Home  TOC
Turning the Food Chain Around

Hal Pawluk

Sometimes, the little guy wins.

Fox Software, Inc. had been in business since 1984 with a consistently better PC database management system than the industry leaders, yet had only a 6% market share at the beginning of 1991.

And the day Fox launched a new product was the day the two largest competitors merged to create a behemoth with a 75% market share.

In spite of that, Fox grew their market share from 6% to 24% in 12 months while the behemoth just stood there shaking its head.

Fox called me in to help with the marketing at the beginning of 1991, first as a consultant then as Senior VP Marketing. The objective was to get Fox into the mainstream of PC computing, with a target of $100,000,000 in annual sales (they were at less than half that at the time).

While the competition was fierce, we had a major advantage to start with because Fox Software was the company it was. They were a well-run, financially conservative company, had money in the bank, and Development was staffed with world-class talent who had created an excellent product. Initially, they were weak in Sales and Marketing, but they knew that and were prepared to make the necessary investments to fill the gap. So when they were ready to tackle the market, they were in a position to say: "Let's do it." And did.

Here's how we went about it. I think you'll find some of it useful in your situation. (You might want to print this out and read it later - there's a lot here)

Positioning was a crucial element of our program. We started with FoxPro strongly and firmly 'niched' as the database program for programmers (chart).

Nice (see the Gorilla Paper), and by first working on getting sales, distribution and communications up to speed we increased revenues rapidly and in a major way, leveraging the position we already had, even with a DOS-based product in a Windows world.

But that niche was also a handicap.

Because the overall market was 15 times as large and we weren't in it. To compete in the entire segment, we needed to deliver a product that was easier to use, then communicate our new story quickly and convincingly to the marketplace. To get to the solution, I started with the premise that nobody wants a database. What users really want is to store and retrieve data, browse through their records, run queries, reports and applications, print labels and to stay focused on the business of doing business.

It struck me that all of these could be thought of as 'information objects' and, looking at how our product worked, that it should be easy to provide fast and easy access to them. So I drew up a new pull-down menu listing these objects and asked Development to add a pad on the main menu with the appropriate hooks. It wasn't much to look at but it was great to see.

Because now if a user wanted to run a report, it was just a matter of selecting Run>Reports... then clicking on the name of the report to run. Ditto for the other items on the list.

Quick. Simple. And far easier than competitive products. The headline for the introductory ad was simple, too: See Fox RUN. And I wrote a simplified user manual that covered all of FoxPro but was only 32 pages long. This reinforced the ease-of-use story, and a new user quickly saw results.

Next was messaging to the outside world. For prospects, press and analysts, I scripted a presentation positioning us and the competition where we all now belonged. This was important, because to be really effective you don't just position your product - you reposition the competition, too.

I defined the terms for the positioning as 'Satisfying Business User Needs.' It was my play so I set the rules - you can do the same kind of thing with your products in your marketplace - but it was also a legitimate market concern.

On that basis, it was easier to 'put the competition in the trick bag,' as an MBA I know once said. Paradox was 'easy to use but incomplete.' The latest version of dBASE was 'on its way to becoming just another computer language and abandoning ease-of-use.' Clipper was 'still for programmers only.' All backed by credible evidence and persuasive copy.

After this setup, we revealed the 'red arrow' and our Run menu, claiming and demonstrating that only FoxPro addressed the needs of all the users. Our audiences were impressed, because it was all true. So you might want to take a closer look at your own situation - there may be a simple fix. (Mind you, I've found that the good ones all seem simple. After-the-fact.)

We did a lot of detailed planning, too, and it worked, but as usual there was the plan, then there was reality.

During the year we had ample opportunity to demonstrate how well we could "turn and burn" on tactical responses. A major one was when the Paradox and dBASE publishers merged, creating a company with 75% of the market and announced this on the day we released FoxPro 2.0, taking away a lot of the impact of our launch.

Another one caught us almost immediately because our PR and advertising were working so well.

The advertising and PR push started in May, but the product release slipped two months to early July. This meant that in addition to the normal upgrade flood, we were hit with all the new prospects advertising and promotion were bringing to our door.

Our support system was initially swamped. The VP Operations and COO jumped in and fixed it rapidly, but I had no idea of how many prospects we had disgruntled so I quickly ran an ad in an attempt to keep a grip on our mind-share gains.

Dealing with this quickly was necessary because the callers we were alienating were potentially the 'early adopters' (see Pyramid of Power) and very important to our long-term success. This ad was to let them know strongly that we really cared, we wanted to do business with them, and we would like them to try again. And I meant every word of it.

Then since we were spending the money on the ad anyhow, I worked at it until I had created a headline that allowed me to slip in the claim that we were "the best PC database in the world" in a disarming fashion that wouldn't turn readers off. (You can read the ad in the Samples section.)

Sales kept climbing until Microsoft bought the company.

Starting in February 1991, here's how the year went:

I haven't covered everything, especially corporate sales, the distribution channel and direct mail, but I'll have to leave any more for another Page. I hope this has given you some ideas you can use, because it's proof that the HTTP/1.1 100 Continue big guy doesn't always win.

Today, we would do the same things but would use media differently. The Web has had some positive and some negative efffects I comment on in Media Now. And if you're looking for assistance with your marketing, advertising or Internet presence, please get in touch. We do killer work.

See also: Ashton-Tate People: Hal Pawluk

Home  TOC

If you have any information that can help us to compile this history, please, send us a message. Thanks!