Open Letter to Frank Boulben

June 7, 2013

Frank Boulben
Chief Marketing Officer
Blackberry

Dear Frank,

Is there any other way to interpret the “Two Scoops” campaign than Blackberry giving up on product differentiation?

It isn’t that I don’t appreciate associative brand marketing; but the fact that you couldn’t say anything about the product that wouldn’t apply just about equally well to every one of your competitors is alarming.

I realize you face challenges not of your making; if you were selling only the Q10, you could have fun with the concept of real and faux, because after all, it has a real keyboard. But you can’t do that, obviously.

In a previous letter, I suggested to Thorsten that Blackberry is uniquely positioned to build a very large business around a fractured and underserved market need. I can’t quite imagine why he wouldn’t grab an opportunity to write another chapter in the book of leader-driven business turnarounds, but I have to acknowledge it is unlikely.

So it is on your shoulders. You have to find something that engages the intellect as well as finding resonance. After all, you’re not marketing soap or sugar water. Nor is the market stagnant; if you’re not breaking free from the pack at launch, even briefly, when will you?

The problem isn’t confined to one area. The “keep you moving” tagline is, to be kind, weak. It isn’t talking about the product and it isn’t even talking about the experience of using the product. It is about the benefit of using the product, and it isn’t a benefit that makes sense. I may want Ford or fiber to keep me moving, but you’re conflating the opportunity to be mobile with the requirement to move, and it doesn’t work. If you’re going to get lofty, at least go with something that makes sense. Freedom. Power. Connection. Information.

I know you must be under tremendous pressure, and certainly the implementation is top notch, but this quality of thought applied to messaging worries me. Either you want to do better but can’t for a multitude of reasons, which raises one issue, or you don’t realize that it doesn’t work, which raises another. Either way, the only solution is to set a new course, and for Blackberry’s sake, I hope you do.

Warm regards,

Larry Zulch

Open Letter to Brian Krzanich

May 16, 2013

Brian Krzanich
Chief Executive Officer
Intel Corporation

Dear Brian,

Congratulations on your new position.

If there is one company that can put its thumb on the scale, it’s Intel. Few companies with the resources have the will to upend conventional wisdom.

Yet Intel is failing in the biggest transformation in technology in recent memory. What is preventing Intel’s success in mobile?

Thomas Kuhn famously described major changes in scientific thinking as paradigm shifts. During a paradigm shift, cracks appear in structures of thought long thought invulnerable, conflict arises, and a new consensus emerges.

Relentless process improvement drove Intel’s success for so long that it became embedded in your thinking. That old paradigm led to Fab 42 and that thinking is preventing you from being successful in mobile.

Cracks in the current paradigm are growing: clock speed has stopped being particularly relevant. Multiple cores are no longer exclusively high end. And the x86 architecture is increasingly more obstruction than opportunity.

A natural response will be to redouble your efforts to make the old way work while simultaneously diversifying to make the old way less relevant. There is an alternative.

How about optimizing around a few large initiatives that challenge accepted thinking? These "new paradigms" could include: finding new opportunities for radical integration (Intel’s founding innovation); evaluating products solely by ops per milliwatt (an interest shared by mobile and datacenters); developing architectures embedding virtualization and remote integration; and making CPU/GPU operations fungible at a device level.

Some combination of these or other new paradigms will put Intel on a course that  substitutes that which is obvious for that which is known.

Decades from now, the environment will change again, and I can imagine someone taking on the mantle of leadership at Intel with the same fortunate opportunity you do; navigating Intel through a paradigm shift.

Regards,

Larry Zulch

Open Letter to Michael Dell

May 10, 2013

Michael Dell
Chairman of the Board, Chief Executive Officer
Dell Inc.

Dear Michael,

There is a way to reinvigorate your PC business.

When mobile and PC markets were distinct, products in each of those markets could be placed somewhere on a line from consumer to enterprise. In todays market, those lines define a plane, with fixed to mobile on one axis and consumption to production on the other.

Until your PC business gets stronger, your efforts anywhere on this new playing field will suffer, and it will be tempting to trot off into data-center land. But don’t, or at least not exclusively. You – and by that I mean you, Michael Dell, not you, Dell, the corporation – can make Dell’s PC business strong again.

Dell and Costco grew dramatically by sharing an attribute that Dell has lost and Costco has not: “effortless value.” If you find something at Costco, the value will be high. Period. Looking around for a better price for that item is a waste of time. “Warehouse theater” doesn’t hurt either; shopping at Costco feels like value.

It used to be that buying a Dell branded product was the same experience as shopping at Costco. Value was effortless. Pick a price, buy the Dell PC at that price, and move on without a backward glance.

However, through a thousand efforts at margin enhancement, sales channel conflict differentiation, and who knows what else, Dell now offers what can only be characterized as a baffling and incomprehensible array of product lines, products, configurations, and segmentations.

There is some correlation to erosions in your margins, in market share lost and customer loyalty dissipated. You can start getting it back by dramatically simplifying the product line. There will be many benefits. Most importantly: fewer products can be better products. Component selection will be less about “different” and more about “best.” The impact of corporate pride on products matters: right now, you have a lot of products over which to peanut butter that pride.

Presentation becomes simpler, too. The analogy for Costco’s “warehouse theater” is a clean, simple, and fast website driven by the customer's intent rather than product marketing’s segmentation. Product promotion becomes more targeted automatically. You’ll start to get back some of the surprising number of sales you’ve lost through your crisis of complexity.

And your legendary supply chain managers must be able to wring some savings out of having only, say, three primary laptop models and three desktops. Apply those savings, and whatever you allocate to price promotions, which should end now, to improving quality, lowering prices, and maintaining margins. In that order.

Just like Nixon going to China, only you make this happen. I'm sure you'll need to get personally involved in the tough decisions, the mandates, and the allocation of resources, whether capital or headcount.

Simplifying the product line and fixing the website is just the beginning, but it is something you can do right now.

I have some thoughts on the post-PC world, how Dell can be successful in mobile, enterprise products, etc. But right now, it is time to kick some PC market ass; all that requires is for you to sail upwind through a gale of internal opposition. I know that isn’t easy, and that you are somewhat preoccupied right now, but I also know you can do it.

Warm regards,

Larry Zulch