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Oracle’s Burton sees upside to downturn

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When Jeremy Burton was promoted last July to Oracle Corp. senior VP-product and services marketing, the company’s shares were trading in the $35 to $40 range, not far off the 52-week-high of $46. Marketers at the company’s Redwood Shores, Calif., headquarters were optimistic that Oracle could use its financial health not only to take business from sickly dot-com competitors but also bigger, stronger ones, including IBM Corp.

Today, Oracle’s shares have essentially been halved, but the company’s marketers are as sanguine as ever that they can take advantage of the downturn to seize market share from all manner of competitors.

In a recent interview at BtoB’s New York office, Burton—an Englishman with a background in Unix programming and customer support—said Oracle plans to consolidate its media buys with a few key publications, including The Economist and Financial Times. Burton, who oversees all global marketing for Oracle’s software products, also said the company’s penchant for simplicity, versus what he sees as IBM’s for complexity, will help it pull ahead.

BtoB: Why choose Oracle over IBM?

Burton: We’re both going to customers and saying, ‘We’ll help you become an e-business.’

IBM’s approach is to say, ‘Mr. Customer, to become an e-business, what type of software would you like to use? What sort of databases? By the way, it’s all really complex, and so you should pay us a large amount of money to manage it. And if you want 39 data centers, that’s great.’

Our approach is that if you want to become an e-business, then you should have a single data center. You should buy software that’s integrated.

BtoB: Why isn’t Oracle taking a page from IBM Corp.’s playbook and increasing its advertising?

Burton: We feel that because there are less dot-coms advertising, the advertising rates are going to come down. So we believe that although our marketing budget is holding steady, that money will go further. We’ll leverage global buys.

You’ll see Oracle appear with monotonous regularity in the key business publications over the course of the year. You’re going to see Oracle three times a week in Financial Times. You’re going to see us on Page 2 of the business section of The Wall Street Journal. You’re going to see us in 35 issues of The Economist, 24 issues of Fortune.

We go with that strategy because we get greater leverage because of our buying power. Particularly in this economy, we can get a pretty good rate.

BtoB: How is Oracle changing its marketing strategy amid the slowing marketplace?

Burton: The economy is on everyone’s mind right now, and certainly on our mind. We really look at the change in the economy as an opportunity to take market share.

What actually happens when the economy is great is that features become companies. Things that we consider features in our software, like procurement, become entire companies. You know, Ariba built an entire company out of not even automating the entire procurement process, just that of paperless requisition.

What happens in a down economy is that those companies become features again. They hit the wall, they become acquired and they become features of bigger software companies.

We do have to tune and adjust our message. Every department’s budget is under scrutiny. We feel that the right message to go out with in this down economy is this whole idea of waging war on complexity. The IT and software business as a whole is way, way too complex.

BtoB: Is Oracle rejiggering its ad spending?

Burton: Certainly, our online buy will go further. We are moving much more toward online. And certainly when you go to the business audience, you need the print ad to get the message through. We want to drive interest through online advertising back to a centralized place where they can get access to relevant content, at Oracle.com.

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