In all walks of life, marketing departments have a history of taking popular concepts and bastardising them for their own needs. A fine example of this would be the overuse of the word 'organic' in the food industry.
The marketing machines are now busy selling us organic versions of the world's favourite drink - water. As if the explosion of bottled water brands wasn't enough (this flavourless product now seems to be available in more different versions than the humble chewing gum) we are now being given the opportunity to pay even more for a premium variety that tastes little (or no) different from the water that flows through our taps.
As far as the world of IT distribution is concerned, the most abused concept of the day is 'value-added'. What started out as a legitimate way for wholesalers to differentiate themselves from their competitors has now been used to mean so many different things that it no longer means much at all. It has joined a long list of industry buzzwords and catchphrases that fail to grab your attention in the way they were originally intended. For example, does anybody make a product these days that isn't 'best of breed'?
While many distributors are adding value in a myriad of ways, the point is that overuse has a tendency to turn valuable concepts into pointless generic terminology. Anybody that fails to use the term 'value-add' in its marketing literature these days is instantly labelled a 'box-mover' that should be avoided at all costs.
Of course, the scramble to be recognised as a value-added distributor is, more than anything else, a reflection of changing market conditions. With already razor-sharp margins getting thinner all the time, the pressure is on to provide more than product alone. It is a pressure felt just as sharply in the reseller trenches.
At distributor level, most of the major players agree that Ingram Micro's acquisition of Tech Pacific is going to create an even greater need for the rest of the market to supply dealers with more than efficient logistics. The new market superpower looks likely to have the volume end of the market sewn up, and now is a good time for everybody else to reassess what their key differentiators are.
But beyond communicating that message to resellers, there had better be some real substance behind the words. Failure to back up any 'value-add' claims will likely see partners migrating in droves to a competitor with a genuine and worthwhile proposition behind its marketing brochures.
The Intersell online marketing tool launched by Tech Pacific last year, Express Data's annuity program and the SalesVision announcement from Lan Systems last week are all excellent examples of going that extra mile to help resellers be more successful in their chosen line of business. Firewall Systems has gone one step further and based its whole business on a managed security service.
Initiatives designed to help business partners achieve more are not borne out of altruism - a successful channel makes for more successful vendors. But ask yourself what your distributors and vendor partners have done for you lately? If you are struggling to think of a good example, it's probably a good time to sit down and reassess your options.