Brand Management, Competitive Strategy, Content Marketing

EMC #FAIL: The End of Competitive Guerilla Marketing

November 4th was a sad day for B2B marketing. On that dark Thursday, there was happiness too, since several months of hard work for the NetApp marketing team happened to culminate in an unprecedented global launch around our Future Ready IT value proposition. However, our main competitor EMC tried to disrupt our plans with some pretty old school guerilla tactics. They failed, but their attempt did help me put some thoughts together around guerilla marketing as a competitive tactic in today’s marketing mix. So a happy day for the storage and data management industry thanks to NetApp, and a sad day for IT marketing thanks to EMC.

Here’s what they did
EMC hired a couple of small trucks with big advertising billboards mounted on top of them, and had them drive around our fairly isolated business park office for a day. In addition, they sprayed their logo on our sidewalk. I guess the whole purpose was to influence the European IT journalists we were briefing inside on the new platforms and management software that were about to go to market. They never saw any of the messages EMC had put out there. I actually walked up to one of the truck drivers, while he was taking a sigaret break, and asked him about his client. He didn’t know anything – had never heard of EMC. His boss had just told him to drive around our place all day, that’s all.

So on Nov 8, I tweeted from my @keeshenniphof handle (follow the links for some pix):
» #Bangsy? No #EMC! #weakguerillatactics
» #EMC put Dinky Toys outside our office #weakguerillatactics

…and received some questions on why I think these tactics no longer work in 2010.

Here’s why they failed
So here’s why I think the time is right for a re-evaluation of Guerilla Marketing. Traditionally:

1. Market leaders do not engage in guerilla marketing, because it is a challenger tactic. Once a market leader like EMC starts investing in these types of activities, the street will understand they are losing market share fast. And they are. So if you decide you want to go for it (and have accepted the fact that from a clear dominant market leading position, you are being pulled down into a two-horse race), you better find a very creative, very funny, very attractive way of getting some attention and exposure. Some trucks and spray paint on a deserted business park just don’t qualify, which is point 2:

2. You have to think big if you want to achieve anything. You are trying to have an impact on the other guy’s turf. It needs amplification. Pepsi bought all commercial space on television when Coca Cola was the main sponsor of the Super Bowl. Oracle redecorated the airport, the subway and train stations with their advertising wherever SAP was hosting a customer event. Apple made a whole series of TV commercials against Microsoft, and look where they are.

3. Try to be relevant. At the time of the press conference, EMC knew most of the news that was about to go into the global market space. Flexible IT, the Future Ready data centre, shared infrastructure, FlexPod, OnCommand Management software, One Wire technology. I mean we announced some pretty advanced technology. But the message they mounted on their trucks was not at all countering our launch messaging – on the contrary, it was quite generic: EMC offers the best storage for virtualized environments. We saw this content already at VMworld in Copenhagen, in fact this was our messaging two years ago. It’s a broad, untargeted message, aiming for awareness at best. A storage market leader working on exposure and awareness in the community of IT journalists focusing on data storage and management…? Or did they want to tell us, who are following their every move very closely, who they are? I mean, what’s the point? Why not try to be a bit more relevant to the journalists, and actually change the way they perceive EMC in today’s market?

But then things have changed a bit since the early nineties, haven’t they?
So let’s assume our windy business park was filled with relevant audiences that particular day, for some unexplainable, wondrous reason, the Schiphol-Rijk streets were packed with marketing targets on the very day the marketing manager of EMC Benelux had decided to spend some of his budget dollars on trucks, bored drivers and spray paint.

IT decision makers, NetApp customers and prospects, storage architects, managers, administrators, buyers – thousands of them, all carrying their storage wallets and ready to invest in NetApp’s magnificent new platforms and software. Hoping to find new ways to bring their virtualized infrastructures to new levels of internal cloud computing, automated services, and fully tested FlexPods. Needless to say, the IT journalists were also there, instead of inside listening to our IT infrastructure experts, channel partners and longtime happy customers. So what then?

