Saturday, March 19, 2005

Terrible Lizard, Terrible Marketing

It's official: we hate our customers.

At least, we're okay bullying them around and calling them names. I can only imagine Gates sneaking behind an Office customer to get down on all four so that Ballmer can push them backwards and flip them over, bellowing, "Dinosaur! Unevolved corporate dinosaur!"

Or maybe we're just being passive-aggressive, and name-calling them for their love and satisfaction with Office 97. They can't see any reason to upgrade to Office 2003. So we unleash our marketing campaigns to allow them to be enlightened to all the great reasons to upgrade to the latest version.

Isn't it a very big, loud "thunk!" of a product feature canary dropping dead when the features you ship are so intangible and unexplainable that marketing can't even market them? Instead, they have to show people creating dogpiles of ecstasy thanks to Great Moments at Work? Or, they have to resort to the emotions of fear and inadequacy by showing your old software represents reptilian-brain slowness on your part?

How about telling me directly why Word is so much better than in Office 97? Or Excel? Or - ooo! - okay, Outlook is indeed pretty. That makes me feel good... where's my wallet? PowerPoint, anything new there? As for the rest of the programs... well, I just get p.o.'d if I ever am forced into using them.

Strangely, Joe Wilcox thinks the Evolved marketing is great and refreshing. I'm missing something.

I'm more on-board with Geor ge Parker's rant. Same with Steve Rubel - Microsoft Office Marketing is Stuck in the Prehistoric Era (interesting comments there, too - dang, is Scoble just plain everywhere?). Steve provides three modern-day approaches for Microsoft Office to consider to get buzz building around the products:

  1. Find referenceable users and empower them to blog on your site - Use PubSub, Feedster, MSN Search and customer data, etc. and find the most vocal Office 2003 enthusiasts in the blogosphere. Initiate a dialogue with them and, if they're interested, give them blogs where they can regularly chronicle how they use Office 2003 to improve their daily productivity. Let the customers tell your story.
  2. Have loyal Office 2000 and 2003 users debate each other head-to-head - Find two users of the Office suite - one a loyal 2000 user, another a 2003 fan - and let them them debate each other on the merits of their choice of suite via a shared blog.
  3. Give out free upgrades - Seed 500 bloggers with free upgrades to Office 2003 and index their posts via an RSS-powered portal.

It would be interesting to see more Microsoft individual contributors actually actively advocating and using our products in a visible and shared fashion. But that would require giving them time to do this. I'm pretty passionate about what I develop and I do my best to advocate for it internally, but I can only dream about having time to build that to the next level of creating quality components I'd like to share outside of the intranet. I'm sure there are a lot of folks in Office that are the same way and can create tools and examples that make the latest bits shine, shimmer, and sing. But they are not afforded the time and luxury for this.

Is a Google-esque 20% affordance the answer? I don't think so (mostly because all the lazy dot-com dead-woods in my building would be the first lining up for that playtime). Maybe after we've had some good layoffs. But for now, if leadership was to get behind people providing compelling reasons for customers to use the latest technology, they can then ensure that folks producing quality results had the time to do so and that they were rewarded. If we can't demonstrate the coolness and greatness of our own products, who can?

Update: fixed bad anchor close tag. Clarification: what I'm looking for in the above two paragraphs isn't more blogging but rather a lightweight process where Microsofties can release great software - add-ons, power-toys, whatever - when our new software comes out that can build buzz and love for the new software rather than throwing it against the wall and seeing what sticks.


Anonymous said...


The Office guys actually come up with an innovative campaign that actually talks about the new features of Office instead of feel good platitudes and you reject it only to suggest "blogging is the answer". When did Scoble take over writing this blog?

-- Dare

Anonymous said...

No, I don't think the last point is that blogging is the answer. I think it is releasing power-tools and examples that leverage the latest software - like a Something like that might get customers excited about the latest software, but I seriously doubt Microsoft would ever get a light-weight process approved to release such tools and examples.

But blogging is too disparate to really get customers excited about Office. Maybe analysts. It's more like pissing in the wind, though. You need a central place to go to.

This guy doesn't post enough to be Scoble-rific.

