Thursday, January 04, 2007


I always like to read the Personals in my husband's Harvard Magazine. I went to a small women's college, and our alumnae mag doesn't have any of these, and I don't think my grad-rag, The Technology Review, has personals either.

It is amazing to me how everyone who advertises is handsome, athletic, sophisticated, world-traveled, adorable, sensual. They are stunning, slender, and have legs that won't quit. All the women seem to look like Susan Sarandon. And, of course, they are also intelligent, good-humored, well-traveled, gourmet cooks with all kinds of brainy interests. One of this month's is even selfless. Sometimes there's a little detail that's a differentiator - one person this month like walking the Yorkshire moors, another is inspired by gamelan music, whatever that is. But most of the advertisers use the same adjectives over and over again.

As I was sitting there making fun of these ads, I found myself thinking guiltily of all the times I've used the words easy-to-use, scalable, secure, high-performing, enterprise-class, and robust to describe a software application. Or should I say a software solution.

These words are so overused, they tell us nothing about our product that's any different than what they other guy is saying about their product. But they've become so ubiquitous that if you omit them, someone will wonder what that problem is. ("They don't say 'secure'. Hmmmmm. What's up with that.") And so, like the handsome, athletic, stunning, and sexy words thrown in by the Harvard Mag personal ad-writers, I'll probably keep throwing in my throw-away words when I describe software.

But I was amused by the approaches taken in a couple of this edition's ads. In one, the "don't just take my word for it" ad, the woman writes "...characterized by male colleagues as 'smart, full of fun, with terrific, sexy slender figure - adds light and laughter wherever she goes.'" (Note to self: discretely ask male colleagues to write personal ad blurb for me. On second thought, DON'T.) At least she's backing up her claims with evidence.

But my favorite this month is for a "semi-retired MIT PhD who reads books and uses a bicycle for transportation." You know, with this one I think I'd know exactly what I was getting.

There are lessons to be learned here if we're marketing technology to techies. If you're making claims, be prepared to back them up. If you say scale, know what you mean by scale. Better yet, give us some customers telling us how scale worked for them.

And sometimes the most straightforward approach is the best of all. For some customers, "This software pings servers to see if they're alive" says more than "This robust, enterprise-class, scalable solution helps Fortune 1000 data centers ensure application availability."

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