The Daydream Blog

Microsoft Thinking Different?

Friday, September 12th, 2008

Microsoft has launched a new Windows ad campaign starring Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Gates, to much derision. It does not, as yet, directly answer the criticism of my last post, that Microsoft’s PR is undermining its flagship product, Windows Vista.

Daniel Jakult, on his Red Sweater Blog, breaks ranks and suggests that the ad campaign is in fact genius, as it is trying to tackle Microsoft’s uncaring image.

Seinfeld’s sense of humour is not something I have ever particularly enjoyed, though I did get a warm fuzzy feeling from these ads. More so from Gates’s performance than from Seinfeld’s.

Daniel points out that:

“Most critics of these ads point out, quite rightly, that the message doesn’t ask viewers to buy anything. If an ad doesn’t ask you to buy something, surely it’s a failure.”

Remind you of another ad campaign designed to change the image and brand of a poorly regarded company? It reminds me of nothing more than Apple’s Think Different campaign. At the time it was criticised for being grammatically incorrect, vague and completely unrelated to the benefits of Apple’s products. It was the complete anti-thesis of current iPhone ads.

Apple’s marketing since Think Different has been an evolution from establishing a new brand through to promoting specific features, via customer endorsements (Switch campaign) and product differentiation (Mac vs PC). At the time of Think Different, Apple’s image was terrible, even if its products were actually quite strong. At the time, Apple needed to change people’s perceptions and expectations of it as a company, before they would even be willing to consider its products.

Microsoft is in a very similar position. Kevin Hoffman’s first take on the ads at The .Net Addict’s Blog points out that Vista is actually a strong product. Microsoft’s other products are also beginning to show considerable signs of improvement. However, the company still receives a lot of criticism, some of it less justified than in the past.

Microsoft has understood that any sympathy towards it is the result of Bill Gates’s philanthropy. Any company whose chief executive gives that much money to charity can’t be all bad, can it?

Apple needed to re-establish its credibility. Microsoft needs to show that it cares about its customers and they seem to be thinking different to do just that. An excellent move on their part.

It is also an excellent demonstration of how Google, Apple, Sony, Mozilla and Oracle’s competition with Microsoft is hugely important for consumers. A Microsoft as a monopoly in all computing markets is terrible and worthy of scorn. A Microsoft that has to compete will be great for everyone.

Mojave, Vista and Midori: Osbourne Redux?

Wednesday, August 6th, 2008

Microsoft’s Windows marketing seems to have been extremely muddled of late. Windows Vista has been a publicity nightmare for the company, garnering poor reviews, demands for XP’s lifetime to be extended, users downgrading and major partners and customers holding off from upgrading. Some major clients have even decided to take the opportunity to switch to the Mac.

What has been most surprising throughout the first half of this year, was Microsoft’s unwillingness to come out in support of its most unloved product. Key Microsoft staff, including Bill Gates himself, spent considerable effort talking up Vista’s successor, Windows 7. This led to conjecture that Windows 7 would be released much earlier than expected. It may also have led to many enterprise customers delaying their Vista upgrade programmes.

Windows 7 talk went quiet midyear, with Microsoft promising to come out fighting for Vista. The first fruits of that campaign is the Mojave Experiment. Irrespective of the scientific and content value of the experiment, from a marketing perspective it is a disaster. Essentially a Pepsi challenge, Vista is put into a blind taste test against not its current competitors, but against the 7 year old product it was supposed to replace.

With Mojave barely having had time to make an impact, Microsoft is now talking about Midori, a complete replacement for Windows altogether.

What is really surprising about the situation is that Microsoft’s muddled marketing may actually be leading to a reduction in their Vista sales, as customers wait on Windows 7. Has Microsoft created an Osbourne effect entirely of its own making?

With its stock flat-lining, Microsoft’s mind share is taking a significant battering. Tellingly, start up software companies no longer plan to be taken over by Microsoft, nor worry about a competing Microsoft product. Instead Google, Apple, Amazon, eBay and others are the gorillas in their respective fields. The Yahoo! take over debacle clearly demonstrates how “Microsoft is dead” in terms of its influence.

I recently concluded that the role of CEO of Microsoft would be a much more exciting role than succeeding Steve Jobs at Apple. There is so much more potential to improve a company.

As an unashamed Mac zealot, it is actually disappointing to see Microsoft in this situation. However, the prospect of a resurgent Microsoft in the future, in a more competitive market place will only be good for consumers in the long run. Its current problems are a surprising, sad, but necessary step along the way to Microsoft’s rehabilitation.

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