Today was a big one for EMC, with the company launching or updating 41 storage products, including the new VNX storage system. EMC’s press and analyst event was equally notable, with a large crowd of insiders (including me) brought to New York City to watch a sideshow of world records set. Although Wall Street noticed all the fuss and rewarded the company with a decade-high stock price, some actions away from the AXA Equitable Center drew the ire of EMC competitor, NetApp.
EMC’s $3 Billion Announcement
The events of January 18, 2011 marked a new boldness for EMC marketing. The storage giant is not known as a clever marketing machine, but change is in the air. New Chief Marketing Officer Jeremy Burton was lauded by many today for the bolder strategy, and the company’s management, board, and stockholders must be pleased by his performance.
EMC’s share price has slumped for almost a decade, yet has risen steadily over the past year. Although lagging behind rival NetApp in terms of growth, EMC shares jumped dramatically over the last three days. As the details of today’s announcement leaked, the stock rose $1.50, or about 5%. With 2.1 billion shares outstanding, this gain represents $3 billion of market capitalization.
While EMC’s engineering team delivered a compelling new unified storage platform as well as solid upgrades across the line, EMC’s marketing deserves much of the credit for the sudden rise in valuation. Opinions regarding the product announcements were positive but not overwhelmingly so. But the “record breaking” theme of the event generated buzz from unlikely corners and drew applause from the audience.
NetApp Decries “Childish” Moves
EMC’s marketing push also included pointed taunts at one key enterprise storage rival, NetApp. Tuesday morning saw a fleet of Mini Cooper cars wrapped in EMC branding parked outside NetApp’s Sunnyvale headquarters, and EMC slogans appeared on the pavement outside at least two offices.
This guerilla marketing tactic was lauded by the EMCers I talked to in New York. They chuckled at the audacious “branding” of NetApp’s offices, passing around photos of the cars on Twitter and internal sites.
NetApp PR director, Roger Villareal, voiced the annoyance expressed by some within that company at the pointed statement made by EMC’s moves. “EMC defaced NetApp HQ sidewalks,” tweeted Villareal, while others speculated about the nature of the marking campaign.
EMC insiders tell me they used a stencil and power washer to avoid “vandalizing” the NetApp property in a more-permanent manner, but the folks at NetApp were not so sure. One suggested it was “acid etched” and thus a permanent defacement of the property.
Update: Chad Sakac of EMC has unambiguously stated that this was “power-washed with a stencil.” NetApp should be able to easily remove the lettering by pressure-washing the surrounding area.
The presence of branded EMC Mini Cooper cars at NetApp HQ also raised questions. EMC pulled a similar stunt in November of last year, sending in billboard trucks during a major NetApp announcement. The photo of the EMC Minis was first tweeted and uploaded to the YFrog account of none other than Jeremy Burton, suggesting his pride at the action.
Note that these stunts occurred far from EMC’s announcement and would likely only be visible to NetApp employees but for the power of the Internet. Even Twitter, puzzlingly propelled more by NetApp tweets than from EMC, didn’t increase their visibility much. These stunts appear to be designed for the internal consumption of EMC and NetApp employees.
Native Americans of the American plains demonstrated their courage through the “coup” of touching their opponents and escaping unharmed. EMC appears similarly to “count coup” by “tagging” NetApp’s buildings with their logo and message. But what’s the point?
Such stunts are hardly unusual in corporate PR, but uncommon in enterprise storage. It is unlikely that customer buying decisions would be impacted positively by actions like this. In fact, large enterprise customers might be turned off by behavior they view as childish.
The launch of the VNX series, which is obviously inspired by and aimed at NetApp, does mesh with these branding stunts in one way: They show that EMC considers NetApp their main market threat. This must be gratifying to the smaller Sunnyvale company, and should entice the storage teams at HP, Dell, IBM, Oracle, and HDS to step up their games.
Generating buzz for new products is certainly beneficial to EMC, and Burton’s announcement paid off in a big way in terms of corporate valuation. But mean-spirited taunting, like Twitter fights, will backfire. EMC should focus its newfound marketing muscle on positive messaging, not provoking their smaller competitor.
Disclaimer: EMC paid for my airfare and hotel accommodations to attend this event. They also took me out for an excellent Sushi dinner and snuck into my hotel room to leave some Lindt chocolates on my bed. EMC and NetApp have both also sponsored Tech Field Day, an event I organize.