UPDATE 7/5: Nice job Avid (Hi Paul!)
I love it when worlds collide.
As many of you know, I worked at Apple for about a decade and left to run product marketing for a startup (Bowstreet) at the beginning of the original dot.com bubble. What many of you don't know is that right after Bowstreet I joined Avid Technology to help save them from being put out of business by – you guessed it – Apple.
See in those days Avid was the king of media. It is not an exaggeration to say that EVERY major movie, television program and/or song was touched in some way by Avid's tools. Their brands: Avid Media Composer, Digidesign Pro Tools, and Avid Unity media management were known and loved by real professionals who produce the world's best media every day.
Trouble was, as much as these customer loved the tools, they hated the company for many years of predatory pricing practices and other arrogances. Customers were ready to leave the moment Apple launched Final Cut Pro and Apple went out of its way to attract these customers with the promise of lower prices, better tools and more collegial relationships. One of my many roles at Avid was to rebuild the strained relationships with our customers (this is a good recounting of how we did that – hi Marianna!) But having better discussions with our customers wouldn't save Avid. Not only did we have to double-down on the solutions those professionals needed (by launching Mojo, Adrenaline and Nitris) but we also had to – gulp – outmarket Apple.
And we did! I could write a book on how I helped Avid compete with (and beat) Apple at their own marketing game: launching Avid FreeDV while Steve Jobs was still on the MacWorld stage introducing Final Cut Express; including both Mac and Windows installers in the same box and encouraging pros to install on more than one computer; adding professional color correction tools into Avid Xpress DV v3.5 and launching it at the Final Cut Pro User's Group in Hollywood while getting Steve Jobs to provide a quote in the Avid press release alongside Avid's own CEO. I could go on and on. The moral of this story is that we had to listen more, work harder, innovate faster and deliver the solutions these professionals needed all while beating the marketing drum louder than ever. I'm proud to say that these efforts took Avid from death's doorstep to record growth (the stock climbed from $9/share to $65/share and the company broke through the $1B annual revenue barrier after 14 years of trying) – all by focusing solely on the needs of the professional market it created.
What's amusing and a bit sad about this week's horrific launch of Final Cut Pro X is that Apple is now making the (rare) marketing mistake of telling these professionals what they want instead of giving them what they are asking for – all with the typical Apple marketing silence. Such arrogance works in a consumer market where your average person doesn't really know what they want until they see it (the Henry Ford "faster horse" argument) – but this approach does not work in an enterprise or professional market where people's careers are built – and risked – by delivering results. Pro customers who moved away from Avid bet their own personal brands on Apple – and are rightly concerned when it seems that Apple has turned its back on them for the safety (and possible additional revenue) of the consumer market.
When was the last time we've seen Apple's brand hammered in major print articles with headlines like "debacle" and "troubling"? When was the last time NYTimes columnist David Pogue (who got his start writing for MacWorld magazine) wrote a followup article to defuse the venom generated by his first one? Apple has long leveraged the power of fanatical, cult-like users even with a trivial marketshare. Well, Apple is now witnessing the power of these same vocal users uniting against it – and Apple must listen and react. To do nothing risks the contagion spreading as more videos like this one from the Conan O'Brien Show overflow to the average Joe Consumer:
Steve has been called the Henry Ford and Thomas Edison of our age and he is my personal hero. You can bet he is listening to all the FCPX negativity as he did with MobileMe and Antennagate. He famously said "We want to make all our users happy. If you don’t know that, you don’t know Apple." Well now it is time to see if the world's best marketing machine can live up to its billing and if these professional users will be happy with Apple again soon.
Me, I'm still rooting for Avid. Now about that book…