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How to spread fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD)

This is the first in a series of posts about FUD, the thought process behind creating it, and how to quickly identify and defend against it!

I want to be clear before we get started tho, FUD is a terrible marketing strategy as it relies on lies about your competitor as its core distinguishing characteristic.

What makes good FUD?

The goal of FUD is to create fear in the customer that choosing a product might be a bad idea.

  1. It creates a tangible fear of increased cost
  2. It taps into previous bad experiences
  3. It relies on plausible but untestable truths

In most businesses, the worst ideas are those that lose you lots of money. If you can convince the customer that choosing a certain product or technology has a high risk of losing them lots of money, this will create real impediment to the adoption of that technology.

The most effective fears are those that the customer has experienced before. If you can tie a high cost risk to some previous incident where the customer lost money, they are going to have a more visceral reaction. If you can’t tie into a previous pain of the customer, a 3rd party’s well publicized failure will do.

The longest lasting fears are those that cannot be tested or disproved. A fear is no good if the customer can get over it with a simple test or research and dispel it as myth. Ideally, the customer will hold this fear until after it is too late to make a different decision. At this point, your FUD has become truth in the eyes of the customers and you have won the deal.

Creating a tangible fear of increased cost

When looking at the cost of software systems, we can typically break things down into 3 groups of costs:

  • Capital Expenditures
  • Operational Expenditures
  • Development Costs

Capital Expenditures (CAPEX)

CAPEX is the amount of money the customer spends on hardware and software. Your goal is to suggest that your competitor’s solution is going to be more expensive. The bigger the delta between your solution and your competitor, the better.

The competitor’s solution:

  • requires more hardware than yours
  • requires more expensive hardware than yours (e.g. a Sun E10k vs. a Dell poweredge server)
  • can’t run in the cloud
  • needs expensive peripherals (SAN, NAS, Switches/Routers, etc..)

Operational Expenditures (OPEX)

OPEX is the amount of money the customer spends operating a solution once it’s implemented. Your goal is to suggest that the competitor’s solution is going to cost more once it’s set up than your own. Once again, the bigger the cost difference, the better.

Your operations team will:

  • spend lots of time fixing competitor’s solution when it breaks
  • need to hire expensive employees with rare skill sets to make competitor’s solution work
  • need a large number of employees to manage this in production

Development Cost

Development cost is the amount of money per feature spent on your engineering team working with the product. Your goal is to convince the customer that your competitor’s solution is going to decrease productivity and/or require skills that are missing from the development organization.

Your engineers will:

  • need to code some features by hand with competitor’s solution
  • be forced to deal with poorly designed and documented API’s
  • have a hard time learning your competitor’s technology
  • need to hire someone with skill X that you don’t already have

Tap into previous bad experiences

If your customer has had problems in the past, tapping into that pain can work wonders. Shipping a product late, or having a major production failure hurts a development organization and most organizations will adapt to try to ensure that never happens again. The more your fear taps into these previous failures, the more effective it will be.

Did the customer have a major outage recently? If you know the root cause of that outage, try to convince them that your competitor’s product is prone to that same kind of outage.

Did the customer ship a product late or missing key features? Try to convince the customer that your competitor’s product will slow down their development cycle.

Rely on plausible, but untestable truths

Fear is no good if your customer can get over it. The best fear to place is that which cannot be tested. If you tell a customer that an API is hard to use, they can pretty quickly debunk that by trying out the API and seeing that it’s actually not that hard.

The best FUD will remain untested until a system goes into production and you find out for real. For example, you can position your competitor as “it’s going to work really good in development, but once you run it at scale, X is going to happen”. The great thing about this argument is that it’s nearly impossible for most customers to test something at production scale without choosing that product and actually running it into production. For most organizations, at this point they’ve already committed to the solution and you can count it as a win.

How to fight FUD

When a competitor is using FUD against you, it can be really frustrating for all of the reasons outlined above. If well executed, you customer will have misconceptions about your product that cannot be overcome in a lab or a tech talk. Fighting FUD requires that you understand the emotional response of a customer’s fears and address them head on.

In the next post in this series, we’ll dig into how to fight FUD spread against your product. Stay tuned!