Marketing 101: How Do I Get People to Change Platforms?
Last updated: 6/16/2002; 10:20:40 AM
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Marketing 101: How Do I Get People to Change Platforms?

The single hardest marketing pitch in all of computing, both hardware and software, is this:

Please Mr. Customer, Change Your Platform to My New Thing!

There is just nothing harder.  This article will tackle this non-trivial (that's semi sarcastic computer geek speak for "wicked hard") problem from a theoretical basis and then, in a follow up piece, with a real world example – Drupal.

Changing Platforms: Theory

Here is what you normally think about how to convince a customer to change platforms:

  • My product is better
  • My product is cheaper
  • My product is more stable
  • My product can import your data
  • Your old vendor is now out of business
  • Some intersection of one or all of these ideas

These are the usual arguments that a vendor uses to convince a customer to change platforms.  What most vendors don't understand is this:

  1. For certain decisions people are just plain irrational
  2. Changing platforms is a huge labor cost so even if the product is cheaper, it may not matter
  3. Changing platforms is scary and people don't like to be scared
  4. No one really believes that data will cleanly import
  5. Customers are unbelievably cynical these days.

Here is each of these illustrated with some additional specifics (the #s are the same so just look up to the first point if you have questions):

  1. Irrational.  Yup.  We are.  Remember my rant about editors that crash?  Guess what?  I still use that editor, the one that periodically crashes on FTP saves.  Why?  Well, the rational thing would be to try again.  But I suspect that I'd just find another editor with different bugs.  I'll use this one for now until I have the time to search further.  And I know damn well that this is silly, foolish and irrational.  So what?
  2. Labor Cost.  Don't even attempt to lie to me on this point or tell me that there is no labor cost.  Even changing word processors from WordPerfect to Word has a labor cost – file conversion – or maintaining two copies of the word processor.  For me to change platforms I need to have time that I can cleanly set aside for doing the conversion.  And it's just plain hard to get down time these days.
  3. Scary.  Changing platforms always involves your data.  And that's terrifying these days – our data is important.  And, just as a fact, people don't do things when they are scared. 
  4. Import.  Vendors, vendors, vendors — a brief rant.  Here's what I think of as data for a platform:
    • Content I Create.  If it's a blogging tool then the content is my blog postings.
    • Meta Content I create.  If it's a blogging tool then the meta content are things like my category definitions, my user accounts, my theme settings and so on.  If it's a data base then my data may be SQL compliant but what about my reports?

What I look for in a platform change is a vendor that tells me something like this: "You are moving from X to our Y product.  Your content will move in pretty cleanly but you may have some problems with embedded images.  Your user accounts will need to be recreated in full as will your reports."

To be honest, I will happily contemplate a platform change that involves data that doesn't import – if I don't have to figure it out for myself.  If I look at it as something I have to do by trial and error, I think "The vendor just doesn't get it.  I'll pass".

A final comment as to why I haven't changed editors yet: I already created my 5 or 6 FTP accounts in this editor so to make the change I have to do that all over again.  No thanks.  My time is valuable and with my CTRL+A, CTRL+C condom, I'm ok.

  1. Cynical.  Oh you noticed this in my writing?  We're now at the point where people who have been thru the entire PC revolution are in management positions.  We've all be lied to so many times that we can't count it.  Anyone remember these:
    • Oracle's first SQL "Optimizer" – that didn't optimize.
    • OS/2?
    • Microsoft's Unix committment e.g. Xenix
    • … the list just goes on and on

So is it impossible to get people to change platforms?  Not at all.  Move on to part 2 for a very different approach.

Part 2

NOTE: If there is interest then I can write a part 3: Marketing Techniques for Convincing People to Change Platforms (that doesn't rely on the approach in part 2 which is radical). 


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