“Off-White” Paper #2 – Positioning Corel

When Corel bought WordPerfect, I had great hopes that a new, re-energized MS Office competitor would emerge. I like WordPerfect and have used it since 1987. I have been sorely disapppointed. Corel is guilty of letting a major window of opportunity slip by. Microsoft is, at best, dsiliked by lots of people, including the US Justice Department. What does Corel do? Nothing discernable. Do they adopt the Avis (“we’re #2”, see Trout & Ries, “The Twenty Two Immutable Laws of Marketing”) David (as in David & Goliath) position? Probably didn’t even occur to them. What did they do? Adopt a new tag line! Here’s the scene: late on a Saturday evening in Ottawa, in the Corel executive Boardroom, curtains drawn (because the Microsoft spies are everywhere), a six pack of Molson’s on ice. After 11 minutes of really hard brainstorming, they giggle and come up with a real zinger that will put Microsoft in its place for good. The tag line Corel employs: “Go Further!” Bill Gates jumps out of bed, screaming in terror! (At least this is the Corel scenario). This is an obvious, and lame, attempt to take direct aim at Microsoft’s “Where do you want to go today?” line. But Corel’s counter-punch falls flat for several reasons. First, and foremost, few people see it due to the lack of exposure. Secondly, when a company occupies the second (or third) rung on a category ladder, how can they (Corel) take you “further” than #1? Granted, technically inclined people may know that there is an underlying validity to the Corel claim. I can’t speak to the technical part, but the general public will not accept this any more than they would accept Avis moving from a successful campaign (“We’re #2 – we try harder”, which grew marketshare) to a disastrous campaign (“We are going to be #1”, which reversed the growth). Successful positioning is predicated on how the buyers perceive you, not how you decide you want to be perceived. You can’t sit in a closed room on a dark night with your syncophants (i.e., senior people in your company, or worse, the techies!) and say: “This is who we are and this is how we’ll say it.” You need valid research to determine how you are perceived, what the relative values are, and predicate your position on something you actually “own” (see Trout & Ries & Rivkin in “Amtower Library”). Telling the world how to perceive you is doomed to failure. I recently had the opportunity to speak with Dr Michael Cowpland, CEO of Corel (at FOSE), and I asked several pointed questions about the marketing of the Office product. His answers, unfortunately, were predictable. I wanted to know what Corel was doing to proactively position themselves vs Microsoft. He answered by talking about the technical superiority of the product, especially the new voice recognition technology. Who cares? Having different (better) features is good, but Microsoft’s weakness is not technical stuff (well, maybe part of their weakness is); it is how they are perceived. So you position yourself as the underdog, fighting this evil behemoth on behalf of the overwhelmed users of the world. This is believeable. Subordinate the technical stuff and go for the emotional. Corel’s real stand seems to be: “Hey! We have a great product here! Come find us!” Microsoft’s response? Ignore them. Ignore Lotus (who has a new radio and space campaign, touting the same technical stuff that Dr Cowpland is so enamored of. Lotus’ problem, of course, is that they can’t take a David vs Goliath stand, because they are owned by IBM, another Goliath. Technical (and sales) people don’t seem to read marketing books, not even the best sellers. They don’t buy, or grasp the concepts. The Trout & Reis “Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind” and Trout & Rivkin’s “The New Positioning” (which talks about Lotus) deal directly with the issues that need to be addressed. They’re good, easy to read, fun, and are on tape, too. They can even be understood by salespeople and techies! And what does this mean for the government market? “Once upon a time,” most government word processing users were wed to WordStar. Anybody remember WordStar? WordStar made a few mis-steps in the mid-to-late 1980s and a small (David-like) Utah firm became the standard in government within 18 months, ultimately owning about 70% of the market. At this point, Corel doesn’t even seem to be trying to address the needs of those remaining WordPerfect users, much less create a situation to attract new users. Oh – and the venue where I spoke to Dr Cowpland? The press room after his keynote address. There were THREE of us asking questions. The result: Microsoft wins by default, without even showing up for the fight. Copyright 1998, Amtower & Company