Understanding IBM

Part 8. Business is Business

People often wonder and even complain about IBM Marketing. They say things like "Why doesn't IBM market more effectively?" or "Why don't I ever see any OS/2 commercials?" or even "If only IBM hired Microsoft to do its marketing for them!" What these people may be overlooking is the fact that marketing to business -- which is IBM's target market -- is a completely different game from marketing to the consumer. Marketing to the public involves mass-marketing, which basically means appealing to the lowest common denominator. But what does "marketing to business" mean, and just how different is that?

For one thing, "business" in the IBM sense of the word means Big Business, or as they prefer to call it, the "Global 2000." To market to these people, it's not a matter of great jingles, cool slogans, nifty logos, or incessantly pounding commercials on television and radio; it is something far more subtle. Business deals are made one-on-one, not one-to-many as in the case of consumer marketing. Big Business means decisions by one individual who is charged with the task of finding the best solution for the money, even if that solution is not some pop-culture phenomenon or some trendy infatuation like Windows.

Since business deals are made one-on-one, IBM must find out who that "one" is, and market specifically to him or her. That takes subtlety. These people know they are being marketed to. They don't like being told that they are idiots and must therefore take the path of least resistance (which is the key element of consumer marketing). That kind of attitude works just great when you're selling something like the "for Dummies" series, which has sold 50 million copies or more; but it just doesn't work with the Global 2000. Marketing to the decisionmaker takes a different tone and more cerebral content than the typical television commercial.

Trying to straddle the line and market to both Big Business and the consumer is also inviting disaster. Quite likely you will end up being ignored by both sets of customers, because your message will lack focus and intensity. The last guy who could market to the upper crust and to the groundlings at the same time was named Shakespeare, and he's not on the employee roster at IBM. The really tough job ahead is marketing to the growing class of computer customers who are "in the middle" -- that is, the small and medium-sized businessperson who often wavers between smart shopping and peer-pressure capitulation. This will take a new kind of marketing skill that nobody has yet mastered. It will be most interesting to see who can find just the right pitch to bring in the customers in this treacherous market.

So to those who whine and moan about IBM marketing, remember that it could be worse: hopefully IBM will never make the mistake that some companies do of touting their products as "the choice of dummies everywhere!"

Most recent revision: January 15, 1998
Copyright © 1998, Tom Nadeau
All Rights Reserved.

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