The Fud is Flying! (Again)

It seems like that the latest marketing technique for software vendors is to sling a little FUD and see if it sticks. Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt make for some attention-grabbing headlines and are great for scaring potential customers away from a competitors offering.

It seems like that the latest marketing technique for software vendors is to sling a little FUD and see if it sticks. Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt make for some attention-grabbing headlines and are great for scaring potential customers away from a competitor's offering.

While IBM is seen as the originator of FUD tactics, Microsoft is often vilified as the perpetuator of the FUD marketing phenomenon with its anti-Linux campaigns, but they are by no means the only software company engaging in this practice. In fact, Microsoft itself has been the victim of FUD in recent months, with some people claiming Windows Vista would "cripple the Internet". (And in case you didn't notice, it hasn't happened yet.)

The latest round in the FUD flinging comes from database ETL tool manufacturer Informatica in regards to its recent court win regarding patents that Business Objects may have infringed upon in one of their products, Data Integrator. Patents are a contentious issue to begin with in the software industry and even before the case was finalised, Business Objects removed the offending feature from the product.

Modifying the product to remove the disputed feature amounted to removing around 2000 lines of code, or less than 0.1% of the total source code. From the user interface, it was as simple as taking an option off of a right-click menu.

But last week Informatica's Australian PR machine spun in to high gear, alleging that there were "big ticket" projects in doubt at 15 Australian companies as a result of the patent win. And when pressed for the details of these companies, Informatica backpedalled with the Managing Director of Informatica Australia conceding he wasn't sure if customers that had deployed Data Integrator actually would used the feature covered by the patent ruling.

The only reason that the backpedalling occurred was that the issue was pressed by a journalist who just wanted to confirm the facts as they were presented to him-- there were a number of news outlets who took the PR spin at face value and published it almost verbatim. So as IT journalists, we have a lot to answer for when it comes to contributing to the FUD factor.

As do the PR and marketing folk who produce press releases and spin stories to their benefit, regardless of the truth. And who doesn't love a juicy headline? "15 Big Ticket Customer Projects in Doubt" sounds much better than "Feature Removed From Right-Click Menu". Part of the problem is the PR and marketing communities' reluctance to get their hands dirty and actually understand the underlying technology and the issues at hand.

This was never more evident than in the SCO/IBM stoush, where the FUD flew thick and fast with Darl McBride, President and CEO of SCO in 2003 issuing such notable quotes as "It would be within SCO Group's rights to order every copy of AIX 'destroyed'". Obviously that hasn't happened either, but it sounded like a great threat to those companies using or considering using IBM's version of Unix. And for a while, SCO actually saw an increase in their stock price after an extensive FUD campaign against IBM. It was ironic that IBM, the company credited with creating FUD fell victim to it as well, but since then SCO's fortunes have taken a down turn and customers are still deploying IBM's AIX.

What software companies don't see is that FUD actually reduces the credibility of the software industry as a whole and reduces the whole realm of software marketing to the level of a five year-old. "You've got girl cooties" shouted out on the playground was probably the first use of FUD for most marketing executives and the technique hasn't evolved much since. It's a desperate attempt to gain mind share and put that seed of doubt into someone's mind about your competitor's product.

So here is my solution to the problem of FUD marketing -- take all the time and money you may spend spreading fear, uncertainty and doubt about your competitor and put that into product development. Focus on being an innovator and leading the market with reliable, robust, scalable software tools that are well designed, free of defects and intuitive to use.

And when it comes time for a customer to decide between your product and a competitors, go out and buy a copy of the software or better yet, invite the other vendor to do a head-to-head comparison and spend the effort proving that your product is better.

Because when it comes right down to it, customers are not stupid. We are living in an age of intelligent, informed consumers that can research all of the offerings out there and make the best choice for themselves. You don't need to use fear, uncertainty and doubt to sell product, you just need to make a better product.

Disclosure: David McAmis is a partner in Avantis, a consulting services firm in Sydney, Australia that counts Business Objects, Hyperion, IBM and Microsoft among its business partners