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Don't be fooled. Following the herd STILL gets you nowhere

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Sysadmin blog Brand tribalism runs our industry. It's a term that encompasses the mentality of all those fanbois and fangurls whose interaction with products simply doesn't end at the purchase and use of said products.

It's a relatively new term, but research into the area is heating up and I think it sums up the mentality quite nicely.

We often like to delude ourselves into believing that IT is a meritocracy, but it is demonstrably not. If the better technologies always won, nobody would be using USB, Linux would have obliterated Windows right around the time broadband became "a thing" and major tech brands would have to compete on merit instead of constantly buying out their competition or litigating them into bankruptcy.

Consider Cisco, Oracle or EMC. Their products are demonstrably superior for a range of very high-profile cases. They can show that they are the best at these cases and they market aggressively based upon it. These companies sell peace of mind to their customers; how legitimate that peace of mind is when compared to the competition depends entirely on whom you ask.

But the "big boys" aren't always the best solution for most businesses – not anymore and not for some time. There are plenty of absolutely stellar competition out there that not only can do what the big boys do cheaper, but the competition does other things (typically ease of use) far better than the industry leaders.

Those pipsqueak upstarts are pretty fast runners

The competition is typically better suited to the overwhelming majority of companies than the market leaders. Companies which don't face concerns about terabit network links, 200TB blob storage or measuring their storage as a percentage of the planetary total will likely never notice if their switches have two per cent more latency.

Smaller companies need to be more agile than enterprises. They need cost efficiency above all and that is something that megalithic corporations with massive bureaucracies to feed can't provide. It makes how they choose their vendors a big deal.

Get too high into where the big boys demonstrate their excellence and you'll find Google rolling its own switches, building its own databases and creating its own storage systems. Push the envelope too much and the best of the best can't live with standard enterprise vendors either.

"Enterprise standard" is far too expensive for both SMBs and cloud providers and nowhere near agile enough for either. So why do these "enterprise standard" companies rule the roost?

Image is everything

The case for EMC over, for example, Tintri is a long-winded argument to do with "proven enterprise support" that falls apart if you blow on it. The enterprise support argument – while it has many valid points – is facile. Brand tribalism rears its head even when you have two vendors with quality enterprise support.

Here, name calling, urban legends, and anecdotes come out. "This one time, in the data centre" means more than a raft of statistics. Take the right manager to a fancy dinner and you win a contract. Even doing something as simple as talking to your customers on Twitter or listening to their complaints can turn a cynic into an evangelist.

This is why I have a lot of trouble deciding if Microsoft's marketing people are crazy like a fox or simply crazy. One of the most effective ways to create an instant base of brand tribalists – at least amongst the technorati – is to capture the home lab. Get the people who will be administering this stuff on your side and then a fancy lunch has a fantastic chance of winning over that manager.

This means that either Microsoft is certifiably nuts for killing Technet off, or they are precogs and the technorati matter so little to purchasing decisions today that their opinions simply needn't be influenced.

Regardless of how it works for Microsoft, there is one place that backhanders, friendships and outright bias matter: the startup scene. The startup scene thrives on the opinion of bloggers, tech journalists and vendors. Social media is actually important here and a bad review can be devastating.

Relationship capture

Modern marketing is vectoring away from the display ads and TV commercials of the past. Instead of splashing your product in a consumer's face over a few seconds, marketers are moving to capture thought influencers via social media, traditional flesh networking and content marketing. Some people are very good at it. This new age marketing can be done in a positive fashion, but it has a dramatic dark side to it as well.

One of the most critical things to realise about modern marketing is that people who are not part of the organisation – or its contracted marketing companies – are very much a part of the marketing machine. Capture one powerful voice with your message and they will indoctrinate their friends and co-workers on your behalf.

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