Changing Stripes: BroadVision's Entry Into e-Business
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Holmes Report

Changing Stripes: BroadVision's Entry Into e-Business

While it was a pioneer in B2C e-commerce technology, BroadVision would need to prove its stripes to gain recognition in the already crowded B2B e-commerce sector

Paul Holmes

  For the Sabre Award, Magnet Communications is pleased to nominate a market-wide public relations campaign to launch its client, BroadVision, Inc., into what was for them a new market, business-to-business e-commerce.  Begun in March 2000 and implemented over the course of the following seven months, this public relations campaign consisted in a coordinated series of strategic counsel, PR activities and events that effectively transformed industry awareness for BroadVision from an exclusively business-to-consumer (B2C) player to an emerging business-to-business (B2B) contender.  We credit this campaign as critical to BroadVision’s successful entry into the highly competitive arena of B2B software providers. 
Magnet Communications, formerly Capstone Communications, began representing BroadVision in 1996.  Through strategic counsel, the firm helped lead BroadVision to its prominence in the B2C realm by articulating the value proposition presented in “personalization.”  This has since become a well-known BroadVision moniker.  Together with BroadVision CEO, Pehong Chen’s, clear vision, and the company’s ability to execute on aggressive sales and marketing goals, BroadVision early on became one of the undisputed pioneers in the business-to-consumer sector.   By year-end 1999, however, excitement about the potential of the market for B2B technology intensified, with analysts' predictions for anticipated growth in the trillions, and BroadVision decided that it was time to stake a claim in this market.   
BroadVision had the benefit of industry leadership status with high-profile customers, established and strategic partnerships, and a respected CEO who was considered one of the top e-business visionaries by Business Week among others.  BroadVision had customers using its “One-to-One” suite of applications in a wide spectrum of industries including financial, retail, utilities, telecommunications, travel, automotive, industrial supplies and high-tech.  As companies in these industries developed B2B strategies, BroadVision wanted to retain them as customers. But, while it was a pioneer in B2C e-commerce technology, BroadVision would need to prove its stripes to gain recognition in the already crowded B2B e-commerce sector.
This presented a set of related challenges for BroadVision and its public relations efforts.  To begin, companies like Ariba and CommerceOne had already seized media and analyst attention and were in heated competition for market dominance, and each day more companies sprung up as competitive niche players.  BroadVision was liable to be branded "late in the game."   Additionally, giant corporations such as IBM and Hewlett-Packard had begun to enter the space by extending their product offerings.  BroadVision was a successful and profitable company, but did not have the marketing power companies like IBM and HP command.  IBM even trademarked the word “e-business” to designate its product line. 
A further complication was that in making this market expansion BroadVision would begin to compete with some of its partners’ offerings, making it difficult to determine when a partner was also a competitor.  The analyst community was also taking notice, and in preliminary contacts expressed the opinion that BroadVision was spreading itself too thin.  BroadVision was concerned that a change in its market focus would fuel this perception. 
The Magnet team provided BroadVision with an informed account of the developing B2B market, competitive analysis and strategic counsel regarding its entry and position.  Research for this campaign consisted in multiple steps.  First, we surveyed analyst reports on the market from leading firms including Forrester Research and Gartner Group to identify leading players and to understand existing competitive differentiation and market share.  We further researched leading contenders by analyzing their press release strategies (timing and messaging), press coverage and analyst commentary over time in publications and published reports. 
The planning process began with numerous meetings with BroadVision executives to discuss their ideas and concerns about the change in positioning, the future direction of the company and the overall business objectives for year 2000.  Independently, our PR team met repeatedly with BroadVision’s VP of Marketing to identify upcoming challenges and opportunities for the company and for this PR campaign.  Together, we planned the timing of product launches and other critical company announcements to complement the communications campaign.  We provided BroadVision with a calendar and recommendations regarding their participation in major conferences and other industry events over the year. As a result of these client discussions and industry research, we outlined the following PR objectives intended to support the company’s newly determined business objectives in expanding its customer base to include B2B.
Chief Objectives for the Public Relations “B2B” campaign were:
Build on BroadVision’s market presence and reputation, and gradually shift perception to recognition that BroadVision is a global leader in B2B e-commerce software.
Create a succinct narrative that clearly articulates the vision and value proposition of BroadVision’s E-Commerce Value Chain, focusing on the strengths of the entire suite for both sell-side and buy-side, and minimizing focus on individual applications.
Identify and promote customers using the entire BroadVision suite of applications, both buy-side and sell-side.
Demonstrate BroadVision’s expertise in adapting or building the best technology solutions for e-commerce based on its understanding of market demands generally and specific vertical industry needs.
Establish specific vertical PR programs in incremental stages over the next year to build   BroadVision’s brand recognition within those verticals and contribute directly to sales.  Vertical market focus will include financial, retail, utilities/telecommunications, travel, automotive, industrial supplies and high tech.
After the PR objectives were approved, we moved forward to develop a PR plan including an outline of PR activities to support the overall objectives.  (See attached PR Plan.)
Our counsel to BroadVision was that BroadVision did not need to make apologies for the timing of its entry to the business-to-business market. On the contrary, the company’s reputation for designing applications for scores of Fortune 1000 companies in the area of B2C would go far in establishing its credentials in a related field of business applications.  Moreover, in building its application suite around the business value of personalization, BroadVision had anticipated a core functionality integral also to business-to-business e-commerce.  That is, by this point in the development of B2B it was already evident to some members of the media and many analysts that the success of business online would depend upon business relationships.  Early worries that e-business would disintermediate business partners proven needless, and early movers who raced to market with cost-cutting schemes that cut out the “middleman” only proved that “value-add” business partners are valued for a reason.  Positioned correctly, BroadVision once again was ahead of the game in having put the power of customization to work for companies seeking to do business on the Internet.
