Hi, I'm Microsoft - and I'm blowing it
By now you've seen the ridiculous Seinfeld ads (shoe ad and family ad) that Microsoft is running. And, additionally, there's this ridiculous article in the NY Times* about how Microsoft is tired of being kicked around and isn't going to take it anymore.
The article includes these quotes:
Apple executives have been "using a lot of their money to de-position our brand and tell people what we stand for," said David Webster, general manager for brand marketing at Microsoft in Redmond, Wash.
"They've made a caricature out of the PC," he added, which was unacceptable because "you always want to own your own story."
The campaign illustrates "a strong desire" among Microsoft managers "to take back that narrative," Mr. Webster said, and "have a conversation about the real PC."
You can almost hear Mr. Webster sniffling as he makes these remarks.
I have no problem with Seinfeld; he's funny. Always has been, always will be. But the campaign, which was short-lived and supposedly a setup for a series of "I'm a PC" ads, was just another example of a company that is completely out of touch with its potential buyers. Here's how:
1) You can only get away with crying "victim" when you are truly a victim. Microsoft is not a victim - other than now being a victim of its own success. Microsoft, until Web and USB U3 apps kill its dominance once and for all, is the undisputed market share leader in the PC operating system and office suite market. The biggest guy in the neighborhood, by a LOT. The biggest guy in the neighborhood gets no sympathy when he starts to cry about his "image" and how he is "misunderstood." You always know when a brand is on its way out when it runs "ads that say nothing." It's always the beginning of the end.
2) Microsoft execs are terribly out of touch with those realities. The reason the "Hi, I'm a PC" ads have been so successful for the Mac is because they are TRUE.
3) The real issue for Microsoft is bloated, not-getting-any-better-with-each-new-release products like Vista, which I (and many others) have refused to install on our machines. Microsoft is trying desperately to get Vista adopted, even to the point of trying to keep XP from being sold. I bought a couple of extra copies, just so I could un-install Vista on my new laptops and install XP. I even tried the new Word recently, thinking maybe I was just being stubborn (even though I've been a bleeding-edge buyer for years). It didn't take long for me to purge it from my system. It was not an improvement. No ad campaign, no matter how expensive or star-filled, is going to cause me to ignore my own, personal experience with Microsoft products.
4) Another real issue for Microsoft is who they think they are versus who they really are. Here they are, with more programming resources than, well, anybody else in the world, really - and the new stuff they turn out simply isn't BETTER. I once asked an honest man, who had worked at Microsoft for years, what they do all day at Microsoft - because I couldn't figure out why a company with so many resources could be so blind to real market needs. He said that the programmers are really on a quest to out-do each other with the latest programming trick. Makes sense to me. Those of us who use Word and Excel and PowerPoint - who struggle with the shortcomings of these programs every day - are not getting any relief from Microsoft. So, like all customers anywhere in the world, we are constantly on the lookout for something better.
5) "You always want to own your own story." Ha. My "famous" take on branding - which is "Your brand is the promise that you keep, not the one you make," puts you in control of your story - because of the way you BEHAVE. If you truly listen to customers, and then change what you're doing to meet their needs, your story will be a great story. It will have legs, because your happy customers will go around telling anyone who will listen how great you are. It will even be greater than the story you can tell yourself. If you don't listen to customers, and do whatever you please, your story will become a horror story. Worse, some clever competitor will come along and do a series of commercials that resonates with customers because they're in sync with customers in a way that you are not. Personal experience always trumps promotions - no matter how extensive, expensive, clever, or elaborate. It's amazing how many times large companies have to re-learn this lesson the hard way.
The real battle in the technology marketplace has boiled down to usability. Sure, price is important; you have to be in the ballpark. But people will pay extra money - in fact, they won't even care how much it costs, within reason - if you get the usability thing right.
We all have dozens of gadgets now, and we don't have time to fuss with technology. We are, in fact, really sick and tired of technology that is difficult to set up and use. You just want to buy the thing and start using it.
We all have had a lifetime's worth of experience with Microsoft products, and we are not amused. Have you ever tried to insert a graphic into a Microsoft Word document? Did it behave the way it should have? No. Have you ever tried to move an image in a PowerPoint slide just a little bit? (You have to know the secret key combination - press ALT, then an arrow key.) Have you ever tried to copy carefully formatted data from one worksheet in Excel and paste it into another worksheet - and groaned when the data didn't retain its original formatting? (Yes, I know you can select "paste special," and try to decipher the arcane instructions, but why should you have to do that?) Don't get me started.
Usability, proven by user testing, is one of the things I get paid for. The real battle between Microsoft and Apple is all about usability. Apple gets it, big time, and Microsoft does not. No amount of advertising and sniffling is going to change the customer's experience.
Microsoft has the ability to write a better story, but this ain't the way to get it done. What they should do is change their behavior, to the point where everyone actually sees it and comments on it.
Then they will have earned the right to start running ads with the PC guy saying, "Hi, I'm a recovering PC. I used to be unusable, and bloated, and hard to use. But I started listening to customers, and I changed my ways."
I'm not holding my breath.
*Sorry this NY Times link requires registration...