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.
- 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.