It's taken me a long time to figure this out, but I recently realized that clients often view and describe products via archetypes. Rather than recounting a long laundry list of desired features, they'll say, "What I want is something like SharePoint, but with an additional capability." Initially, I classified this common way of talking as a time-saver, but I've come to realize its also a very useful market analysis tool--because the archetypes shift over time.
Let me give some examples. Way back when--40 years ago--if you wanted a really deluxe typewriter, you dreamed of an IBM Selectric. It looked cool, it had that nifty rotating ball, and made beautiful copies. When I entered college, my mind's eye was on a Selectric--but I made do with a Smith Corona. By the late 70's, people's mental image of the Selectric was replaced with a Wang Word Processor; which in turn eventually got replaced by a PC running Microsoft Word. Another example in terms of portable entertainment is the Sony Walkman; it got usurped by the Apple iPod. If your product is the archetype, you control the market conversation--your product is the baseline by which other products are described and evaluated.
So let's apply the archetype framework to the collaboration and content market. For 15 years, Lotus Notes was THE knowledge management/collaboration tool. It certainly wasn't the only such product in the market--but it was the one everyone knew, and the one that people used to describe other products: "Groove is Notes running on the Microsoft stack." However, Notes is no longer the market's mental shortcut. SharePoint 2007 is the new archetype, the new reference model. This market shift--this switch to a different archetype--is creating problems for IBM. First, IBM doesn't believe that the market's mental model has changed--and, to be fair, it hasn't within IBM's installed base. Second, Connections and Quickr are not Notes. So if they aren't SharePoint (the current archetype) and they aren't Notes (the previous archetype)--what are they? The archetype is an anchor, a signpost--and when people can't figure out how a product relates to a signpost, they get lost.
Microsoft itself isn't immune to this problem. For example, Microsoft Office is the archetype for productivity suite functionality. People will say, "OpenOffice.org does the Microsoft Office basics." So Microsoft Office is the functional archetype for a productivity suite; five years ago, it was the pricing archetype as well--people expected to pay a couple of hundred bucks for a productivity suite. But the pricing archetype mantle has now moved to Google Apps: $50 per user per year. Trust me, Burton Group clients can't get that pricing scheme out of their mind. What they want, in so many words, is the functionality of Microsoft Office at the price point of Google Apps. Microsoft can talk till it's blue in the face about the great value of Microsoft Office, but at this point enterprises don't buy it. Their mental model has shifted, and no matter what Microsoft says, Microsoft Office looks overpriced. (Of course, the fact that some versions of Microsoft Office cost as much as a solid, well-built netbook doesn't help either).
I'm still thinking through the concept of a product archetype, but give it a spin in your own mind. It's certainly helped me explain some market behavior.