Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Did Microsoft Use a 20th Century Launch Strategy to Launch their 21st Century (We Hope) Vista????

I prefer not to pick on big companies -- they know something about making money and running big and complex businesses which is often easier said than done. And you can certainly say that about Microsoft. However, in recent months, I have truly wondered if they are just missing the ability to refocus their prism to enter the new age. After all, they have a cash cow legacy business and will need to take some serious risks to move into this new world. ButI think I will leave those lofty business strategy questions to people more equipped than I to address them.

But the launch of Vista has caused me the question fundamentally Microsoft's communications strategy, as well. Clearly it was very well executed, with all of the pieces and parts running smoothly to ensure the launch and hype all coincided. But, did they use a 20th century methodology for the launch of a product that should be the essence of the 21st Century? Should Microsoft have delivered first and hyped later? Was it necessary -- or even wise -- for Bill Gates to be on every newscast in the world AND The Daily Show? What was the point? They got a lot of attention, but at the end of the day, to what end?

Believe me, I understand that Microsoft could certainly not launch their most important product without some amount of positioning and messaging. Would it have made more sense for them to do this launch a bit more quietly and let the market absorb the product. Then, in 6 or 8 months, when they start to have proof that what they thought would happen is in fact happening, talk about it loudly. They could have pulled it off. Everyone wants to talk to Bill Gates.

Certainly there were hundreds of strategy meetings over an extended time period about this launch, but I just wonder if anyone attending the meetings was a part of the "modern world" or just a part of Microsoft's world?

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11 Comments:

Anonymous Ari Newman said...

Microsoft has perhaps reinforced their "business" mindset with the 20th century launch strategy they used. They had an opportunity to use viral marketing, guerrilla marketing, or as you suggested let the product speak for itself before making lots of noise. I honestly don't know how much their mega-million dollar campaign matters. Users who want the latest for the sake of having the latest will upgrade (if they can afford the new hardware!) and most of the world will sit back and wait to see how bad the bugs are or if there are upgrade horror stories. XP didn't get good until the 2nd release of SP2.

Does Microsoft have a credibility problem? When they say it's "better", and "safer", and "more fun", do people actually believe them? I don't, I think "you mean they copied lots of 5 year old apple OS X tricks and it's going to be buggy as hell for a year".

1:29 PM  
Anonymous Chris said...

You raise a very good point. Unfortunately, a soft launch for a product this big would be a tough sell in most large corporations, where activity is often confused with progress.

And I can just hear the analysts and bloggers asking, "Where's Bill?," "Is he sick?," "Does Microsoft lack confidence in the new product?", etc.

6:34 PM  
Anonymous Raj Setty said...

Great point. My $.02 - for a product of this magnitude (developed over five years with millions of dollars of investment) the best bet would be to make a mega campaign but follow up with a product that is WAY better than what is promised.

Best,
Raj

10:00 PM  
Anonymous Antman said...

Scarcity forces creativity. 21st century PR/Marketing takes significantly more creativity. One needs to be closer to their customers, participation is key. I think Microsoft is like Paris Hilton. She/They don't think they have to try to hard, why? She is Paris Hilton, they are Microsoft

10:08 PM  
Blogger Samir Sanghavi said...

Could not help comparing to way most of the web 2.0 companies do things...

USE fuels More_Use(Promotion)

but since MS happens to be selling things (and not monetizing use like google) it needs to create a first wave... which results in enough critical mass to spiral it on.

Does Microsoft have any alternative? I don't think so with the product line of 20th century howsoever it might shine.

10:53 PM  
Blogger gianandrea said...

i would suggest that:
- vista was not ready for the launch but they were forced to launch it anyway;
- they actually display features well known to any mac user since years now;
- in any of their message, i got a selling proposition;
- it's indeed an upgrade of windows but it requires new hardware and tow days to set it up at a decent level

you can do a big bang launch when you actually have something to launch

1:49 AM  
Anonymous David said...

It`s interesting that Microsoft used a totally independent launch campaign in Slovenia (Europe). Plus the company explicitly specified that the approach should be as unconventionaly as possible. When I firs heard this my first thought was that this is some kind of internal agency prank... But it`s happening.

2:20 AM  
Blogger ImCat said...

Chris, Vista still is a tough sell for big corporations. That may be the reason why MS released for the business first - there was less risk involed, cause big corps were not and are not going to jump and use the new technology. Some took steps to prevent IE7 being installed as the part of update, so switching the OS is out of the question "until the Service Pack 2" :)

2:48 AM  
Anonymous Chris said...

Imcat,

By "launch" I was referring to Microsoft's marketing activities, not corporate customers' decision to adopt Vista. After spending billions developing Vista, there's no way that MS could not have a big launch event.

And, BTW, I think you're right. There's very little chance that major corporate clients are going to adopt Vista in the short term.

4:12 PM  
Anonymous Derek said...

It's not that I disagree with the question - whether Microsoft's PR team is stuck in the past. Clearly, PR has moved beyond the media tour, press conference, etc model. That's old news for us.

I'm just not sure, given the varying stakeholders Microsoft has to appease, Microsoft could do anything but a launch that favored a traditional PR approach. It offers at least a modicum of control over message and guarantees that even those business owners and consumers who aren't engrossed with social media know about vista. Plus, blogs and the online world would talk about vista ad nauseum anyway.

As to your point - the merits of this 20th century approach in 2007, I'd add that for a thorougly mediocre product (with 5 year old Apple osx tricks) one could argue this was a successful PR launch.

Of course, no amount of PR wizadry truly makes up for a mediocre product, but their approach here allows Microsoft to guarantee that it's message is out there ahead of the naysayers who are disappointed with the product.

If, on the other hand, Microsoft was willing to make technical changes based on feedback following launch, then a softer web 2.0-like launch might have been warranted. This would have positioned MS as a partner in working out the bugs of Vista and crafting a better consumer experience.

8:58 AM  
Blogger artifex said...

Abigail,

Since this post, you might have noticed that Microsoft have signed up Hugh MacLeod, (gapingvoid.com)as a side effect of the Blue Monster cartoon series which he drew. Maybe they read and took notice.

Anne

10:16 AM  

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