Roopinder Tara has raised an interesting issue in his blog post titled “Bound and Gagged“. Frankly, I never really understood why companies make such a big issue regarding information about new versions of their products. For example, take the recent launch of Inventor Fusion by Autodesk. Some “select” members of the press and bloggers (which included me) were given access to the software and a demo three weeks before the official launch and were asked to shut up. To be fair to Autodesk, their PR agency asked me before hand whether I wanted to shut up and I agreed. I figured that if I began talking about Fusion before Autodesk was ready to sell it, people would stop buying Inventor and wait for Fusion instead since it was made out to be a drastic change and not just a regular upgrade. As it turned out the Fusion which was eventually released had the “fusion” part missing and was available as a free download on Autodesk Labs. So I cannot understand what the secrecy was all about. What calamity would have come to pass had the press/bloggers started writing about Fusion when they were told about it?
On the other hand, take the recent news about Alibre’s $99 offer. Alibre let me in on the offer much before it was announced and asked me to stay quiet about it. That made a lot of sense, because if I had spilled the beans, then the sales of Alibre Design Standard would have stopped immediately. I can also understand situations when the flow of information needs be controlled. During my recent US/Europe trip I visited PTC and Bricsys, where they let me in on a lot of stuff about their development, outsourcing, internal business processes, etc. Although neither company made me sign an NDA, they figured that I could be trusted with the information to use it responsibly.
Some are of the opinion that letting someone in on something is giving the person a sense of importance. Personally, I think it is quite irritating, especially when the information being disclosed is really no big deal. As Roopinder points out in his post, apparently SolidWorks showed some bloggers the new features of SolidWorks 2010 and then gagged them. This resulted in the bloggers writing about their flights, hotels and boozing sessions. Does SolidWorks think that people will suddenly stop buying SolidWorks 2009 if these bloggers start yapping? And what happens when the embargo is lifted? Do they stop buying then? And if new features are such a big secret, then why have a Beta program that anyone can join? On the contrary, I believe that if information on upcoming versions is made public, people will be more inclined to buy subscriptions, which is what SolidWorks and other CAD vendors want to begin with. Interestingly, McNeel is a company that does exactly that. Not only do they disclose what they are working on, they even release a WIP (Work In Progress) of their next version shortly after they release a new version. This way customers and prospects get a sense of the direction that the product is headed, which helps them to make informed decisions.
If this whole concept of secrecy is to create suspense, then I think these companies need to wake up. This is 2009. People expect to receive information when they want it, not when someone’s decides to give it to them. Suspense may have worked in the past. Not any more. These days, there is so much information that a person’s attention span is very limited. To get maximum exposure for your brand you need to get it to the attention of your target audience over and over again and over an extended period of time. Merely telling people that there is information and that they cannot yet get it only goes to piss people off. Moreover, when the information turns out to be not important enough to justify the suspense, it goes to piss people off all the more.