Juniper's marketing lags its technology

Juniper Networks recently made a crisp, aggressive technology presentation to analysts, but for enterprises looking to buy, it’s tough to find an equally clear story on its website.

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Like a lot of other people, I remember the Juniper ads of decades ago that used cartoons to poke fun at competitors. It was in-your-face marketing, and it seemed to pay off for Juniper in visibility.

Then they got quiet, and while Juniper continued to innovate at the product level, they didn’t make news like they used to. Then they held their Nov. 2 analyst event, and they got in their competitors’ faces again. Why, and how?

The why is related to a principle of marketing I’ve talked about for decades: trajectory management. All sales processes these days aim at converting “suspects” into “customers” through a series of steps. First you get mentioned in tech news articles and analyst briefs. Second, those who see those mentions go to your website for more information, which leads them to the third step—a request to talk to a salesperson. In-your-face marketing gets good ink, and Juniper got more coverage of its event than it’s gotten for anything else in years.

In the keynote to the event, Juniper CEO Rami Rahim didn’t just place Juniper ahead of their competition, he put the competition in a different universe. It’s not just a matter of taking a different slant on customer needs, but that competitors don’t even see the same things Juniper sees, literally and figuratively. Juniper believes in “precious data”, the telemetry that operations processes receive from the network. Juniper has announced that every Juniper device will contribute to that, and that the resulting cloud-native repository will then be processed by AI to completely reshape network operations.

Calling it Experience-First networking, Juniper contends that it’s the only player to offer it. Other speakers through the process went even further, challenging competitors on AI and openness to highlight Juniper’s data-centric vision. From a company that’s usually so buttoned-down and low key, it was a refreshing return to the days of those cartoons.

Experience-first, intelligence, and openness all relate to operations. We’re seeing exploding network complexity, which nobody who reads this is likely to doubt. There’s a lot more in today’s network—devices and features—and we expect networks to do a lot more. Operations demands have grown and so have costs, and the spending seems to add layers of stuff rather than build into a cohesive model. For all of that spending, we still have a hard time relating user experiences to network behavior, and Juniper offered two proof points that it could do better. First, specific sales data from the last quarter on their success with the elements of Juniper’s Experience-First story, and second, offering what was, for me, the first really well-organized articulation of that story at the product and feature level.

The sales successes focused on two things—artificial intelligence and Session Smart Routing (SSR). Juniper got much of its technology in both areas through acquisitions, and they’ve had major wins in both areas in their most recent quarter. It’s a good indication that the pieces of the Experience First story resonate, and a reason to make the whole story a technical reality that spans all of Juniper’s products. Juniper defines three technology pillars to its Experience-First strategy:  automated WAN, cloud-ready data center, and AI-driven enterprise. What unifies them is AI-driven operations, and that precious data.

In the data center, companies often have a mixture of vendors and technologies. Juniper’s Apstra acquisition brings a completely open operations model designed to take experiences’ requirements at the top and use them as a template to drive intent-based operations, even if the gear isn’t Juniper’s. By defining data-center operations from the top down, based on templates, enterprises can create an operations model and apply it to all their data centers, standardizing network operations at the data center-level.

SSR, which Juniper acquired with its purchase of 128 Technology, redefines the user edge. SSR knows individual users and applications, and knows what relationships are allowed between the two and what business priority they should be given. This is what makes the “experience” piece of Juniper’s story real; by knowing relationships rather than just traffic, you can address impacts on business and not just network conditions.

The pieces of Experience First aren’t new, it’s the integration, the unity, that’s new and different. Gather more network data and you can understand more about the network. If the data includes session information that links to experiences, you can understand how your network is supporting your workers, your business. The combination of data, AI, and session awareness lets an enterprise manage upward from devices or downward from experiences, and, whichever direction is taken, get to the same comprehensive set of data points and insights. With the conversational capability of Marvis that they announced—Marvis is the natural-language-based engine at the core of multiple Juniper services—you can even get smartphone-virtual-assistant-like advice.

You can probably see why combining AI across all Juniper elements and capturing experience-awareness make a powerful combination, and Juniper is right to say that it’s unique. Remember my blog on the application of AI to networks? Juniper hit the technical requirements I cited. That means they meet the technology test of their aggressive story, and they certainly got favorable publicity from the event. What, then, is creating the risk I noted earlier?

It’s that pesky marketing principle trajectory management that we started with. Remember the themes of unity, cohesion, intelligence, and openness? You can dig those key pieces out of Juniper’s website, but you don’t easily find the cohesive story that came out of its analyst event. Yes, the event worked to drive editorial mention, and perhaps that focus is why Juniper didn’t place its content prominently on their homepage. But when somebody is induced to visit your website by a report on an event, wouldn’t it make sense to have some reference to the thing that likely drove the visit be the first thing a visitor sees?

There’s another dimension to network complexity to think about here, for Juniper and everyone else. While salespeople and vendors may think of “sales” as being focused on specific products, the network isn’t a single product, it’s a cooperative ecosystem of stuff that has to be purchased as an ecosystem just as much as operated as an ecosystem.  If you want your strategy to unify, you have to sell it as a unit, which means your website had better be themed on unity.

There’s good competitive news for Juniper, though. There’s a long lag in getting actual technology market-ready, and marketing and positioning are nearly zero-inertia. They can learn to sing and dance with their new theme a lot faster than competitors can build or buy comparable technologies. If Juniper’s new in-your-face marketing is matched with trajectory-management positioning, then they are going to give both enterprises looking for a new network operations strategy, and competitors who also want to deliver one, a lot to think about.

(Disclaimer: Juniper Networks is a past and present client of CIMI Corporation, but the views expressed here are my own.

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