- all while retaining audience attention. It proved the value of entertainment, mixed with information, to make a case that folks will listen to and remember when purchasing decisions are made.
In other media, we have tried to put a pin in hyperbolic narratives around clouds, server virtualization, and even hyperconverged or software-defined storage. Our position has always been that technologies may have merit, but it is always relative and contextual. IT planners and business leaders need to have a fuller appreciation of what technology can actually do, its risks, and its limitations. They must appreciate trade offs, which are always part of technology choices, and make informed choices of what they purchase or deploy. To this end, we use every rhetorical device, including humor, to get the point across.
This strategy seems to have a growing number of adherents today. We offer it to our clientele as a service.
The Web is a marvelous tool and social media platforms have played a huge role in the democratization of data. However, unbridled access to information and to distribution channels is not without practical risks or costs.
The anonymous nature of the Web and of social media creates a vehicle for pushing out information - and disinformation - about technology products and services. The transient nature of posts and the use of algorithm-based targeting schemes may enable unscrupulous forces to spread falsehoods or "alt-facts" intended to promote or discourage adoption of a particular product or service -- mostly without any consequence to the poster. Vendors are rightly concerned about reputational harm accruing to posts by a competitor or its hired hitmen, troll farms and others.
We have also seen an increase in the number of pretenders on the Web, vendors or service providers misrepresenting themselves as experts in areas where they possess no credible capabilities or experience. Witness the huge increase in self-styled disaster recovery experts and DR as a Service providers, many of whom could not recover themselves from a paper sack.
Ideally, consumers would be able to differentiate, to separate the grain from the chaff. But, this is becoming increasingly difficult to do given the fast pace of posting and the ephemeral nature of information in most social media platforms.
Even the old media companies are playing the game. They promote a sponsored white paper from a vendor as though it were news, using provocative headlines as "click bait" that have nothing to do with the content of the paper or article! The headlines are seen, even in passing, by consumers, leaving erroneous impressions that help to shape poorly advised decisions.
Still, leveraged judiciously, social media can be used to foster fact-based opinions and to establish brand recognition or thought leadership for products or vendors who are seeking to solve real issues or to address real challenges.
Toigo Partners seeks to be part of the solution to the challenges of the social media data deluge by structuring campaigns, whether to promote our own perspectives or the products/services of our vendor clients, that leverage creativity and humor as well as fact-based content. We want to filter out some of the noise, sometimes diffusing disinformation campaigns by asking simple questions at the right moment. And we want to mainstream important information that is being overlooked by the media or by the vendor community in their sometimes myopic focus on their own revenue streams.
We hope you will help improve our efforts by offering your views and criticisms to help us police up ours. Maybe we can make the digital democracy work for all of us.
You don't need to look very hard to see that the technology trade press publishing business has fallen on hard times. Print publication is at its smallest page counts in our lifetime, with paper periodicals often dramatically reduced in size and providing little more than link lists pointing to "full length" articles located at on line web portals or vendor/advertiser sites. Even the on line portals that have replaced print media are increasingly high on "noise" and low on "signal."
The reason is simple. Editors are confronting much reduced budgets for developing content with real probative value. Reduced advertising revenues reflect the reduced interest among vendors in purchasing advertisements that generally fail to yield the desired rates of "click thru." As a consequence, many technology journalism sites publish content that amounts to little more than rehashed vendor press releases. Technology journalism is at a low ebb.
When we read the articles that are published in many trade press pubs and sites, we are often amazed at the technical illiteracy of journalists and editors behind the stories. Many seem to know next to nothing about the subject matter, reiterating vendor marketing messages instead. Again, budgetary constraints are to blame. Editors do not have the money to commission work from knowledgeable writers.
There are exceptions, of course, but they are increasingly rare.
In addition to the demise of old media, we have seen the rise of the so-called "Data Democracy" in the form of social media networks, where virtually anyone can hang out a shingle and claim expertise. Too often, these new media experts lack of any experience or even critical thinking about the subject matter they cover.
Alt-Facts aren't just for politics; Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Reddit, Google+and many other web communities are prone to hosting propaganda and disinformation about products, services, and technologies created by vendors either directly or via story mills. Most lack any relevance whatsoever to real world business challenges, instead articulating "visionary" narratives about shiny new thing technologies.
We beat up on the research and analysis firms in an earlier post, noting the increasingly cynical use that some of our clients are making of R&A reports. ("We don't believe them, but we keep the reports filed so we can find an opinion that was paid for by a vendor whose product we have selected. Then we paper clip it to a budget request to show that our decision has analyst backing.") In addition to trend analyses and product rankings, we are finding that the other product of industry analysts - white papers analyzing trends or products or markets - are increasingly worthless. One client recently told us that they "loved it" when a vendor produced an analyst white paper at a meeting, "We don't actually read the papers, we are happy because it says that the meeting is coming to a close and we can get back to real work."
Toigo Partners is doing what we can to fill the void. We publish, sometimes without payment, in many trade press publications. You can find our work in TechTarget's Storage magazine on a monthly basis, and occasionally in Enterprise Technology, Enterprise Tech Management, Disaster Resource Guide, Virtualization and Cloud Review, and SearchStorage. We also provide guest blogs to some of our client web sites, including DataCore Software, Starwind Software and others. The lion's share of our work is on our own sites, which are free information portals where we publish fact-based information about data management, data storage, and IT strategy.
See you around the web!