UC&C Marketing: Focusing on the 'Little Picture'
Securing an enterprise future might take getting the UC&C message in front of consumers.
While I have spent my entire career focused on the enterprise, I know that the big market today is the consumer market. This is especially so in mobility -- all of these marvelous gadgets and amazing services, even the apps launched by businesses, are meant to attract consumer spending. So while marketing targeted at the enterprise centers on trade shows, Webinars, and banner ads, marketing to consumers is what keeps the lights burning in Times Square.
As a result, virtually everyone in an enterprise knows about Skype, but only a comparatively small number understands what Skype for Business is. Those same people who know Skype also get Amazon, Google, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and, increasingly, Slack, HipChat, Glip, Facebook for Work, the new WeChat for Enterprise, and other business-oriented tools coming from start-up land. The growing availability of cloud-based services and the ongoing consumerization of enterprise technology continues to erode IT's traditional stranglehold on product selection. To survive, UC&C marketers may need to start getting their messages to consumers -- or risk being locked in the data center with IT.
Consider, for example, what happens when Facebook turns Messenger into a shopping engine, which it intends to do by enabling it with artificial intelligence, as CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced at the recent F8 Facebook Developer Conference. In describing how this would work when ordering flowers from 1-800-Flowers.com, he quipped, "To order from 1-800-Flowers, you never have to call 1-800-Flowers again," adding, "I've never met anyone who likes calling a business."
That comment must have stung in the contact center space. As we saw plenty of at last month's Enterprise Connect, contact center vendors have been adding multi-channel capabilities to their products so companies can engage with customers via email, text, and social media (albeit with mixed results). But now here's the biggest social media company going straight after their bread and butter. Of course, as an IT-controlled purchase, contact center is a key target for UC&C vendors. But might IT now decide to outsource the entire function?
The pressure is only going to intensify as traditional UC&C vendors look to morph into social collaboration providers a la Microsoft with Office 365 with Groups, IBM with Connections, Jive Software, Salesforce.com, and Google with Docs/Hangouts, and voice communications companies turn out their wannabes -- Cisco Spark, Avaya Breeze, Unify Circuit, Mitel MiTeam, and the rest. While the UC&C vendors are trying to move into this space, Slack reports having 2.7 million daily active users (up from 2.3 million last month), 800,000 paid users, and a $3.8 billion valuation. Slack customers include CenturyLink, CBS, Dow Jones, the Federal Aviation Administration, Harvard University, Samsung, The Wall Street Journal, and the U.S. State Department. Were UC&C vendors to disclose their subscriber numbers, I'm pretty sure they'd be dwarfed by those from Slack.
Of course, the challenge in making an impact in the consumer market is money, particularly if you go with "old media." I'm regularly floored when my daughter-in-law, who is a TV media buyer, tells me the budget numbers she deals with; I can't see the Ciscos and Avayas writing those kinds of checks.
Microsoft is the most confounding player in all of this. Office 365 boasts a reported 120 million licenses, and while Microsoft does some consumer advertising, it is targeted at specific product lines (you really think all of those NFL announcers "chose" Surface Pro tablets?). On the social collaboration front, Microsoft has all of the components of a social collaboration platform (and then some) when you look at the combination of Exchange, Skype for Business, SharePoint, Yammer, and the rest, but it has yet to package them as a social collaboration option. Instead, the company seems to be focused on becoming registered as a telco in more and more jurisdictions. I'd be hard pressed to call that forward thinking.
Slack has done some TV advertising, but it seems to depend more on YouTube for distribution; as an example, this ad garnered almost 7 million views in a week (BTW -- that's a barn owl hooting, and barn owls don't make hooting sounds). Cisco has had a Spark video up on YouTube for about a year, and as of this writing it's got less than 25,000 views. Meantime, I learned in talking to the HipChat guys, Atlassian, at Enterprise Connect, that the company doesn't even have a salesforce; everything is viral marketing.
It seems that startups have as much of a hook in New Age marketing as they have in creative product ideas, which also will put the established players at a serious disadvantage. The message is clear: To be successful in the business we are evolving into, you have to be able to reach the consumer. This is particularly true now that IT's influence is shrinking.
I am quite convinced at this point that as millennials become the dominant portion of the workforce, email and the other tools so beloved by the older generation will be retired (right along with us), and those new work tools will be modeled on what we are seeing in the social collaboration space. The offerings from the old-line UC&C suppliers are perfectly adequate from a technical standpoint. However, unless they can tackle the marketing challenge of engaging and enthralling the new generation, they're not getting out of the wiring closet.
What the UC&C vendors seem to be missing is that the sleepy, IT-controlled PBX business they were in a few years ago has now grown into or, more precisely, become part of, something entirely different. What's more, the influence of the CIO and the IT department is melting like an ice cube in the sun, and an industry with enormous transformative power is barreling down on them. This new market cares little about a list of 400 unfathomable features. The consumer dominates the big picture, and startups are beating UC&C vendors to the punch there. "Little picture" marketing isn't going to get it done.