Roughly 18 months ago, Bite Communications was approached by BEA Systems, a $1 billion company and provider of high end middleware software, to help reclaim its leadership against competitors like IBM and Oracle. BEA was initiating a massive strategic expansion – and its future leadership rested in part on the ability to maintain its current leadership. Thus, BEA and Bite began a campaign to reclaim the public agenda. The road between the campaign’s inception and the introduction of the expanded product line was a virtually “newsless” one; so the campaign would require creativity, proactivity and competitive savvy. This submission details this integrated campaign, and reveals a company that emerged, once again, a leader.
For nearly eight years, BEA has maintained a leadership position in one of the most competitive enterprise software markets – high end middleware. Specifically, BEA is the “application server” market leader – a market BEA created and led from day one. This leadership position made BEA the fastest software company in history to ever reach a billion-dollar revenue run rate, enabled it to post 24 straight quarters of positive cash flow from operations, and bank $1.4 billion – all while competing against the biggest software companies in the world, including and primarily IBM.
However, more than 18 months ago the market landscape began to shift. BEA faced increased competition from tech giants like IBM and Oracle and buzz around industry consolidation (to BEA’s demise) began to heighten. As a result, industry analysts, financial analysts, the media and, most notably, BEA’s competitors started questioning the long-term viability of what they called a “one-trick pony,” and BEA’s stock fell below the sacred $5 mark. BEA had lost control of the discussion.
Not oblivious to the market changes, BEA’s management was already hard at work engineering a response to broaden the company’s addressable market beyond the application server into the much larger application infrastructure space. This response would be a unified software offering that included the application server, portal and integration technologies.
However, despite having a solid business plan to return the company to growth, BEA faced three challenges:
1)• Viability and timing. Development timelines meant shipment of these new products was still several quarters out, yet BEA’s naysayers weren’t letting up. BEA had to maintain its seat at the table until the products shipped.
2)• Credibility. BEA had to establish credibility as an integration technology provider, a space traditionally dominated by the enterprise application integration (EAI) vendors.
3)• Market share. BEA’s success and reputation was built on the back of the application server. Market share reports were due out in the spring/summer and if they showed BEA had lost its leadership position, serious doubt would be cast on BEA’s long-term viability, which could pose a serious threat to the success of its platform launch.
So, the company turned to PR and AR to mitigate the competitive noise, reclaim the agenda from IBM and provide air cover until its new game-changing products were available.
1)Re-direct the enterprise IT discussion back to BEA, making BEA’s vision the vital vision in enterprise IT.
2)Establish credibility for BEA in the business integration space.
Research and Planning:
The team utilized a number of research and planning tools throughout the campaign, including: (1) the inception of weekly competitive task force calls to drive strategy and garner input from across the company; (2) daily and weekly competitive analysis, with tactical recommendations; (3) monthly analysis of media performance indicators; (4) and monthly tracking of key competitor messages.
•Set a New Agenda: Position it around a converged ‘application infrastructure’, making it a binary debate between BEA and IBM as the only two vendors capable of offering this technology – thereby creating context for BEA as a new market visionary, and boxing the EAI vendors into an old and irrelevant discussion.
•Keep Oracle out of the Market. While Oracle desperately wanted to be in the discussion, they had very little real traction in the market. Therefore, we chose not to give them a seat at the table and executed a disciplined effort to focus on a single competitor—IBM—ignoring all others.
1.Gloves Off, November 2002: Leverage earnings call as forum for aggressive competitive communication offensive. Kicked off campaign by announcing sales wins against IBM during quarterly earnings call.
3.IBM WebSphere Reality Check, November 2002: To cloud IBM’s launch of WebSphere 5.0, created and sent packet of information to BEA and IBM beat reporters with competitive information about the product’s late ship date, technical deficiencies vs. BEA and ‘what customers really need to know’. Culminated in several articles
Change the Discussion: Unveil a New Market Vision, BEA WebLogic Enterprise Platform:
a.March 2003: Unveiled the platform vision nearly six months before the product actually shipped at BEA eWorld. Established thought leadership in the market by introducing radical new idea about how application infrastructure should be approached, setting the agenda around the “converged platform” concept and effectively freezing the market.
b.May 2003: Gartner validates BEA’s vision by creating Application Platform Suite (APS) Magic Quadrant, and ranks BEA highest in both vision and ability to execute
c.August 2003: Launched platform with support from 105 partners, including Hewlett Packard, Intel and Siebel at San Francisco press conference, showcasing delivery on vision with significant industry support
4.Out with the Old, in with the New, April/May 2003: Used BEA’s Platform success as proof point that BEA’s integration vision is winning, and traditional “enterprise application integration” is dying out
a.Showcased significant industry hires from EAI competitors illustrating that talent flight from a diminishing sector. Made series or personnel announcements, had ongoing media conversations about this momentum, culminated in a major off-the-record article in TheStreet.com
b.Called EAI approach and viability into doubt. Presented paradox that CIO spending surveys showed integration as top spending area, yet EAI vendors were missing quarterly earnings. We highlighted this disconnect to the media as proof that, while integration was a major issue for CIOs, EAI vendors were not delivering sufficient solutions – and presented BEA’s platform as the solution CIOs were actually looking for, as evidenced by major industry support. Culminated in several articles showing the demise of the pure plays
5.Redefining the Battlefield, timeframe ongoing: Leveraged this radical new vision as a way to change the discussion from “BEA is in trouble” to “It’s a tight two-horse race,” actively pitching such stories.
6.Leading by Example, timeframe ongoing: Showcased technology innovation as evidence that BEA remains a leader.
a.Technical leadership bullet campaign: Issued a series of short 1-2 paragraph “News Bullets” showing technical leadership in the application infrastructure space.
b.Evangelized BEA’s innovative new development tool, WebLogic Workshop: Used Workshop, the industry’s first development tool to make programming with Java easier, to demonstrate that BEA is still a leading innovator. Initiated a buzz campaign nine months before its official availability, which effectively froze the market as they awaited the launch. The resulting anticipation and helped carry the company through Workshop’s development phase and a period of little tangible product news. Further, competitors started adopting BEA’s “easier” development messages, proving BEA had set the agenda.
7.Highlighted Competitor Deception, December 2002-April 2003: Casting doubt on IBM’s market share numbers
a.For the first time ever, IBM ranked No. 1 in Gartner’s application server market share report. This report could have been the nail in BEA’s coffin, providing the market with “evidence” that BEA lost its touch.
b.So, getting ahead of the news, proactively addressed the issue by highlighting (1) IBM’s WebSphere is made up of 343 disparate products, (2) conducting analysis on IBM’s numbers, (3) educating the market that IBM does not break out its numbers to the SEC, so there is no audited measure of their market share. The day of the report, when “BEA is dead” stories should have resulted, not only did several financial analysts come out in BEA’s defense by questioning the Gartner report, but coverage was balanced – and BEA’s stock held strong.
Summary of Results
Media: IBM cited as following BEA’s technology lead. “BEA is behind” discussion changes to discussion about BEA’s significant new innovations. In August 2003, WebLogic beats WebSphere for the first time ever in media prominence study.
Industry and Financial Analysts: Gartner creates Application Platform Suite (APS) Magic Quadrant, BEA ranks highest in vision and ability to execute.
Analysts repeatedly cite BEA as two-plus years ahead of its competitors.
Wall Street: Stock more than doubled in last year – even as Gartner gave IBM the lead on BEA.