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SAN ANTONIO -- The tattoos were cool. The T-shirts were coveted. The video footage was entertaining.
But to many users, IBM's new iSeries.mySeries marketing campaign is a gimmick and not one that's likely to get anyone to buy the system.
It sure did make users feel special, though.
"Frankly, I'm an iSeries geek and proud of it," said Jesus Bautista, systems engineer, John Wiley & Sons, Somerset, N.J., who touted an iSeries.mySeries bumper sticker across the front of his shirt.
Rolled out during the COMMON IT Education Conference & Expo last week, the image campaign leverages the affection iSeries users have for the platform. IBM passed out temporary tattoos, pins, bumper stickers and T-shirts with the slogan, "iSeries.mySeries," and played video footage with real iSeries users professing their love for their iSeries. One user said his relationship with the iSeries has lasted longer than both of his marriages.
Al Zollar, iSeries general manager, said this attachment is unique to the industry.
"We're tapping into the raw passion these guys have for their servers," said Zollar, who flashed his tattoo to hundreds of users during the conference's iSeries Nation session, receiving uproarious applause.
"This is the most loved server in the industry."
The brain child of IBM marketing guru Malcom Haines, the campaign is intended to raise awareness among non-iSeries users. It is part of an overall strategy developed by Zollar to add to the platform's customer base by improving its image.
Although the iSeries is considered by many to be unmatched in scalability, flexibility and security, sales recently have been less than stellar. While hardware sales overall were encouraging (up 16%), iSeries revenue actually dropped 7% in Q1. Much of it was blamed on the anticipation of a new Power5 server. Still, the news was particularly discouraging, if not unexpected, because of a seemingly healthy 2003. iSeries revenue was up 12% last year and, according to IBM, it signed 2,000 new customers worldwide. It gave users a glimmer of hope.
Clearly, IBM executives realize the platform needed some sort of a jolt.IBM also rolled out last week two other major marketing campaigns. A print ad campaign showcasing IBM's new iSeries server, the i5, as a consolidation server ran in The Wall Street Journal and will also run in other general business publications, such as Business Week magazine.
And, to the surprise of many, IBM will test the waters with an iSeries television ad in two Midwest cities. Like the print ad, the television ad portrays the iSeries as the means to end-server sprawl.
All the campaigns come at a time when IBM has delivered on a four-year long strategy to reposition the iSeries as a competitively priced powerful server. On Monday, IBM announced the i5 server, the first iSeries to use the Power5 chip. IBM also announced an aggressive new pricing model that essentially eliminates the argument that the iSeries is too expensive.
"We're giving users tools to convey what's so special about the platform," said Cecelia Maresse, vice president of iSeries marketing, about the iSeries.mySeries campaign. She said the campaign would also include access to analysts' reports, white papers and user testimonials via its Web site.
"So they can spread the word as to why they love the iSeries," said Maresse.
While many users sported iSeries.mySeries tattoos and T-shirts throughout the conference, it was simply for the fun it. Some picked up extra tattoos to take home to their kids. Users wearing the black long-sleeved T-shirts (from catalog retailer Lands End) with the iSeries.mySeries logo were the envy of many.
Although a few thought IBM was helping to raise awareness, many users were encouraged by its attempt to get the iSeries some branding play outside the user base.
"We're in that land between the PC and the mainframe and no one except us knows that the iSeries exists," said LuAnn Deibert, program manager, Caesars Entertainment, Las Vegas, Nev. "[This campaign] makes a statement about how great a machine this is. It's not just for us iSeries geeks."
One attendee was encouraged by IBM's attempt to brand the platform based on testimonials rather than just listing its features, but he wasn't sure Big Blue could pull it off.
"IBM is lousy at creating a brand for the iSeries," said Larry Bolhula, vice president, Arbor Solutions, Grand Rapids, Mich., IBM business partner and consultant. "I don't know if they're going to get people to go out there and buy one, but this is a different way of dropping this thing on their laps."
Bill Hansen, co-founder of iSeries training company Manta Technologies, Barrington, Ill., said he was all for an image campaign but was stumped by the name change. When he first heard the two news models of the iSeries would be named i5, he was under the impression the name "iSeries" would no longer exist. "Then, I see this campaign that says iSeries.mySeries. Well, which is it?"Still, he's hopeful that the campaign will have its intended effect. "If people hear that message, they'll investigate," he said. "Then when IBM comes to call, people will be more open."
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