I've been in Salt Lake City at Novell's Brainshare. As in years past, Novell presented an enthusiastic rendition of its messages, interesting demonstrations and even labs allowing folks to actually use the newest editions of the company's products. It's an event worth attending if you're interested in Novell's technology.
I see a great deal of technical excellence and keep wondering why a good deal of the folks I speak with fail to consider Novell and its products. Most of the issue, from my warped perspective, revolves around a Novell's use of, bland, technically correct marketing messages not the technology itself.
Novell's past marketing effortsAlthough Novell's technology was arguably world class and could clearly help organizations do what they needed to do in a cost effective fashion, the industry persisted in looking to others. Many in the industry seemed unaware of Novell's technical solutions and so, didn't consider them. Since decision-makers were largely considering the offerings of other suppliers, Novell's products, which could be seen as superior in one way or another, were not selected.
In times past, Novell has presented a team of folks gallivanting from customer to customer in a Hummer H1 fighting problems and saving the day (without much regard to the fact that at that time H1's were being castigated as expensive fuel guzzlers) to campaigns showing fresh water and salt water fish being put into the same tank (as if the average viewer could tell by sight that one type of fish was only happy in fresh water and another needed salt water). In each case Novell's message was lost because Novell just assumed that 1) folks knew who Novell was, 2) folks knew who Novell is at that time, and that 3) people cared enough about Novell to decipher the cryptic messages.
No one at the company seemed to take the time to step back and apply the "reasonable person test" to the messages and campaigns — that is answering the question "Why should I care about this message?".
Although I haven't done a scientific survey of people's opinions in quite a while, I would suspect many in the ranks of technology decision makers see Novell as merely NetWare. Once they moved away from NetWare to some other platform (probably Windows or Linux), it simply wasn't necessary to know about Novell and its products.
Messages from Brainshare 2008The most recent Novell catch phrase "Making IT work as one" seems to be another step upon the same path that Novell has been treading for years. It begs the question "Novell makes IT work as one what?" I can see competitors putting that Novell catch phrase next to some unsavory photo and implying that Novell meant making IT work as one of whatever unsavory image the competitor thought was most damaging.
Novell often points out that it's relying on the help and advice of the open source community and never bothers to point out that its partnership and technology sharing arrangement with Microsoft made many in the open source community angry even though that partnership would make Linux/Windows interoperability better and more powerful.
Novell is better than this. Their technology is clearly well thought out and powerful. They offer highly interoperable software that supports every major platform on industry standard systems. They count as their customers a significant portion of the Global 2000 and a large cadre of smaller companies.
Now that I've pointed out a couple of gorillas in the room, I'd also like to point out that the presentation made by Novell's CMO, John Dragoon, was straightforward, interesting and it is quite obvious that he clearly understands the challenges his company faces. From my vantage point, he's doing most, if not all, of the traditional things and doing them well.
John, if you don't mind me shouting suggestions from the peanut gallery (boy does using that phrase age me), why don't you try some untraditional thinking this time?
Novell would be well served by using social networking tools better. An example would be coming up with a campaign that takes the best features of TIBCO's "Greg the Architect" and putting it to use helping people come to a realization of what Novell can really do in a funny, conversational or, perhaps, even an outrageous way. Novell even has a wonderful character, the SUSE Geeko, that could become a primary tool in such a campaign.
Do you agree with my viewpoint? What do you think Novell should do to focus the industry's attention on the company's powerful infrastructure software?