ADTRAN is a publicly traded, global provider of broadband equipment. Founded in 1985, the company has relied on sales of its hardware platforms to drive growth, enter new markets and attract customers. Over the past several years, the market had begun to change with the introduction of Software Defined Networking (SDN) and Network Virtual Functions (NFV) and ADTRAN knew it had to change as well. Its customers wanted a more flexible, scalable approach to network design, deployment and scale and to move away from rigid, single vendor hardware-centric solutions. To help make this shift, ADTRAN had to change not only public perception but also internal mindset.
ADTRAN had always been a hardware company and institutionally resistant to change. The company had over 1,200 hardware engineers on staff and its sales team only knew how to sell hardware. Worse, software was considered something that was often offered for free to help close a deal. To further complicate the situation, the CEO decided to announce to a room full of reporters that the company was now a software company – a full four years before the company planned to make its first software product generally available. From a public relations perspective, Connect2 had to create air cover for the company as it shifted development well in advance of having products that could be sold and deployed.
Fortunately, the terms SDN and NFV were fairly new and not well understood. A variety of companies were using the terms and applying them differently to fit their specific offer and need. The reality was, most of the industry wasn’t ready for a software approach because it needed industry standards bodies to define what SDN and NFV actually were and what they were not. Our initial strategy focused on highlighting the role ADTRAN was playing in the various industry standard bodies in the U.S. and Europe. These included groups focused on the technical specifications, as well as the service standards. This enabled ADTRAN to be seen as part of the core group of companies committed to moving the industry forward from legacy hardware solutions in advance of new software solutions becoming available.
Connect2 also began an aggressive Point of View program designed to help the company shape how the market defined SDN and what was required to move this new approach from concept to delivery. This started with the industry analysts and moved through the media and into the company’s Speakers Bureau and ultimately to its awards program. This approach gave the company the ability to participate in the industry debate while it worked internally to bring its own solutions to market.
Once the company was ready, Connect2 created an announcement program for its SDN products, branding it SD-Access to create a direct tie to the area of the network this approach would bring value. Connect2 helped the company understand the cadence required for its news cycle to help overcome the early pre-announcement made a few years prior. Our recommendation was to balance any new product announcement with two to three customer deployment announcements, leading up to a series of milestone announcements that showcased the impact its SD-Access solutions were having on various market segments.
This approach allowed ADTRAN to share product evolution, development and innovation; market relevance, impact and acceptance; and highlight the value it was delivering to the market, its customers and investors. While the work is still ongoing, ADTRAN’s role in pioneering the evolution of access networking to a more software-focused approach made it the recognized leader in this emerging market and created separation from larger legacy equipment vendors that have been slow to evolve.