The price of Independence

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This morning I read a very nice article by Federica Monsone (A3 Communication, UK) on Product Reviews by Independent writers. In her article she gives the vendors some tips on how to let go control and how to be well prepared with the right expectations. My immediate reaction, as I tweeted it when it came out of my mind, was;

Be careful with the ‘independent’ label as it is quite often misused for payola jobs.

Now some people may laugh at that becasue I am one of those people that puts ‘independent technical marketer’ in their job title. I am a school example of pay-for-play. Clearly I am not independent, right? Let me see at what Federica describes as an independent for the sake of her article:

… independent writers who are either paid by the publisher of the site where the review will appear or who will place their write up on their blogs at no cost to the vendor, purely because of their interest in the technology …

Oops, that’s not me as most of my work has to be paid for by someone, right? I guess I should/could remove the independent label then. I’ll keep it there for now as I don’t even have a magazine/analyst firm that controls what I need to do. And here’s the trigger for my response: the label independent isn’t the same for everyone. So therefor after Frederica giving the vendors some tips I’ll give my personal tips to the independent how I feel about my label.

Be truthful to yourself

I’ll start with the most obvious that remains the same wether or not you work for a vendor. Just make sure that everything you stand for is something that comes out of your mouth and you would repeat it. Every time I meet a new vendor I dig in the technology and do my research beyond what the vendor says.

It’s ok to be wrong or review your opinion though. Just be honest about it. I for example used to believe that a global A-brand company can use their “enterprise support” as a selling point over smaller startups. Having spoken to a lot of those and their customers over the last two years you probably won’t hear me saying that again as I have met quite a few that are extremely happy with the way startups treat them as kings when it comes down to support.

Be transparant

There is absolutely nothing wrong being paid for what you do. There is absolutely nothing wrong being paid by a vendor for what you do. It is definitely wrong hiding that! Here are three rules I use for any content that has my name on it or is distributed through my personal branding (blog/youtube/whitepapers/…)

  • I have every company that ever hired me for any service listed on the “about me” page of my blog
  • If I write something in my own name, lets say a blogpost, that is not paid for but of which the content could lead somehow to one of those companies that have paid/compensated me in the past, the post will have a decent disclaimer.
  • If anything I do is paid for by a vendor it will clearly be marked as “SPONSORED”.

If you think this is not enough and you have tips for me to be even more transparant about it, don’t hesitate on telling me how.

Nothing is more important than your reputation

This is where it gets hard. Being independent has its price. Being a purist in it also has its price. And the price is realy expensive. Where I said in the beginning to be truthfull to yourself I want to go a little bit further here. Never sell out! This mostly happens when we are talking about competitive analysis. Now I do my share of competitive analysis but here again I follow two basic rules:

  • Make sure that you are not blatantly lying. Being wrong and reviewing your opinion is one thing, lying is another. Just make sure that whatever you write/say about a competitor of the people that are hiring you, you could also go work for them the next week without having to clean up your own mess.
  • Make sure that the vendor is not using your trusted advisor label to sell their FUD! I get furious when I see an “independent buyers guide” that has 5 products of one company and 1 or 2 of other companies, that sometimes even are not on par if you would truly compare them. THIS IS PAYOLA! If a vendor wants to burn themselves on that, let them publish it on their own website and make sure your name is not mentioned anywhere.

Rant over … I hope everyone that knows me and has worked with me can vouch for my “independent” label.

Links

  • As a result of both Federica’s post and this one, Chris Mellor (The Register) shares his kind words about some people he consideres true independents in the storage industry. Very honored to be on his shortlist! LINK
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5 comments

  1. Hans,

    I totally agree to your post and have had similar discussions with people that want to hire me. I call myself independent as well, but defining the meaning or context of the word is important.

    To me independent means I am not bound to any vendor or any specific customer (eg end-users to vendors). Anyone can hire me to do a certain job both them and I think I can do well. Independent also means I decide what events to visit, what information to read, who to work for and what type of contracts to agree to. Independent does not mean I don’t need any of them to pay me for my services. I’m very much dependent on my income, as is everybody else. Maybe a better title would be “Unbiased Storage Consultant”, but that just sounds silly.

    1. You are right Ilja. I like the term ‘trusted advisor’ as a nice description although a trusted advisor doesn’t have to be independent as such.

  2. I think there is an expanding need to this un-biased type of information to help customers in their decision making.

    This drove me to create DataCenterZombie.com, don’t mean to self advertise but felt its relevant to the discussion.

    1. Hi Brian,

      I like your style on DataCenterZombie. I will put it on my readers list. The challenge will be finding a balance in doing product reviews in your spare time. If you want to be truly independent you will not have enough time to do a lot of reviews. If you want to do more reviews than there is spare time, someone is going to have to pay for the work you put into it.

      Good luck, great initiative and style and if you need any help someday I’ll definitely try to step in where I can.

  3. Hans, thanks for the kind words.

    I agree on the doing at scale comment. That will be a problem down the road, hope to prolong with a second writer for now.

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