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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Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The Long Tail, PR and Relationships

Chris Anderson, who is one of the smartest and nicest guys I know, has a very interesting post on his Long Tail blog on public relations in today's world. There is a lot to learn from what he says.

The post has, in addition, caused me to start thinking about some public relations fundamentals -- which most companies in today's environment seem to have forgotten. Public relations should not be about "ink". It is about building relationships. In fact, I believe that Chris is saying as much in his recommendations. But, I would like to underscore that too many companies have become enamored of press releases and coverage rather than focusing on real understanding. That should be the role of well-trained, top-tier PR professionals. Contacting the various constituencies is very important. But what you say is important also.

I suppose there are some who would accuse me of advocating "spinning" all constituencies. Au contraire. We advocate that a company understand who it is at its core and make sure that all of its "spokespeople" (both formal and informal) understand this essence. This is a very hard goal to accomplish. But it's not impossible. And that's what great PR is all about.

In some ways, the long tail is taking us back to the fundamentals of human communication: used to be before media and then mass media that the only way to get the word out about anything was word of mouth. And because that was an evolutionary thing and people didn't spend a lot of time trying to hype, more often than not, the true essence of an entity just emerged in the market.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Does the High Concept Matter in 2007?

This blog is called "The High Concept". The background behind that name is that at Roeder-Johnson (our firm), we have always believed that communications around a high concept that can serve as the umbrella for an organization is important. When a friend (one of the best VC's I know) asked me to write a short, simple "manifesto” (that's his word), I thought it was a good time to reexamine our view of the world as it has come to be.

Therefore, the core question is: Does the High Concept Matter in 2007? In a word: yes. The high concept matters now more than ever.

Why? With so much communication and clutter of ideas, having thoughtful, distinctive communications is critical You can't possibly expect journalists or your other audiences to remember all the details of what you are saying.

When people ask me for an example of this being done well in recent years I almost always point to Salesforce.com (not our client --choosing one of our clients feels like it would be cheating). "Software is dead": you remember that and the basic idea, even if you don't remember or care about the minutia of the story.

But, don't get me wrong. We are fully aware that for each constituency, there is almost always more detail needed to tell the whole story. But, at the end of the day, it's important to make remembering the details simple.

I am sure there are some doubters. For example, what about some of the companies that have done it without a fancy "high concept"? Are you thinking of YouTube, Google, or MySpace? Each of them embodies their High Concept.

And what about arguments like Peter Rip's that start ups can "double their valuation" by being focused and not being too theoretical? Well, a high concept doesn’t need to be theoretical. It just needs to be simple and absorbable.

And finally, what is the benefit? If you make it easy for people to put a basic construct around you, you are likely to enjoy the benefits of leadership:

o higher product prices
o better partners
o better employees
o lower cost of capital

And what executive doesn’t want all of those things?