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Three ways to make old technology cool again.

Even tape can be made exciting. Well, maybe not all tape…

Are you trying to get the media and bloggers interested in what they think is obsolete, duller-than-dirt or just plain irrelevant technology? We’re talking stuff like mainframe management tools, sequential “waterfall” software development, legacy databases or point-to-point middleware to connect applications.

All have been around for decades, none are new and cool and all tend to make one’s eyes glaze over. But all of this stuff is still in used. It’s often, in fact, essential to things like ATM networks, manufacturing automation systems or air traffic control systems. Without them, a lot of life would stop. And because they’re often too difficult, expensive or risky to replace, there’s a great story if you can explain how they can be revamped for use in today’s social, mobile, cloud environments.

And that’s where our opportunity, and our challenge, comes in: Pushing back on product managers to make sure they can explain their compelling new story about an older technology. Last fall, Spectra Logic did a super job getting me, and a bunch of other media/analyst types, excited about a supposedly over-the-hill technology: Tape. I was impressed with their new marketing message and since then realized there were three essential elements to it:

  • Assure the market you’re still alive and kicking: Spectra Logic told us they’re consistently profitable. growing and invest heavily in R&D. That takes care of the “company in a dying industry” reaction. And while they sell hardware, most of the value-add (and most of their engineering work) goes into the software that runs it. That makes clear they’re not just a commodity hardware vendor.
  • Pitch a visionary, industry-changing vision: Rather than just a “better, cheaper faster” version of their current products, Spectra Logic laid out a vision of how object-based, long-term storage of unstructured data helps their customers move to the cloud. Note how they cleverly linked old technology (tape) to new, hot buzzwords (object store and cloud.)
  •  Prove the vision: Spectra Logic had new products to announce, real big-name customers on-hand to say why they like what Spectra Logic is doing, and a road map for future enhancements.

How might messaging work for other “ho-hum” technologies or ways of working? Try these on for size:

Tired Technology Wired Vision *
Mainframe management We combine mature mainframe discipline and security practices with modern DevOps-style continuous code updates to safely share the valuable data in core “systems of record.”
Legacy databases Our proprietary parsing algorithms translate the data relationships at the core of relational data stores for use in today’s more scalable cloud-based platforms. You won’t lose the years of analysis and context built into your legacy databases as you move to less expensive, more scalable cloud data stores.
Waterfall software development Our workflow and code repository combines waterfall’s strengths in methodical, step-by-step planning and design with DevOps’ rapid time to market. You get reliability, predictable performance and faster code releases.
Point-to-point middleware Our “wrappering” technology lets you easily use and adapt your platform-specific point-to-point integration to a more flexible, fast-changing services-oriented world. You don’t have to re-invent the integration wheel to get the speed and flexibility of a service-oriented approach.

(Apologies to Wired magazine) Now, all of these are off-the-cuff suggestions from a mere ink-stained wretch. True technical wizards will come up with even more relevant and buzz-inducing ideas.  What these have in common, and what Spectra Logic did so well, was to showcase the underlying strengths of the “tired” technology and describe a road map for holding on to those strengths in a more “wired” world.

Our challenge as marketers is to refine our technology “rebranding” until it’s achieved these three goals. The challenge, of course, comes when our employers (or clients) insist on going public with a re-branding that isn’t fully baked. But that’s another story…

Author: Bob Scheier
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I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email bob@scheierassociates.com or call me at 508 725-7258.

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