Marketers Beware: Even Dilbert Says Everything is a Platform

Thanks to a post by Darren Cunningham on LucidEra’s blog I found this wonderful Dilbert cartoon which concludes that EVERYTHING IS A PLATFORM.

I was happy to find this because tech marketers have so thoroughly over-used the word “platform” that I now rarely use it myself — even when I think it would have been appropriate.

More thoughts:

  • Using “platform” to avoid “product.” Product is not a four-letter word. I’m amazed at the number of companies that try to use any word other than product to describe their offering. Example: “Well, our platform does XYZ.”
  • Using “solution” to avoid “product.” I’m similarly amazed at the number of companies who do a global find/replace on the word “product” with the word “solution” in their marketing. Example: “Our drill-bit solutions do XYZ.” Just say “our products do XYZ” or more simply “our drill bits do XYZ.”
  • The intent of solutions marketing is not to replace the word product with the word solution; it’s to lead your sales and marketing by talking about problems that customers worry about solving instead of your product’s features. Example: talk about vendor-managed inventory to retailers (a problem) instead of aggregate awareness (a BI tool performance feature).
  • Use of platform to sound “strategic.” One of my pet peeves if when people use platform as a synonym for product because it sounds more strategic.

In reality, a platform is something you build upon. So if you don’t have some sort of API then you can’t be a platform.

I remember in the early days of Business Objects, most people considered “tool” a four-letter word (which technically it is, but you get the idea). People wanted to say “anything but tool” because “tools were cheap” and “tools were not strategic.” Over time, BI did in fact become a platform but only after APIs were added (and then fixed) and slowly people started building applications on top.

Similarly, in its early days Salesforce was most certainly not a platform, but an application delivered as a service. Today, however, that’s different because they offer Force on a platform as a service (PaaS) basis and people build on it.

Net/net: if no one’s building on top, it’s not a platform. So, marketers, figure out what your offering is, and then be proud to call it that. Don’t call it a platform when it’s not a platform because you think it sounds strategic. You’ll only confuse yourself and your customers in turn.

6 responses to “Marketers Beware: Even Dilbert Says Everything is a Platform

  1. Great post Dave. I’m in the midst of working on some product positioning for a client right now. I’ll think I’ll go comb through it and test it for platform vs. product. Happy New Year, Shannon

  2. Thanks for the mention Dave. This brings back memories of the FAQ you wrote about the Business Objects analytic applications being defined as a product and a service, which equals a solution. I’ll never forget the day when one of the high priced apps sales reps looked at the product marketing title on my business card and told me, “we don’t sell products – we sell solutions!” He lasted 6 months…One comment in the era of software as a service, however, is that applications like Salesforce (and LucidEra) aren’t really products in the traditional sense. They are in fact services, for which a subscription fee is charged. Jeff Kaplan makes some interesting points in this post about the changing dynamics of SaaS sales and the actual (consulting) services that are now being sold with them. Thought you might find it interesting.

  3. Thanks Shannon. Hope all is well at the Horn Group.

  4. Thanks Darren, and thanks for sharing the cartoon that inspired the post.Thanks also for bringing some SaaS perspective. I’m considering doing a post on the servicization of product which is an oblique rip-off of Theodore Levitt when he, about 3 decades ago, coined the phrase the productization of service (think: JiffyLube, LensCrafters).

  5. I read the Kaplan post linked in Darren’s comment and quite liked it. My general, somewhat cynical, take on SaaS is that by using traditional enterprise software sales VPs and executives is that SaaS vendors ending up *selling* SaaS with many of the vices they supposedly eliminate — i.e., perpetual license software was criticized for drive-by sales, customer-stuffing, etc. And that certainly did happen.The issue is you can replicate those problems if you sell 3-year SaaS contracts at big discounts and stuff the customer with all the users they might need over 3 years.While I believe there are some real differences, let us not forget the French quote: plus que ca change, plus que ca reste la mem chose.

  6. Dave – this a great article, and I’m forwarding to all my marketing colleagues at 1105.

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