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How did Mice become the face of StorageSearch.com?

by Zsolt Kerekes - the Publisher - StorageSearch.com

background info for marketers and anyone else who may be interested...

MarketingViews.com
Branding Strategies in the SSD Market
Animal Metaphors in the Storage Market

In the summer of 1998, I decided to launch a new web directory, which became StorageSearch.com.

There were many reasons for doing this.
  • readers of our buyer's guide for Sun Microsystems customers (the SPARC Product Directory) had been asking me to produce a similar directory but simply covering SCSI and related storage products as far back as 1992. We already included SCSI and fibre-channel adapters in the SPARC guide - but were there enough storage products to make a self contained storage guide worthwhile as a publishing venture? I wasn't sure if the storage market would be big enough.
  • When we added RAID systems to our SPARC web site in 1997, we realized that a lot of this storage systems content was OS agnostic and that HP or IBM readers might be deterred coming to a site which was so strongly branded with the "SPARC" branded site.
  • We wanted to increase our business outside the SPARC / Solaris market - which we knew couldn't keep growing forever. (We didn't believe that the dotcom value proposition hype centered around Sun would last - even though in 1998 Sun still had their highest revenue years to come.)
Another thing (which seems strange today) about the storage market in 1997 was that there were no storage publications which covered the whole storage market. There were sites about hard disks and sites about SCSI but storage wasn't regarded as a single unified subject. That would change a few years after we launched StorageSearch.com - but we didn't know that at the time.

Instead we were still wondering how could we make a storage site stand out?

We already had a storage manufacturer database, which came out of our research process of sifting through thousands of computer companies to find the Sun Resellers (that was pre-web). But there was a big difference in starting the 2 web sites.

When we started the SPARC web site, we already had a proven print publication which was well known, and respected. In the STORAGE area we were starting as a complete unknown to everyone outside the Sun market, and we were also starting incrementally instead of with a big bang. I decided that we would research new subject areas in depth as we added them to the site, and luckily we got a lot of helpful suggestions from early readers. But why would readers want to visit a new site as it developed, and why would they come back?

While pondering these ideas, I read a book called "Creating Killer Web Sites". This book didn't aim to cover direct marketing, and how to get new readers, however it was EXCELLENT at analysing how you could use visual ideas in your site. It also introduced the concept of visual metaphors. I had seen some of these ideas:- using animals to promote services, some years before in a book called "Services Marketing" by Christopher H. Lovelock which I found useful some years earlier when converting from a product to a services mentality. So Megabyte the Mouse was created, along with metaphors like cheese for data, barrels for storage, bikes for fibre-channel. Not all the ideas are that strong, but they have helped us to create a site which is visually memorable, and many of the visual ideas I learned got fed back into design changes in the SPARC site, which also improved as part of this process.
Once I created the concept of Megabyte the Mouse the next problem was how to translate this into effective images. The drawings were done by David Mellor one of the founders of Dynamite Design. I knew of David's work, from projects he did for customers of my wife's company and some of my own past customers too.

I worked on a list of initial subjects for the web site, and created some storyboards and visual ideas for what I would like to see. David breathed life into these with the first few graphics for RAID, RAM and SCSI, and since then the character has taken on a life of its own. Megabyte has been joined by Terrorbyte (tape libraries and later petabyte SSDs), Cheaperbyte (channels and services), Killerbyte (military), Spellerbyte the wizard (software, online storage and market reports) and Aunty Wanda (originally for SATA).

It was always a pleasurable experience to see the new images arriving in my email. The images were produced on a MAC as very high resolution files, which we may use later for posters or other media to help promote this site. These characters have now become known to millions of people. The characters help to bring some fun into the serious but sometimes unexciting world of enterprise storage systems.

In 2006 our storage readership started approaching 1 million unique readers/ year. Over 5,000 independent web sites linked here, and there were over 100 original designs of the Byte family graphics. This site became a very effective promotion tool for our advertisers.

Although hundreds and then thousands of new storage web sites have appeared since StorageSearch.com was first published - ours is easy for readers to remember and recognise. It's the one with the mice!

Other famous animals used to promote computer products have been the dalmation dog (used by HP for its printers) and the Linux penguin. So we weren't the first, and won't be the last. But for millions of computer buyers, if you ask them what animal do they think of when they think about storage? The answer is mice.


footnotes

In the early days of the mouse site the visual cartoon of Megabyte - as editor of StorageSearch.com - made the site seem more approachable to readers who emailed suggestions for new listings. That was long before the days of blogs - which made such content specific feedback more common.

Nowadays - due to the reputation of our content - the mouse has daily dialog with CEOs, VPs, CTOs, VCs and analysts in the storage industry. People who are serious about the future of the storage market come to StorageSearch.com and are not embarrassed to have a cartoon character on their browser.

And unlike the photos of physical editors - the virtual editors on the mouse site have retained their original youthful appearance. (It must be due to eating all that grass seed and cheese - and the health benefits of reading so much about solid state storage.)

See also:- storage news, editor's linked in page, and about the publisher

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