But, to make the most of its existing reputation for B2C leadership and its blue-chip customers, BroadVision needed to clearly articulate and communicate its new, combined B2C and B2B offering.  BroadVision wisely chose to do away with the “B2” nomenclature and called its combined suite of applications an “e-commerce value chain.” In speaking opportunities and media interviews, Pehong Chen noted that the distinction between B2B/B2C was a false one; in fact, many BroadVision customers had long been using its applications for business-to-business transactions.  In all communications, the Magnet team counseled that the entire company must put out a consistent message about the complimentary fit in the product line. 
Having developed the trust of the BroadVision executive management team over the years, the Magnet team was instrumental in helping the company communicate a compelling and viable e-commerce vision that would rise above the media noise.  A key factor was to keep examples of BroadVision’s proven value with scores of customers before the media and analysts.  Rather than be perceived a late-comer after CommerceOne and Ariba, BroadVision developed credibility for the relevance in its market by documenting the kinds of e-commerce ventures its customers already deployed.  This proved a wise strategy—in a market filled with profitless companies, each with a meager handful of customers, BroadVision history of customer success distinguished the company considerably.
To address analyst concerns that BroadVision was spreading itself too thin, we advised that BroadVision could credibly claim to have been ahead of the market in developing sophisticated business applications which found use in the first feasible market, B2C opportunities, and in B2B opportunities as these developed later.  Given both its technical expertise and its experience with the realities of the market, BroadVision had in place the vision and the credibility to offer applications suitable for both B2C and B2B, or what BroadVision chose to call the “e-commerce value chain.” 
As BroadVision deepened its product offerings and market share, we warned executives that the company would invite more competition and its portrayal by the press and analysts would likely shift.  From its early success in B2C, BroadVision had enjoyed much recognition, but the company would now begin to be scrutinized as a major player expanding into others’ territory, rather than as an emerging start-up or “underdog.”  We recommend that BroadVision prepare for greater criticism by meeting its target product and customer deployment dates, and that it simultaneously prepare for expansion in related ventures such as wireless access for e-business applications. 
Finally, our campaign needed to address yet another challenge. BroadVision’s horizon was complicated by the fact that in many cases, its partners were also competitors or soon-to-be competitors.  We counseled BroadVision as to how to understand this newly complicated set of relationships and how best to adapt to changed relationships in order to continue to leverage their value for media and marketing purposes wherever possible.
Our strategic approach to launching BroadVision into the e-business market was twofold:  first, to introduce the company’s new e-commerce value chain strategy to the analyst community and a handpicked group of press members, and second, to follow with an aggressive, market-wide communications campaign including product line announcements.  During this period of time, the market was rife with “me-too”companies suddenly turned B2B from B2C overnight. Rather than distance itself from its former success, we argued that the PR campaign would only succeed if BroadVision’s move were positioned as a credible expansion, consistent with its former commercial and technical achievements.  
Magnet recommended creating a crescendo of communications about the new strategy for the first quarter, beginning with briefing key industry analysts in mid-March, and culminating in a Web cast for financial analysts and a partner event in early April.  During the second quarter of 2000, we recommended that BroadVision initiate discussions with a broader group of the analyst community to discuss its e-commerce strategy and product landscape for the remainder of 2000.
The first step included a focused analyst tour to meet with the most influential organizations in the e-business space, including individual, in-person meetings with Gartner Group, Forrester Research, AMR and META Group.  In addition, we recommended that other significant analyst firms following the company and/or market should be briefed within the timeframe of the campaign.  The objective was to inform the relevant community of industry analyst influencers about BroadVision’s exciting expansion and to develop a coherent image for this venture among key influencers. 
In Q3, we advised that it was time for BroadVision to live up to its claim and deliver on its comprehensive e-commerce strategy by announcing its product line, including “One-To-One Procurement” and “One-To-One Market Maker” applications.  Moving forward into the second half of the year, we recommended a market-wide communications plan with outreach planned to business press, trade press, industry influencers and industry analysts.  In addition, to map to BroadVision’s focus on verticals, the communications outreach also included outreach to three specific vertical markets—retail, financial and travel.
To help reach a larger audience with the same message, Magnet recommended East and West Coast press tours with one-on-one, in-person meetings.  These appointments with key influencers gave BroadVision the opportunity to discuss product strategy with analysts over the course of the entire year and to report its growing success crossing markets. To maintain “spikes” in visibility, we advised on a timetable of product announcements, relevant acquisitions, and initiatives such as a wireless strategy over the course of the year.   
Beyond the media and analyst outreach, the communications strategy included events, meetings, briefings and targeted communications to other significant audiences including partners, customers, prospects and financial analysts.  Importantly, to boost the company’s credibility as a potential leader, we booked speaking engagements and guest columns for Pehong Chen to articulate his vision of integrated, personalized e-commerce.
The “Changing Stripes” PR campaign was a great success in its primary objective:  introducing BroadVision as a serious contender in the developing e-business software provider market.  Additionally, the positioning developed through the campaign, provided a solid foundation for future launches and rollouts as these developed across different vertical markets.  The best indicator of success was the shift in the market’s perception of BroadVision’s offering as demonstrated in the type of coverage BroadVision began to receive.  BroadVision is now competitively positioned against companies such as Ariba, IBM and Hewlett-Packard, rather than small, start-ups such Blue Martini and Intershop.  Before this campaign, they were the leading provider of e-business applications for business-to-consumer companies; today, BroadVision is recognized as a leader in e-business not only in top-tier trade books, but in business press as well including Fortune, Upside and Business Week.  Please see the attached for documentation of results.
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