Last week, IBM's senior management team for the iSeries came to the spring COMMON Conference in Chicago to bring iSeries customers a message. The message, to quote iSeries General Manager Mark Shearer, is that "This is the year when IBM will speak out again about the unique capabilities of the iSeries." Just as importantly, the company will spend serious money to do that speaking out in advertising campaigns and sales initiatives with its Business Partners.
The IBM team discussed its plans with COMMON attendees at the iSeries Town Hall Meeting, the highlight event of the user conference. In his opening statements, Shearer told the audience that the four-page Wall Street Journal advertisement for the iSeries that appeared three weeks ago was just the start of a much larger marketing campaign. That campaign, as iSeries Vice President of Marketing Peter Bingaman explained, will include ads in top business magazines, television commercials, radio spots, and even blogs. To underwrite the campaign, IBM will increase iSeries ad spending by 200% to 300% this year.
To give the audience a taste of the messages the ads will deliver, Bingaman played video spots in which an IT consultant makes a sales call at a company that owns an iSeries. As he tells a boardroom full of managers that they should implement a complex network of servers and manage them with a sizable IT staff, the managers burst out in peals of laughter. They tell the consultant that their iSeries already does everything that his proposed network does, but it requires just one person to manage it. While the video spots never mention Windows servers by name, it is obvious that they are a big part of the consultant's proposal.
It is likely that IBM will limit the video spots to marketing events and sales presentations rather than releasing them as television ads. However, it is clear that the iSeries management team wants to include the spots' bold, edgy messages in its advertising materials. Indeed, Shearer and his colleagues want IBM to declare publicly that the iSeries is a platform with advantages over other servers. As Shearer stated, "There are many places in the market where the iSeries should be IBM's 'lead with' strategy."
If IBM does lead with the iSeries more often, it would represent a major break with the company's policy of promoting its eServer brand while downplaying differences between individual server lines. That policy boosted IBM's overall share of the server market but limited the company's ability to advertise the iSeries' strengths to customers that still associate the system with stodgy green-screens. To convince IBM to promote the iSeries, Shearer's team is mounting an internal marketing campaign to help other divisions understand the server's unique capabilities. As part of the campaign, the iSeries Division will undoubtedly point out that its server is at more customer sites than any of IBM's other systems. This makes the health of the iSeries critical to the health of the company's relationships with its customers.
Besides pledging to promote the iSeries within his own company, Shearer made a statement that I have never heard any General Manager utter in the 20 years I have studied IBM: "I am going to be here for a period of years until we get this business back to where it is supposed to be." Such a promise should come as a comforting surprise to an iSeries community that has endured many management changes in recent years. No IBM General Manager would make such a promise unless the company's top executives have agreed to devote significant resources to building his or her brand. As such, Shearer must have considerable backing from the senior management team to reenergize the iSeries.
In short, 2005 may become the year when IBM finally decides to make the iSeries a top marketing priority. However, it is highly unlikely that such a change in thinking will take place overnight. For that change to take place, the iSeries management team will have to convince many within IBM that the iSeries is poised for growth and that promoting it is in their best interests. They will also need to convert many IBM Business Partners from skeptics into true believers. Fortunately, it appears that Shearer and his team have the time and the support they need to achieve these goals. If they use that time and support skillfully, we may all become witnesses to a major turnaround.