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Avaya Marketing Communications Needs Improvement (Much Improvement)

I am on record as saying that Avaya has the best overall product portfolio, including the best in class for several individual product categories. Despite superior product capabilities, the largest installed domestic customer base and the leading professional services staff among its domestic competitors, Avaya continues to lose market-share ground to Cisco Systems. There are many reasons why Cisco has leapt ahead of Avaya in less than a decade's time in the enterprise communications market, but one stands out like a sore thumb: Avaya's less than satisfactory marketing communications efforts and results. The company has very strong product marketing capabilities, but when communicating with the world outside of Avaya it often stumbles badly, very badly.Avaya's boatload of announcements at the recent VoiceCon is a good example of the company's ongoing marketing communications mess. It wasn't the first time Avaya announced too much at once, and some important elements of the overall announcement were lost in the avalanche.

The two big Avaya announcements were the introduction of the new Aura brand naming convention and Session Manager. Session Manager, a somewhat unique solution that supports enhanced SIP trunking capabilities to reduce customer network costs and enable shared applications across multiple systems, Avaya and non-Avaya, alike, was the centerpiece of the announcement,

There were many other important elements of the announcement, including several major design and parameters enhancements to the S8700 platform, a new G430 media gateway, and enhancements to Modular Messaging and Voice Processing. These were given scant attention. Avaya fell victim to the more-is-better theory of announcements, despite the fact the intended audience is unlikely to remember or embrace more than one or two of the announcement elements. My No Jitter March 30, 2009 article "VoiceCon Witnesses the Debut of Avaya Aura" was the only one I could find that covered the Avaya announcement in its entirety. Most discussed Session Manager, and gave little coverage to other parts of the announcement. Avaya is not the only company to make the "BIG" announcement mistake, but Avaya cannot afford to make any communications marketing mistakes as it competes head-on against Cisco Systems and Microsoft, two well-oiled marketing machines who receive and often bask in media attention way beyond that of the other enterprise communications system suppliers (Avaya included).

Avaya used VoiceCon to introduce Aura to the market at large. The Kevin Kennedy keynote presentation and the press kit both included an Aura Session Manager network diagram that has to be one of the most confusing and technically inaccurate PowerPoint slides I have ever seen in my 30 years in the business. The network diagram (the only one included with the press kit, by the way) was included in a pre-conference briefing presentation I received from Avaya, and despite my negative comments and feedback, it was included in the keynote as is. The slide is poorly labeled, identical telephones are used to represent Nortel and Siemens systems, third party telephones and Avaya media gateway cabinets appear to be connected directly to the network with telephony servers, and a SIP trunk cloud is connected to SIP trunk circuits. When the centerpiece slide of a presentation is confusing and inaccurate it diminishes the entire presentation. Weeks later I still look at the network diagram and shake my head.

The Avaya keynote presentation by its new CEO Kevin Kennedy was satisfactory, despite using the ill-conceived Aura Session Manager network diagram slide. My major problem with the keynote presentation was that it spent an inordinate amount of time demonstrating how an end user could order a wide screen television and inform everyone of the great bargain they received using the Facebook website. I have asked Avaya to explain to me what the Facebook connection to the Aura Session Manager is, and why a system user would waste company time and resources to go online to buy a product for personal use. Integration with social networking sites may be something Avaya has planned for future Session Manager releases, but why not focus the presentation on current Session Manager capabilities, such as network cost savings using SIP trunk connections, and personal productivity improvement as emphasized in the Aura documentation material available on the Avaya website (not available the day of announcement, I should point out). I have asked many individuals in attendance at the keynote, including more than a few fellow industry analysts, and no one could satisfactorily explain the connection between Aura Session Manager, Facebook, and purchasing a consumer product online. It may have made for an interesting presentation interlude, but the unique capabilities of Aura Session Manager were lost somewhere in translation.

Contrast the Avaya keynote to the very well received and slickly presented Microsoft keynote by Gurdeep Singh Pall and differences between Avaya and Microsoft marketing communications capabilities are apparent to even the most casual observer. Avaya's keynote lacked imagination and any sense of theatricality, it was just another in a long line of executive-centered presentations. The Microsoft keynote appeared well-planned, fast paced, and made use of multiple customer guests to hammer home the Microsoft message to the audience. Pall moved smoothly about the stage, microphone in hand, before sitting down to interview a procession of customers as if in an infomercial. Only Cisco Systems keynotes, especially those with John Chambers, are in the same league as Microsoft keynotes. These are the companies Avaya competes against to sell new systems and retain its installed customer base.

Avaya missed the announcement mark in several other areas, such as allowing more than a month delay before presenting the new Aura solutions to the consultant community during a scheduled consultant program webinar, and not making available to the analyst community background documentation and materials in a timely manner (an email directing analysts to Avaya materials on their website was not distributed until early May). In an earlier No Jitter post I wrote how Cisco makes information and documentation available to the public the very same day of its major announcements, not days or weeks later. Avaya should learn a lesson from Cisco, because the value of information decreases over time and it is important to strike when the iron is hot before interest dies down.

There are many other examples of how Avaya continues to miss the marketing communications mark, such as the media phone press release prior to VoiceCon that announced several new color display IP desktop telephones, but failed to specifically identify half the new models by model number. Avaya has yet to update its website to reflect its three primary product solution categories: Unified Communications, Contact Centers, and Integrated Office Communications (SME business unit). IP Telephony has been absorbed into the Unified Communications category, but you would not know this from the current website, where it stands independently of Unified Communications. Integrated Office Communications is nowhere to be seen. The Avaya website search engine could also use some major work (something Avaya has conceded to me for several years).

If Avaya hopes to compete effectively and successfully against Cisco Systems and Microsoft today and down the road it must optimize every contact with customers, customers, analysts, press, and other interested parties. Sloppy mistakes, less than optimal press releases or presentations will not do. Delaying the dissemination of information or making it difficult to find on their website may significantly hurt Avaya in the long run.

As I tell clients, I may not always know the right thing to do, but I can definitely spot when something is wrong, and something at Avaya is definitely not right.