A holy grail of technology marketing is to define a product category. Back in the olden days of 1998, it was all about establishing a new category with interesting technology and going public, usually on nothing more than a crapload of VC money and a few million eyeballs.

Then everything changed. The bubble popped, money dried up, and all those companies selling new products in new categories went bust. IT shops became very risk averse – only spending money on established technologies. But that created a problem, in that analysts had to sell more tetragon reports, which requires new product categories.

My annoyance with these product categories hit a fever pitch last week when LogLogic announced a price decrease on their SEM (security event management) technology. Huh? Seems they dusted off the SEM acronym after years on the shelf. I thought Gartner had decreed that it was SIEM (security information and event management) when it got too confusing between the folks who did SEM and SIM (security information management) – all really selling the same stuff. Furthermore, log management is now part of that deal. Do they dare argue with the great all-knowing oracles in Stamford?

Not that this expanded category definition is controversial. We’ve even posted that log management or SIEM isn’t a stand-alone market – rather it’s the underlying storage platform for a number of applications for security and ops professionals.

The lesson most of us forget is that end users don’t care what you call the technology, as long as you solve their problems. Maybe the project is compliance automation or incident investigation. SIEM/Log Management can be used for both. IT-GRC solutions can fit into the first bucket, while forensic toolkits fit into the latter. Which of course confuses the hell out of most end users. What do they buy? And don’t all the vendors say they do everything anyway?

The security industry – along with the rest of technology – focuses on products, not solutions. It’s about the latest flashing light in the new version of the magic box. Sure, most of the enterprise companies send their folks to solution selling school. Most tech company websites have a “solution” area, but in reality it’s always an afterthought.

Let’s consider the NAC (network access control) market as another example. Lots of folks think Cisco killed the NAC market by making big promises and not delivering. But ultimately, end users didn’t care about NAC – they cared about endpoint assessment and controlling guest access, and they solved those problems through other means.

Again, end users need to solve problems. They want answers and solutions, but they get a steady diet of features and spiels on why one box is better than the competitors. They get answers to questions they don’t ask. No wonder most end users turn off their phones and don’t respond to email.

Vendors spin their wheels talking about product category leadership. Who cares? Actually, Rich reminded me that the procurement people seem to care. We all know how hard it is to get a vendor in the wrong quadrant (or heaven forbid no quadrant at all) through the procurement gauntlet. Although the users are also to blame for accepting this behavior, and the dumb and lazy ones even like it. They wait for a vendor to come in and tell them what’s important, as opposed to figuring out what problem needs to be solved. From where I sit, the buying dynamic is borked, although it’s probably just as screwy in other sectors.

So what to do? That’s a good question, and I’d love your opinion. Should vendors run the risk of not knowing where they fit by not identifying with a set of product categories – and instead focus on solutions and customer problems? Should users stop sending out RFPs for SIEM/Log Management, when what they are really buying is compliance automation? Can vendors stop reacting to competitive speeds and feeds? Can users actually think more strategically, rather than whether to embrace the latest shiny upgrade from the default vendor?

I guess what I’m asking is whether it’s possible to change the buying dynamic. Or should I just quiet down, accept the way the game is played, and try to like it?