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For the 14th year, we present our Readers’ Choice Awards in this issue. We always get asked how we do the balloting, and the answer is quite simple. Here’s what the ballot says: “Write in your choice for each category, and rate that choice for service. If you don’t have an answer, please skip the question.” We have absolutely no idea what the respondents are going to write in that space and it often surprises (astonishes) us. We don’t have the slightest control over what they write, either. It is, in truth, the readers’ choice.
Doing a truly open ended survey is very difficult, because all the data reduction has to be done manually. Do you have any idea how many ways there are to spell Allen-Bradley, or Honeywell, or Magnetrol, for example? I don’t, because I’m sure that next year I’ll see new and different ways to do it, once again.
In looking at the scores, I noted some things I found very interesting.
Once again, several vendors who actually do not make a product in a specific category won the category. Dell, for example, won the “industrial computers” category going away…yet I’m not aware of an actual “industrial computer” made by Dell. It could be that people don’t clearly understand what we mean by our categories, or it could be that our end users are trying to tell us something about what is needed in “industrial computers” by who they vote for.
Overall, scores appear to be getting a little closer together. This might indicate that our end users aren’t seeing much difference between vendors, or it may mean that some vendors, who hadn’t historically done as good a job at marketing, are now doing it better. In my own view, it could also mean that both of these are true.
One thing that concerned me greatly was the significant decrease in service ratings across the entire survey. I don’t know entirely what it implies, but it is certainly a clear message from the end-user community. They aren’t feeling well served.
Why do we do the Readers' Choice Awards? It sure would be easier for the editorial staff of this magazine to sit down and pick out some editors’ choices. The choices would, in some cases, be considerably different, I can assure you. The reason we don’t is that our opinions don’t matter. What counts are the opinions of the end users in process automation. We aren’t asking whose specifications are better, or whose left-handed froolap has the highest torque rating. We simply ask who our end users think is the best…according to them.
You can call the Readers’ Choice awards a “popularity contest,” but that’s not entirely correct. It’s an exercise in grading how well vendors deliver on their marketing message, on their products and on their service promises. In the marketing world, we call that branding. In the end-user world, we call that “walking the walk, and not just talking the talk.”
It’s important for the end-users to know that a company, whose products or services they’re buying, will keep its promises, and be there for them years from now. How convinced end-users are of this commitment determines from whom they’ll buy. Vendors who aren’t very good at this branding stuff risk having their end-user market shift away from them to vendors who are good at it. And, in the final analysis, that’s a disservice to the end-users.
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