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IBM needs more than cool tattoos, say users

Who knew iSeries users would be so hot for tattoos? Has IBM finally created a marketing campaign that bolsters iSeries sales or will this one fizzle, too?

After years of mediocre marketing attempts on behalf of the iSeries, IBM may have finally hit upon a campaign that the platform's constituency believes worthy.

And it's not just because of the free tattoos.

Earlier this month, IBM marketing guru Malcolm Haines announced a campaign that plays off the affection iSeries users have for their systems and hopefully will make users of other platforms, specifically Windows, envious.

Any marketing program will help, but it can't stop the encroachment of Windows.
Tom Bittman

The campaign will include videos of iSeries users hugging their systems, tattoos and the slogan "iSeries. my Series."

Despite a flurry of interest in obtaining the tattoos , however, some iSeries users think this campaign will be like all others unless IBM markets the iSeries outside the user base.

"Our technical staff speaks very highly of the iSeries," said John Kenny, a systems engineer and IT manager at baked goods company Otis Spunkmeyer Inc., San Leandro, Calif., "but unless these words of praise pop out with catchy phrases or graphics from IT magazines…vice presidents and executives won't listen."

Haines, who was brought back into the IBM marketing fold two years ago after a short hiatus, said IBM would indeed market outside the iSeries user community.

"There will be many activities that will be directed at, and which will influence, people who are not yet iSeries customers," he said."

This latest campaign is just one of many that IBM has tried over the past several years, including the infamous Magic Box campaign, which some experts believe was so bad it hurt the credibility of the iSeries.

The Magic Box campaign, which debuted in 1998, continues to be a point of contention for platform loyalists who complain that the ads did little to promote the AS/400 as a powerful line of business computers and weakened the AS/400 position with Windows servers. The ads promoted IBM servers as "magic boxes" that are capable of great things -- but fail to identify them. According to IBM, the ads were designed to familiarize viewers with IBM servers without getting into the technical details.

Until now, IBM has focused on brand recognition rather than individual systems, which is what makes this one different, said Jonathan Eunice, an analyst with Illuminata, Inc., Nashua, N.H. Although Eunice argues IBM's past campaigns were not the dismal failures some users would have everyone believe, he said this campaign has more potential because it targets a very important element in marketing: the affinity and enthusiasm of a product.

"A lot of tech marketing is very dry and not in tune with the way people think and behave," said Eunice. This campaign takes advantage of herd mentality and "attaches to that deep part of the brain that has a visceral response," he said.

"If your peers think it's the right call, you have a strong tendency to believe so as well," he said.

This campaign also has the endorsement of iSeries general manager, Al Zollar and vice president of iSeries marketing, Cecelia Maresse, who have made it their focus to increase the installed base of the iSeries, particularly in the small to medium-sized business space. Neither one is new to IBM, but they've brought a fresh, no-nonsense approach to marketing the platform, experts say. Their efforts have resulted in not only more visibility, but an entirely new machine.

"This isn't your father's AS/400," said Maria DeGiglio, an analyst for Robert Frances Group. "We're no longer in a green screen, single processor mode."

DeGiglio said this campaign will get the attention of potential customers first. Their curiosity piqued, they'll want to find out more about the system in all its glory -- and then buy one.

But users are skeptical that will happen.

Greg Thompson, an information systems project leader, said he gets the feeling IBM doesn't want to promote the iSeries to anyone outside the current use base.

"At what point does this campaign reach the users of the 'other platforms' so they can start to wonder if they should be looking into the iSeries?" he asked.

But Gartner analyst Tom Bittman isn't convinced this marketing campaign, or any campaign for that matter, will help significantly bolster sales outside the installed base regardless to whom or where it's pitched.

"Any marketing program will help, but it can't stop the encroachment of Windows," he said.

Bittman compares IBM's newest iSeries marketing effort to that of the Apple Computer and its marketing of the Macintosh. "They don't convert new people, they solidify the installed base," he said.

With more than 90% of iSeries income coming from its installed base, Bittman said trying to lure Windows users away from that platform and save the iSeries shouldn't be the objective. Sure, IBM will get the user who is unhappy with NT or security, but for the most part, IBM should be thinking more about increasing the loyalty of the installed base. By marketing to the installed base and leveraging that loyalty, IBM will get those businesses to stay with the iSeries, upgrade or buy more computers. What this marketing campaign will do, said Bittman, is make the iSeries more visible to the IT managers and CIOs.

And ISVs.

Eunice said that one area that is often overlooked is the impact these campaigns have on attracting new resellers and developers.

"If ISV's impression has improved," he said, "that can increase the visibility and have a pretty substantial impact."


Let us know what you think about the story; e-mail: Kate Evans-Correia, Senior News Editor

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