October 3, 2010

Don’t try to emulate the Treaty of Tordesillas

I recently decried a very common kind of “partnership,” widely known as Barney, in which the marketing fluff far exceeds the substance. Some of my clients, however, are running headlong in the opposite direction, planning a substantive partnership surrounded by self-damaging marketing. This is pretty unusual, but it echoes a much more common pattern in which single companies with multiple overlapping product lines — whether through acquisition or otherwise — feel they need to position in such as way that the product lines never appear to overlap. The upshot is that they deny their products’ abilities to do things they’re perfectly good at, for no reason better than their fear of saying

Product A is great at X and pretty good at Y, and should indeed be bought for Y by some customers. Product B is great at Y and also does a pretty good job at X, and there are a few instances in which one should actually buy it even though X is the primary use case.

Folks — in a world where everybody else overstates their products’ virtues, it is rarely a good idea to actually sell your products short.

The historical analogy I have dredged up to help mock this idea, admittedly imperfect, is the Treaty of Tordesillas. In 1494, Spain and Portugal signed a treaty — mediated by the Pope — whereby they strictly divided up as-yet-uncolonized parts of the world among themselves. Naturally, this treaty was not respected by other would-be colonial powers; Spain and Portugal didn’t really obey it either; nobody was even sure where the dividing line actually lay; and the whole thing wound up being a big joke.

You don’t want your marketing and positioning to be jokes, do you?


22 Responses to “Don’t try to emulate the Treaty of Tordesillas”

  1. Partnering with Cloudera | DBMS 2 : DataBase Management System Services on October 10th, 2010 11:40 am

    […] I criticized the marketing of the Aster/Cloudera partnership, my clients at Aster Data and Cloudera ganged up on me and tried to persuade me I was wrong. Be […]

  2. Teradata and Aster Data combine | DBMS 2 : DataBase Management System Services on March 4th, 2011 5:44 am

    […] is acquiring Aster Data. Naturally, the deal is being presented with a Treaty of Tordesillas kind of positioning — Teradata does X, Aster Data does Y, and everybody looks forward to […]

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