Avoid leading with the sharp bag of knives marketing story 🔪
A tech marketing anti-pattern: "you don't realize this yet, but what you want is very complex!"
This tech is so complex that you really should be using it
Here is a tech marketing anti-pattern that I agree with. It makes me think of another one. Let's call it "you don't realize this yet, but what you want is very complex!"
All of us in the tech world have done, and will keep doing, this kind of marketing, be it a presentation, a blog post, a commissioned survey, posts on Bluesky and LinkedIn, or whatever. You can see me doing it below!
The format is that you declare everyone wants to use some technology, but it's too complex, so you need to use the tool you're promoting. If it's a big-ticket item, it's a "solution."
For the last ~3 years, this has been Kubernetes. But if I knew the recent history of fields, I'm sure there are similar things in data, security (zero trust?), or whatever. WS-* and SOAP were like this, as well as J2EE, as demonstrated by Rails, JBoss, and Spring. But let's look at the present.
Many pitches in the Kubernetes community begin with this "it's complex!" story. I feel like things are getting slightly better, but for the past 3 or 4 years, the complex storyline dominated what I'd see.
The problem with this pitch is the "what you don't realize yet" part. This complex pitch is all about catching people before they feel the complexity first hand. Again, let's look at Kubernetes. Who knows how much Kubernetes usage there is out there? Gartner estimates: "By 2027, 25% of all enterprise applications will run in containers, an increase from fewer than 10% in 2021."
That is, while Kubernetes has achieved the “Kubernetes or die” mindshare in container orchestration (which all us vendors experience, drives huge KubeCon attendance, project innovation, etc.) most people are not using Kubernetes yet, let alone have used it for one to two years. That estimates has a huge growth rate, though .
Giving the "it's complex" pitch for Kubernetes is bizarre: at the same time that you're saying Kubernetes is awesome, you're saying that it's too complex. And this is before your customer has actually used it and experienced any problems due to complexity.
If your customer has already encountered this complexity and wants to solve it, then, sure, you should go in and sell how you fix the complexity. But it's there’s a danger in sell the complexity first and then sell fixing it.
I mean, if I was a buyer, wouldn't I just say, "Wow, that sounds dangerous. How about I just do nothing now? What we're currently doing isn't really so bad, and it sounds like introducing this new thing is going to be extremely hard and risky."
In the PaaS era, people in the Cloud Foundry community joked about a drawer of sharp knives. More dramatically, they’d say a sharp bag of knives. This was reference in reference to BOSH, the deep-down Morlock layer of Cloud Foundry. But we didn't lead with the bag of sharp knives. We led with the positive, helpful benefits of Cloud Foundry.
Cloud Foundry leads to developer productivity, shipping faster, better security, and more successful businesses. People who use it now experience all of that. (I mean, hey, if you're worried about complexity, maybe you should check out Cloud Foundry! But, whatever you like: I won't judge.)
When I talk with people about Cloud Foundry, I don't start with "Wow, have you tried using BOSH? It is complex! Bag o’ knives!" And then tell them they should want to use Cloud Foundry to make it all simpler and sager.
What I favor is pitching the benefits of the technology and how your stuff can make those benefits even better, and add in unexpected benefits (like increased security through the 3 R's with Cloud Foundry). All computer stuff is complex and expensive (to buy and/or operate), that's just the baseline. What matters is if it works consistently, if it fits into the way the buyer wants to (and can!) work, and if it helps the organization achieve its goals (business outcomes, business value, etc.).
When you lead with the benefits, you can use the “we solve the complexity” sub-pitch to explain how you make those benefits possible. It’s often a good idea. It’s not credible to just talk about the benefits achieved, you need to explain how your product helps people get those benefits. Even better, you need explain why whatever you’re selling (for pay, or open source/community/standards stuff) is the best, or only way to viability deliver. That could be with some new, interesting tech, a proprietary feature set, and/or by solving complexity and making things easier. But again, rather than dwelling on the bag of knives, I’d focus more on how your product does its magic.
You can use complexity to pitch your products if the buyer has already experienced this complexity and wants to fix it. But be careful selling on complexity before that: you might just be FUD'ing all over yourself and your entire market category, and thus, product.
