Burden of Proof

Under the banner of "Proven Security," McAfee will steadily reposition and rebrand itself as the undisputed expert in network and enterprise security. The company believes its commitment to remain agnostic will further differentiate it from rivals in the increasingly competitive security market while benefiting its channel partners.

"We believe security is complex," says Larry McIntosh, McAfee's chief marketing officer and architect of the campaign. "We are not focused on video games and application software. We should be able to help our customers work through this thing we call security."

Few in the security space can claim the lineage of McAfee. As one of the oldest security vendors, McAfee has a history of marketing effective products and services, and is only second to Symantec in terms of overall antivirus market share. (McAfee is No. 1 in enterprise antivirus.)

During the past three years, McAfee has jettisoned its underperforming security units--Guantlet firewall and PGP encryption products--sold off its Sniffer network-management division and cast away its Magic help-desk applications. It picked up important network-security technologies, such as IntruVert's network-based and Entercept's host-based intrusion-prevention products, as well as vulnerability-management technology from Foundstone. All the while, it expanded on its core antivirus business, diving into antispam and antispyware technologies, and continued to build out its premier security-management system, ePolicy Orchestrator.

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"The current iteration [of the company] shows a lot more focus," says IDG analyst Chris Christiansen. "It's a return to the basics. Its orientation toward proactive protection is in high demand for customers."

Branding issues aside, McAfee's re-emergence is due in no small measure to its channel partners. Indeed, CEO George Samenuk has firmly planted McAfee as a channel champion, and diverted all but 14 accounts to its partners. Today, 99 percent of McAfee's sales go through the channel.

McAfee's channel commitment is only growing, says David Roberts, the company's senior vice president of North America Channels. As part of the rebranding program, McAfee is expanding its VARs' margins (in some cases, 10 to 15 percent), investing more in market development and management, and helping partners wrap services around its products.

More Than a Tagline

"Proven Security," McIntosh says, is more than a marketing slogan. It is a reflection of McAfee's ability to deliver results. The rebranding comes more than a year after McAfee tossed off its former Network Associates name and, it hopes, the legacy behind it. Under the stewardship of Bill Larson, Network Associates was the first to push the concept of the "one-stop security shop," a vendor that could satisfy all security needs.

Network Associates had the right elements--antivirus, encryption, firewalls and management applications. But what it didn't have was the best products in every category. Instead, it was selling bundled software that wasn't integrated or best-of- breed, and the market responded harshly.

The intrusion-prevention and vulnerability-management products, coupled with the existing antivirus and focused application-management products, make McAfee competitive with Symantec, Trend Micro and Computer Associates.

The wild cards in the security market are what the big infrastructure and software companies are doing with their security initiatives. Microsoft is getting into the antivirus business, while Cisco Systems and Juniper Networks are pushing holistic network-defense strategies. In response, Symantec is diversifying its portfolio, entering the infrastructure space by adding storage and management capabilities. Conversely, McAfee has decided to retrench itself as an agnostic security vendor.

"The longtime rivals are diverging in their strategies," Christiansen says. "Symantec is taking a broader view; McAfee has chosen to focus on intrusion-prevention and threat-management, and to bring that management across the entire product line, from consumers up to enterprises."

McAfee will accentuate its core strengths: proven expertise through its threat-and-response intelligence networks, preventative/proactive technology through its intrusion-prevention and vulnerability-management products, and manageability, or the integration of its products and ease of exercising response and change control.

On top of its products, McAfee is concentrating resources on research and development of new technologies, and intelligence services to understand and counter existing and future security threats.

"If we believe security is complex and evolving, both internally and externally, our customers will be looking for a practical bridge between network operations and security, and they'll need a vendor solely focused on security," McIntosh says.

Been Here Before?

McIntosh says McAfee's entire rebranding effort, marketing strategy and future product development is solidly rooted in customer and channel-partner needs. From his extensive experience in rebranding Frito-Lay while at PepsiCo, McIntosh says a brand is meaningless if it's not related to what the customer wants. "It's all about what the customer needs and what McAfee has that makes it relevant," he says.

The problem, some say, is McAfee itself. While Samenuk earns points for slimming down the once-bulky software company, others say McAfee has never exhibited enough confidence in its marketing and business initiatives. Rather than waiting to see if a campaign works, it pulls the plug and creates more confusion.

"It has never been a problem with [McAfee's] products; it has been a problem with getting [them] to market," says Pete Lindstrom, security industry expert and research director at Spire Security.

The notion of "Proven Security" is also rife with problems. In 2003, Oracle rolled out its "Unbreakable" marketing campaign only to have bug hunters rip into the Oracle code. Within weeks of the first ads appearing in print, Mark and David Litchfield, researchers at U.K.-based Next Generation Security Software, unveiled a handful of serious Oracle security vulnerabilities.

The controversy over its ill-conceived marketing campaign didn't hurt Oracle's sales or image. But security companies that advertise superiority need to deliver.

"Tech wizards cherry-pick the next vulnerabilities and highlight product failures," Lindstrom says. "Oracle, Cisco, HP and Microsoft have other things to sell. They don't need security to sustain themselves. They see it as a growth area, but McAfee needs security to succeed."