Uncertainty and doubt lead to indigestion.

Many IT vendors have learned that one of the keys to success is how well you manage your customers’ stomach acid. Part of that process is establishing a clear vision of the future and not messing with it too much.

Microsoft is a good example of a company which understands the importance of the message. When Bill Gates realized he had missed the significance of the Internet revolution early on, he was quick to create an Internet-focused strategy. An important element in the success of that strategy was its convincing positioning consistent with Microsoft’s Windows vision and product map. The market’s belief in Microsoft’s ability to deliver comes, in part, from the consistency of that vision.

Contrast that with, for example, Novell’s ill-fated forays into the worlds of Unix and WordPerfect, and the confusing message those efforts created about the company’s vision and future direction, and you see what I mean.

While there has certainly been some uncertainty and doubt accompanying HP and Compaq’s merger journey, the first day of the resulting new HP seemed to go smoothly enough.

Not so many years ago, HP was viewed as a great technology company with such poor communication and marketing skills that the industry joked, “If its products were hamburgers, HP would market them as, ‘ground up, dead cow.'” HP’s recent marketing history is more positive. Its communication efforts through the merger negotiations and the actual launch have been solid.

The company has clearly invested heavily in the planning and preparation of information and access related to the merger, and, given the acrimonious proxy fight that led up to the final go-ahead, there has been a commendable management of perceptions.

Much of that is theatre…but important theatre. It’s even more important that the company establishes and consistently affirms its product strategy and value message.

The product road map – promised within 30 days of the launch – was, remarkably, available on day one; a very good sign. HP will now be the master brand for all of the merged companies’ products, but the Compaq brand will be kept alive in the PC portfolio.

Looking to day two and beyond, solving its product puzzle isn’t the only problem moving forward with HP. The new HP needs to develop a sales strategy that will compete with IBM’s high-margin mainframe-class servers, while at the same time addressing Dell’s very successful low-cost PC model.

Perhaps the most difficult obstacle will be the history of failures occurring when large companies merge, especially in IT.

We wish the new HP a happy birthday. Now that the launch party is over, we hope the cake isn’t too hard to digest.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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