Monday, October 5, 2009

Enter the FUDists

I first heard the term "FUD" at a 1394 Trade Association meeting at Microsoft in 1996. "FUD" is an underhanded marketing strategy which involves spreading "Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt" about the competition. The term was used during a discussion in the "Marketing Working Group" which was comprised primarily of engineers with a sprinkling of marketers.

Saying something bad about a competitor is not FUD. It is a perfectly acceptable marketing practice to point out the deficiencies in a competitor's products. You know the competitor is not going to mention the problems, so you are giving a potential customer the benefit of additional accurate information. This enables a rational decision to be made.

FUD, on the other hand, is suggesting things that may not be entirely true with the goal of gaining an advantage based on emotion rather than facts. Engineers can understand the concept of FUD, but they can not embrace it. To provide inaccurate information for the purpose of encouraging an irrational decision goes against everything an engineer believes in. The world of engineering depends on precise truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

The use of FUD in the bare knuckled world of high tech marketing is common but it was a strategy that the 1394 Trade Association (being comprised of primarily engineers) could never embrace. The value engineers place on exactness can be frustrating but the value they place on truth is refreshing.

Unfortunately, FUD is effective. Management is motivated by fear as well as logic. Fear of a lawsuit. Fear of bad press. Fear of selecting a niche technology and ending up with a niche market when their projections were for a mainstream market.

Refuting FUD consumed a lot of 1394 marketing resources. For example, every two - three years, rumors would spread through the market that large companies were dropping 1394 en masse or that 1394 was in steep decline in Japan (a market where 1394 was extremely popular). I worked several years at Texas Instruments and we would find out about these rumors when customers started reducing orders for 1394 silicon. Marketing resources had to be used to research the truth and to document that 1394 was still on the rise. Spreading the truth to refute FUD was more time consuming than spreading the FUD had been. As Winston Churchill once said, "A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on."

Calls for striking back were rebuffed by 1394 leadership and 1394 continued on a somewhat quixotic journey. Eventually, 1394 succeeded despite bad odds and found a home in several hundred million products. The success that 1394 has achieved is due largely to a fiercely loyal following.

Those who leave 1394 generally leave it with great regret which is hard to identify. One of the early evangelists summed it up the best after he was redeployed from 1394 to promoting USB. In his words “USB is all about, 'sit down, listen, and make some money for your employer.' 1394 is all about changing the world and being a part of history. How can you not fall in love with that?”

Snider is an international marketing professional specializing in the high tech market. He has 15 years of marketing experience with 7 years in a "for profit" company and 8 years in a "non-profit."
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