Cost matters if it's a commodity (which usually means not complex, or at least easy to fix), in which case it needs to be cheap, easy to use and understand, easy to PoC, and easy to procure. Cost matters if the price exceeds the business benefits. If I put in place some complicated platform that helps me sell 24 hour insurance to absent-minded beach tourists, but the platform costs more than the money I make, that doesn't work. (Or, you know, whatever complex opportunity cost/IRR hurdles your finance team taunts you with.)
The form of marketing where you point out that a competing product/solution, or entire category is too complex is a completely different thing. We could call that the "yeah, but their stuff doesn't work" method. That method has a lot of its own, handle carefully, lest it backfires, problems.
Inflated expectations are another problem. The buyer may think a technology does more than it actually does or is more powerful and feature-rich than it is. This is a vicious cycle between innovators, vendors, and users/buyers. The technology may work, but it does a much smaller set of things than "the market" talks about. SOAP and WS-* were like this: it was just a data format, not something that you could install and suddenly be, like, "digital." Kubernetes is like this too: it's actually just a small core that you build all sorts of things around. In those two cases, everyone involved gets lost in inflated expectations. The cure here is to make sure you have a handful of actual successes in place and that you have a very open product development process that's like "hey, we're all figuring this thing out, want to help?" This is all covered fine in Crossing the Chasm, and maybe his tornado book. I think: I haven't read those in a long time.
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“The whole point of everything I’ve ever done is just to stand on a corner and watch people go by.” Here.
“people constantly posting their butts” Here.
“nothing but asses and errors” Ibid.
‘“What are you seeing this year?” Questions like this are the mainstay of being an analyst, like you’re able to maintain a complete and comprehensive overview of everything that’s going on in a complex and dynamic field, then map it onto a randomly placed set of brightly coloured stands and people movements, and pop out some pithy conclusion.’ Here.
I’m still not sure what to make of Bluesky. So far, I’ve seen two phases: the West coast nerds get on and talk about how great it is, and then, the Internet fun bunch came on over the weekend and talked about how great it is. We’ll see what happens this weekend!
Meanwhile, Twitter friends keep coming in. I’m @cote.io in there if you’re interested. I too would be into recreating “the fun old days of Twitter.” (I have no invites.)
If/when Linky adds in Bluesky support, I’ll probably post to Bluesky more.
I’d been using Buffer for awhile, paying for it of all things! While I really liked the batching up and scheduling of posts across Twitter, Facebook, Mastodon, and LinkedIn, the analytics were not useful. It’s weird because they have a URL shortener service. All I want to see is clicks on those links in across different channels to see what works and what doesn’t. If Buffer had some more helpful auto utm_ encoding (it kind of does?) that’d be cool too. But, the analytics are weird: I could never find a way to just put in a shortened URL (a “PURL” - hah!) and see the full analytics.
Like if you wanted to ask “does it ‘work’ to post links in Twitter, or is it true that ‘no one clicks on links in Twitter’?” you’d be kind of mystified at the end.
Also, at $6/month a channel, it gets expensive fast. Pricing for these kinds of services (like ye old bitly) starts around $30/month, and there’s some that are even much higher.
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What are they looking to use AI for? In almost-too-broad-to-be-useful categories, here:
Not entertaining. Not engrossing. But fun. - Bluesky take from Monday, so it might be stale by the time you read this. Controlling the baseline culture with invites.
Here’s a new section: Talks and other events of mine that’re coming up. I’m not sure about this format, but I want something compact like this.
May 11th, 2023 Devoxx UK in London. Get 25% tickets with the code SEEMESPEAK23. June 1st VMUG Belgium in Brussels , free. June 7th State of Kubernetes overview, online. June 8th to 9th PlatformCon, online. June 22nd to 23rd DevOpsDays Amsterdam, attending. August 21st to 24th SpringOne & VMware Explore US, in Las Vegas. Sep 6th to 7th DevOpsDays Des Moines, speaking. Sep 18th to 19th SHIFT in Zadar, speaking.
It’s odd to use a negative (“don’t do this!”) framing and tone to suggest doing a positive thing (“lead with benefits”). Almost ironic.
The sun is finally out in the Netherlands. I noticed biking around the other day how much happier it made me. Who knew that humans and the sun were so closely connected?