My hype-meter has been jumping in recent weeks, illuminating a rocky road for the security market that will produce some corporate casualties in the near future.
This might sound like a harsh criticism to level at an industry worth many billions of dollars (Gartner says so, so it must be true), so I’ll qualify it a little. During the boom-time dot-com era – if a few short years count as an era – we saw a slew of products and services that no one really wanted. But they attracted funding and even some customers because the industry was hyped to death (literally, at the end) and because of the market frenzy.
What similarities exist in the IT security space? Well, have you seen a new product launched recently that did not use the word “unique” anywhere in its literature? I have, but it took some finding. How much market research have you seen lately that was not funded by a company selling a solution to whatever problem is highlighted in the findings? Doesn’t that sound just a little like a predetermined conclusion? So much for unbiased and authoritative – this is marketing collateral, pure and simple. That’s fine, that’s what marketing does, but there are limits. When hype crosses the line into deception, you’re past the point of equilibrium.
Some segments of the security market are becoming increasingly dominated by hype. Hype from vendors, from analysts, from the public sector, and from the media. This is one of the signs of a top-heavy market starting to topple.
When I see products that have to resort to hype or outright lies in order to sell, something must be amiss. If a vendor has to delude, dupe and deceive customers into buying a product (or providing funding), ask some serious questions. It’s a reasonable assumption that a lie conceals a deficiency – spot the falsehood, and dig for the shortcoming. You might still buy the product, but at least you’re buying it with your eyes open.
Very few products really are unique. None are “very” unique, no matter how often that sad term is repeated in the brochure. The market today reacts with such speed that a viable technology will not remain alone in its niche for longer than an instant. Consequently, real innovation is scarce – all but the first to market is imitation. Is that bad? Heck, no. Sometimes the second-comer is the better option. But if it claims to be the first when it clearly is not, sound the alarm.
So if you’re looking at a product that makes unlikely claims, take a long hard look at just what they’re selling. Put the techies to research, and see what you can dig up. Then hit the vendor with it, and hit hard. What you’ll find is that many companies really do have good products to sell – rubbish marketing sometimes belies excellent technology – and once you’ve pierced that veil you’ll be able to make a decision based on straight talking. Those that have to invent new terms for old technology and resort to buzzword bingo to cloud the issue deserve relegation from the shortlist before you can say “exclusive.”
Sure, hype sells. And let’s be realistic, marketing is not about telling the whole truth and nothing but the truth. But there are limits. If you have to get actors in the streets pretending to like your device, maybe you’ve found one of those limits. If you have to encourage users to download an application that will “demonstrate a hack attack to see if you need to buy this product” (yeah, right!), that’s another limit. If you have to spam me with marketing messages for pop-up blocking products, that’s a limit too.
So why do it at all? The process of technology becoming commodities is one reason. When there’s little to differentiate products, what else but marketing separates them? Desktop products like anti-virus and personal firewalls are examples of these, but they’re not alone. From that assumption, a product that makes wild claims may well be common technology with an impressive sounding new name.
Were this limited to a few examples, I’d put that down to the usual market distribution of those that market too much at one end of a bell-curve, with those that market too little on the other and the rest in the middle. But it’s becoming so widespread, so pervasive, that I can’t avoid reaching the same conclusions that I did just a couple of years ago.
Hype works until the market learns the truth. Then, you’re dead. Witness the dot-com failures – the market (venture capitalists and customers alike) figured out it was all hot air, and the balloon popped. Should I be amazed that we haven’t learned a lesson from that, and that we’re repeating the same mistakes in such short order?
Jon Tullett is U.K. and online editor for SC Magazine (www.scmagazine.com).