How do you think would they like to be approached by EMC? With trucks carrying an aged, generic message? Stepping on the EMC logo that’s painted on the sidewalk. Crap, what’s that under my shoe?

The Age of Conversations
In the age of conversations, communities, and word-of-mouth communications, real people are talking to real people and together find new ways to solve problems, innovate and improve their IT infrastructures, in support of the business they support. Those people can be working for vendors, companies, consultancies, press, reselling channel partners – it doesn’t matter, you share what you know and have learned the hard way. You help each other out, and together you accelerate.

Now there is only one rule:
Invest dollars in relevant content, conversations, and relationships – not trucks, spray paint, and bored-out drivers.



6 thoughts on “EMC #FAIL: The End of Competitive Guerilla Marketing

  1. Good post.

    Tactics like these aren’t something you would expect from a market leader.

    Market leaders create value through enhancing the user experience, they do not lower themselves in tactics that are merely saying: ‘eh excuse us, we would like some attention as well if you do not mind and have the time’. They focus on building on top of the relevance they have created for their audiences and engagements they have established.

    Giving it some more thought, EMC lost #1 position in the Dutch market a while ago, so it also could be a last desperate attempt at getting back some of the attention they have lost over time.

  2. From Louis Gordon (B2B Technology Marketing Community / LinkedIn):
    I think your competitor was doing Gorilla Marketing and not Guerrilla Marketing. Their actions were crass and underestimated the maturity and sophistication of the journalists you were hosting as well as your target market. They would have done better to concentrate on alternative messages or substantiated claims. Oracle’s airport/subway adverts are simply a whole different league.

    And thanks for the write-up in English with some supporting photos!

  3. From John Fullbright (@johnful):
    I “discovered” this last summer and leaked it to the press.

    The one that started it all was .

    Then, of course there was the infamous fiasco of

    Desperate tactics for sure, and I made sure it had a negative impact. Search around the interwebs for the fallout. I had the events of November 4th on my to do list, but now you’ve done it better than I ever could.

    Thanks, and keep up the good work.

  4. Gingy says:

    I remember similar tactics from the mid 90s when Oracle hired trucks to sit outside the Ingres office in the UK, encouraging all the database pros sitting inside to send their CVs to the Oracle recruitment department. Maybe there was even an airplane flying over with a similar message (though I can’t be 100% sure about that). Oracle were about as much the market leader in databases at the time as EMC is in storage today. Back then we didn’t see it as crass, clumsy and immature – in fact even us Ingres employees thought it was an interesting approach (well, we all sent our CVs in so I guess it must of worked). But it was very rooted in the 90s. What’s the relevance of this? well the (relatively) new CMO at EMC was working in Oracle UK at that time. I am not saying they are connected, but if a tactic worked well back then, then maybe he thought it still would??

    Guerilla marketing per se is a very valid way of getting awareness if done correctly. It is often born out of lack of budget or a need to test in a quiet way first. Where it involves direct competitive marketing as in this case though, it does indeed warrant #FAIL

    • Hi Gingy, thank you for sharing your take on things – aplologies for the delay in response from my side. Interestingly enough, EMC are recruiting quite agressively among our workforce (which passed the 10,000 mark recently), and they have expanded on the branded cars activity – so who knows this comes directly from their new CMO. In all fairness, I think that EMC has really improved since the somewhat clumsy first competitive moves back in October that caused me to write my #FAIL post. They have launched a new storage platform for the lower end of the market, VNX – competing head-on with our FAS2000 series in a market segment we opened up and dominate. They have introduced VNX with a big event focused on breaking records, launched a massive, 140-cities global roadshow in support of their promotions, and employ the branded cars to raise awareness in the cities they visit. They even had branded Mini Coopers drive around our corporate headquarters in Sunnyvale (CA) – which is a bold move. It’s all well integrated, well executed, and quite impactful – it took them some time to get it right, which is not an unusual thing in marketing. So thumbs up to EMC! With regards, Kees

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