Steamed FUD

Like so many things invented elsewhere[i], the high-tech industry has grabbed the marketing ploy of spreading fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) through disinformation and made it all their own.

The idea is simple. Put just enough doubt into the minds of your customers that there is something dodgy about a competitor, or their product, so as to instil enough FUD to stall or reverse a buying decision.

A classic was a SEGA marketing campaign with the slogan “Genesis does what Nintendon’t”.

Let’s face it; FUD is the last defence of the desperate. You just know that the corporate marketing barrel is empty when a high-tech firm turns to FUD. It implies that you can’t differentiate your product, you are haemorrhaging customers and your stock has hit the floor.

If that’s the case then your CEO will be purple in the face and with steam coming out of his ears (despite the fact that it’s probably his fault that you’re in the situation in the first place). Who is he going to call? We’re going to reach for anything we can use, aren’t we? So let’s look at the different ways you can use FUD.

Typically, it is the incumbents in the market, those who have most to lose, who use FUD against new entrants. Roger Irwin recounts a great story about how Amstrad were forced to put a fan into their PC (which was half the price of the competition) because their competitors spread so much FUD about them overheating (which they didn’t). But new entrants go in for it to, so we need to consider the FUD attack and defence from both perspectives.

The incumbent can use their reputation in the market as a basis for their FUD, but it also a weakness because the customers have all had their painful journeys over the years with them. The entrants can use freshness and “new ways” as their starting point for FUD, but again it is a weakness because they don’t have established relationships. Oh, joy!

Typically, FUD is focussed one one or more of the following axes: technical competency, financial stability, legal position, product features, product integration, and as a final last desperate act: retribution.

I’ve given some helpful illustrations of each attack and defence in each area. You’ll probably recognise a few of them.

Incumbent’s FUD Entrant’s defence Entrant’s FUD Incumbent’s defence
Technical “This stuff is complicated, really complicated, and that’s why you’ve paid us so much over the years. Are you going to trust that investment to the new kid on the block?” “Yes, this stuff is complicated, but we’ve developed ways to make it much easier for you, Mr Customer, to get the job done. Our competitors have  a vested interest in making it look difficult for you.” “They’ve engineered their product around the old workflow, they’ll have to rebuild it from the ground up to make it work in the new way, and you know what that’ll do for stability…” “No one gets fired for buying an IBM”.
Financial “The new guys are on really shaky ground. They don’t have enough backing and their VC wants to exit next week. We’ve heard rumours…” “Read our published accounts, a statement from the VC. We’re performing above plan, we’re committed to the market.” “There are rumours that the old guys have been manipulating their accounts and that they’re going to have to restate them.” “We’ve commissioned an audit from accountants Dubious and Bent. We’ll share that with you.”
Legal “There are lots of patents in this area and some aggressive companies have been buying them up…” “We’ve got our own patents and we’ve been through the process very carefully; we’re not concerned.” “There has been a lot of new academic work in this area which is patented and we’ve licensed it .” “Take a look at our balance sheet, who do you think is going to win a patent case?”
Product “These new products are shallow, all that functionality is just skin deep – you’ll find yourself at sea in no time on a real project.” “We’ve got lots of new functionality which the incumbents won’t be able to build into a legacy product.” “We’ve got the new magic source from the latest academic research, renders 90% of their product useless.” “Their product doesn’t work, there are problems with that secret sauce, and the academic was caught with (our) prostitute…”
Integration “The new company’s products don’t input X’s data properly and you’ll end up with a decade of data you can’t read.

Besides it would cost $$$ to switch…”

“We’ve been around the block on this one lots of times and here is a list of current customers who will testify that it all works fine (and that they have the Ferrari so they better do so).” “We’ve heard that they are secretly encoding all your data so that you’ll not be able to read it if you switch products. We need to get it into the new Z standard asap.” “We can supply a special tool to export your data. We were early supports of the Z standard but it is so flawed we had to pull out.”
Retribution “If you buy their products we will pull support and you’ll be left high and dry.” “If you buy our products they will pull support, but we’ve hired their support team…” “The times they are a changing. You need to get on the bus or you’ll miss the boat. We won’t be able to make this kind of offer next year (no, it’ll be even better).” “You need to understand our roadmap because what we’ll be announcing next year will completely change the game, and can you tell us what you’d like to see in that roadmap?”

For those engaged in advance FUD battles, they can engage in the tactic of defending on one axis whilst attacking with FUD on another. You might want to print out the table so that you can tick the boxes off as you cover them. You can tell the CEO that this strategy is called Fudingo in MBA schools (a complete lie, but this being FUD we’ve left the truth far behind: it’s a combination of FUD and Bingo, but no need to tell him that).

I’ve developed an interesting 6 dimensional model called FUD6™ but it tends to cause such a reaction of fear in the viewer that I doubt it will clear up any uncertainty. Anyway, my competitors just wouldn’t understand it.


[i] “Suspicion has no place in our interchanges; it is a shield for ignorance, a sign of fear, uncertainty, and doubt.” Caesar Augustus Yarbrough, The Roman Catholic Church Challenged, p. 75. The Patriotic Societies of Macon, 1920 – Wikipedia

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