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NetApp really DOES have a heart


My fellow children of the 80’s will remember an anti-smoking PSA by C3PO and R2D2 from back in the day that ends with plaintive line from C3PO, “R2? Do you really think I don’t have a heart?”

That image jumped to mind when I heard about NetApp’s rebranding efforts, which include a new advertising campaign with a disembodied human heart as the central image.

In addition to the heart imagery, NetApp has been a little like C3PO in other ways. According to its VP of corporate marketing Elisa Steele, the company decided to change its branding, name and image to try and break out of its “technical company” mold, which at this stage of its growth is holding it back from wider adoption. The company means to maintain its technical culture, but otherwise seems to want to become more than, well, an android.

These changes were brought about by a year of market research showing that the company gets strong growth from repeat business, but has had trouble reaching new customers and prospects with its messaging, Steele said. NetApp execs felt the messaging tended to be too technical. For example, the company’s tag line used to be “Simplifying Data Management.” It has now been changed to the breezier “Go further, faster.”

The heart advertisements introduce a second slogan positioning NetApp “at the heart of your network.” Finally, rather than “Network Appliance, nickname NetApp,” which Steele said has been too confusing as a dual identity, the company will now make the catchier “NetApp” its official name.

Even the logo has changed. Previously, NetApp’s logo consisted of a three-dimensional circle above a square with a matching circle cut out of it. The new logo, visible on NetApp’s newly refurbished Website, was inspired in part by the Arc de Triomphe, meant to represent “deep history and culture”. Rather than an arched opening in the middle, however, NetApp’s symbol of victory contains a square-edged piece that looks like an open door. This, Steele said, is meant to symbolize seeking new opportunities with customers.

By the way, the old NetApp logo was more confusing than I thought. “It’s one of the most frequent questions we get as a company, from everyone from partners to new hires,” Steele said. “They all want to know, ‘what does that logo mean’?”

My theory was always that it had to do with NetApp’s approach to block and file storage, with the two pieces meaning to symbolize the way NetApp manages blocks within its WAFL file system.

“No,” Steele chuckled. “It’s supposed to be a spinning disk drive.”

Whoops. “Now you see the kind of confusion we’re trying to address,” she said.

With these new moves, NetApp is also looking to expand its business by appealing a little higher up the corporate food chain than the technically oriented, “in the trenches” storage person. In other words, this is about NetApp trying to more effectively play golf with the CEO.

It needs to do this in order to diversify its customer base and add more volume business into the mix, following some missed earnings forecasts over the last six months that have been blamed on a lack of orders from a few large customer accounts on which NetApp has become dependent.

“Our market share is just under 10%,” said Steele, and that figure is not as high as it could or should be in NetApp’s estimation. “With the other 90%, what we’re finding is that it’s not that they’ve considered NetApp and chosen something else, but that they just didn’t know who we were at all.”

Analysts say it’s a strategy that’s already served EMC and other NetApp competitors well. “It’s called ‘surrounding the customer’,” said Evaluator Group analyst Tom Trainer. “It’s not a new idea, but it works like a charm. If you have something compelling to say to each person from the CEO to the storage manager, your message will resonate within the account.”

There are some cons to this approach, though, depending on how it’s executed, at least from the standpoint of that technical guy. It’s an old chestnut in the industry by now that storage managers sometimes find themselves wrangling unruly systems that were the product of a salesman’s clandestine trysts with a member of the C-suite. It remains to be seen whether or not this new campaign from NetApp will see NetApp storage forced on technical guys from above in similar fashion, but my guess is that at least a few instances of this phenomenon are inevitable.

As for what will happen if NetApp and EMC reps start meeting each other more frequently on the Back 9, well, let’s just say I’d like to be a fly on the wall.

P.S. NetApp also revealed that COO Tom Georgens and CEO Dan Warmenhoven have been given new roles on the company’s Board of Directors in addition to their existing executive functions. Warmenhoven will take over the chairman’s position held by Don Valentine since 1994. Valentine remains on the board in the newly created position of lead independent director. Georgens, recently promoted to his current position and considered by many in the industry as the heir apparent to Warmenhoven, gets a seat on the board.

P.P.S. But wait, there’s more! For those of us who can’t get enough NetApp news, they’ll be broadcasting Analyst Day live tomorrow between 8 am and noon ET. Watch this space (or this one!) for reports on any new developments.

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>NetApp really DOES have a heart. Now if they only had a brain... ;) (Yes yes bad Wizard of Oz joke but you opened the door Beth)