Four Software Positioning Messages To Avoid

By Geoffrey James

To those of us who eat, sleep and breathe software, the ceaseless marketing hype that’s endemic to the industry is simply white noise. However, there’s a special class of hype that marketers seem to love but which always leaves customers scratching their heads. Put an end to their confusion. Avoid the following four "positioning" messages:

1. "Our software uses artificial intelligence." Every year we’re treated to AI gurus predicting that computers will "within 10 years or so" be able to emulate human intelligence, make complex decisions and even replace humans as the dominant life form on earth. Vast amounts of research money have been spent over the past 40 years pursuing this weird dream, but despite all the investment and hype, artificial intelligence remains stuck at a surprisingly rudimentary level. True, speech recognition and OCR work a little better than a decade ago, but we’re still worlds away from a computer that can understand the context of a sentence or the relationship of words to the objects they describe. Emulating the incredible complexity and richness of human behavior is unlikely to happen anytime soon, so you’d best avoid promising the improbable.

2. "Our software will create a paperless office." In 1970, futurist Alvin Toffler wrote that making copies was "a primitive use of machines" and predicted that paper in the office would someday be a thing of the past. Since then, just about every computing "breakthrough" – word processing, desktop publishing, email, online bulletin boards, document management, the Web, IM – have all been cited as the technology that will finally remove paper from the office. What’s funny about this is that the market for computer printers has proven to be one of the most resilient in the tech industry. In fact, there is absolutely no indication that any technological advancement has led to or ever will lead to a decreased demand for paper. So if you tell a customer that your software will help them go paperless, you’re lying. Even if you both believe it to be true.

3. "Our software will replace your personal computers." Every few years somebody (usually Oracle CEO Larry Ellison) gets the bright idea that users don’t really want PCs and what users really want is a fancier version of what used to be called a dumb terminal. However, despite big-time backing from Oracle, Sun and IBM, network computing has never managed to get off the ground because (and somebody ought to spray paint this on the wall of Ellison’s office) users don’t want to be dependent on a network to get their work done. Face it: if you have a stand-alone PC, you can still work even if an IT propeller-head decides to rebuild the disk farm, or if the Internet goes wacky due to the latest virus attack. Any software messages claiming that the application will make it possible to remove PCs from the end users’ desks will fail. The end users don’t want network computing. Period.

4. "Our software is middleware." Back when mainframe vendors were struggling to deal with the explosive growth of the PC, IBM got the idea to create an "umbrella" technology that would glue its many systems together into one coherent system. It was called "middleware" – a term that keeps popping up in software press releases. The problem with the "middleware" concept is that it lacks appeal. While IT geeks might like the idea of "middleware," it means very little to end users and business managers. As far as we can tell, nobody has EVER made money trying to sell "middleware."