Superstars Owyang and Wang joining Altimeter Group is not just about social media

Logo - Altimeter GroupOn August 27, 2009, the Altimeter Group announced (click here for press release) that it was expanding with Deborah Schultz and former Forrester analysts R “Ray” Wang and Jeremiah Owyang.  They join Charlene Li, former Forrester social media analyst and co-author of Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies . Here are some salient points about the announcement that we picked up from Altimeter’s briefing for SageCircle: 

  • This is a true firm, not a loose collection of individuals operating under a marketing umbrella
  • They are Silicon Valley-based partners which will permit creation of a coherent team and methodology
  • Their coverage emphasis will be on “emerging technologies” not social media
  • The focus will be on thought leadership and practical applications
  • Their business model will incorporate many traditional analyst firm elements (e.g., vendor selection, training, consulting, and speeches) with the addition of a hands-on lab and a community platform
  • Regularly published, client-only research is not part of the model

Because of the partners association with social media – as analysts, corporate practitioners, and personal usage – the coverage of this announcement will likely give too much play on that aspect. While an important part of Altimeter’s marketing and initial research coverage, SageCircle thinks that focusing on social media misses other more interesting implications of this announcement:

  1. Altimeter has the potential to be a contender (see Boutique Analyst Firms: Pretenders and Contenders) with serious visibility and influence
  2. Altimeter has the potential to grow a serious technology buyer client base, maybe over 50%, unlike most single practitioners and analyst boutiques that rely on vendors for revenues
  3. A technology buyer client base when combined with its vendor selection services should increase Altimeter’s relevance to vendor analyst relations (AR) and other influencer programs
  4. Altimeter has the potential to systematically cover emerging technologies, giving clients a connect-the-dots strategic view. While many firms, large and small, cover some aspects of emerging technologies, their narrow focus of coverage to individual technologies or related markets does not provide clients with an integrated view of how to have a strategy for emerging technologies
  5. Altimeter’s investment in a hands-on lab, the Hanger, for experimentation, client strategy sessions, and training gives it a potential differentiator to boutiques, social media consultancies, and even large firms like Forrester, Gartner, and Ovum

In many respects, this is a very traditional announcement that has occurred scores of times over the last two decades. Altimeter partners’ atypically high visibility via social media gives them an advantage for a new firm, but that will only go so far. Ultimately, Altimeter can only succeed if it creates a cohesive business, develops exciting new research, builds for the day when social media matures, and executes on selling and closing business.

SageCircle clients received a SageFlash concurrent to the announcement with more detail about the announcement, more analysis on the business model’s implications, and an in-depth set of recommendations. In addition, Advisory clients are encouraged to schedule inquiries to discuss how to apply the recommendations in the SageFlash to their specific situation.

SageCircle Technique:

  • Emerging technology focus means that vendors with more than social media technology should be looking to brief Altimeter analysts
  • While this is not only about social media, it is important for vendors to do social media monitoring because of Altimeter’s heavy reliance on social media
  • Determine your investments in Altimeter’s future
    • Upgrade status, i.e., manually moving Altimeter’s analysts up the ranked analyst list so they get a higher tier
    • Enhance flow of information by AR doing appropriate briefings
    • Provide time for executive and thought leader conversations
    • Buy entry level contracts
  • If appropriate, vendors and agencies should enter their services and products into the Altimeter’s social media resources wiki

Bottom Line: What Altimeter’s announcement does not do is signal any massive change to the analyst ecosystem in the short term. Nor should a firm of Altimeter’s size be considered a serious threat to the largest firms like Forrester, Gartner, or Ovum. Rather, Altimeter complements other firms in the analyst ecosystem. Over the mid-term, a successful Altimeter could be a role model to boutique analyst firms, especially when it comes to demonstrating the need to build a significant technology buyer client base.  

Question: AR – How do you evaluate the status of a boutique analyst firm, especially a new one?



  1. In terms of evaluating the emergence of a new firm, it will come down the relationship you have with those that run it, this has always been my experience with the likes of Freeform, Quocirca, and RedMonk. I see some similarities between this concept and that of Knowledge Peers in the UK on the SMB side of things. Interesting times – thanks for the analysis.

  2. An interesting post, thanks. Nick Carr talked about the “cult of the amateur” when he critiqued new media and news business, and here we might see the cult of the individual. Larger firms like Forrester may not be as fleet-of-foot as boutiques like Altimeter, but they can better scale to address a broad range of issues.

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