Anonymous said...

Great post! You nailed it with your comment:

"They can't see any reason to upgrade to Office 2003."

Is may be a problem for Microsoft if customers don't need more features, but it's not a problem for customers. If that's the tough reality Microsoft faces, maybe it's time to steer the Titanic off the course of the Features Iceberg, and instead strip out the crap nobody wants or uses.

Hmm, here's a good solution:

"Let's slim down Microsoft (Office) into a lean, mean, efficient customer pleasing profit making machine! Mini-Microsoft (Office), Mini-Microsoft (Office), lean-and-mean!"

What if Outlook was stripped down to only the features David Allen recommends? What if PowerPoint was stripped down to only the features Cliff Atkinson recommends? You'd have a passionate base of customers buying those leaner and meaner products, that help them apply a useful methodology rather than Microsoft's feature-obsession.

I would be first in line to buy it, and I'm sure a few million more customers would too.

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Anonymous said...

There's some problem with the Blogger tool - I keep getting an Error page when I try to post. The post shows up on this page multipe times, but not at all on the home page. Doh!

Anonymous said...

Heh, I'm not EVERYWHERE and Dare I'm not talented enough to write Mini-Microsoft.

Who da'Punk said...

Whew, okay, removed the duplicate postings that appeared over and over. Yes, I think the Blogger commenting system (recently revised) has some usability problems that case multiple postings by accident.

Anonymous said...

Office is definitely a victin of its own success... I think we should definitely go for the leaner ad meaner package, cheaper too, to flood the market with good feature set (perhaps a feature subset of what we have now - but not like the "Starter Edition XP" joke - who EVER thought about THAT idea???).

If we got something cheaper out there that people can afford, perhaps make it for end users only - we'd raise a lot of hell with "Open" alternatives. And I don't mean Works either. Package Outlook, Word and Excel, trim it down of fat, ship it. Recycle electrons!

Its funny - NONE of my neighbors run Office or even Outlook. Nobody. Its just too expensive for mere mortals. Heck I would not run it if I did not have a employee discount! Outlook 2003 is nice but not THAT nice.

Anonymous said...

I know! The marketing campaign is an homage to Nathan Myhrvold hahaha

Anonymous said...

"Its funny - NONE of my neighbors run Office or even Outlook"

Do us a favor - don't join the Office team or anything else to do with product stategy or marketing. Hint: Office -> Home. Home <- Office. Get it? See the difference? How about coming up with MS Home and the bundle of products that would make it as successful in that discrete market as Office has been in orgs?. True, we might have to invest some cycles actually talking with Home users vs sitting on our asses in Redmond, and - imagine- we might even have to come up with some innovative new apps since even slimmed down rehashes of corporate worker software isn't likely going to blow anyone's hair back (your neighbors do a lot of spreadsheets at home?). Jesus, half the people in this company spend the majority of their energy thinking about how to cram existing products down people's throats regardless of whether they fit or are wanted, instead of doing the research to understand what people really need/want and then building products that address that. On the Office side, we should be thinking about creating the product that obsoletes Office - not just cramming more features into the existing one. The latter isn't working very well in case you hadn't noticed and while we're busy doing a circle-jerk, someone else if thinking about that Office-replacement product.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your generosity.

Anonymous said...

> Hint: Office -> Home. Home <-
> Office. Get it? See the difference?

No. Like most people I have a Home Office where I write documents (letters and documents for my after-work activities) and create spreadsheets (typically to analyze/manage some part of my personal finances). I sometimes work on these files at work as well as home. I also want to edit my documents & spreadsheets using the same UI at work and home. Does any of this sound unreasonable or esoteric?

I don't qualify for the student version of Office and I'm not forking out serious cash for a full version of the latest Office. MS Works comes oh so close with its full version of Word but it has a lame spreadsheet application.

Office 97 fits the bill perfectly. It does everything I've ever needed at home, it interoperates with the fancy schmancy Office at work and has a similar UI, but best of all the standard edition is dirt cheap on eBay.

Anonymous said...

Do us a favor - don't join the Office team or anything else to do with product stategy or marketing. Hint: Office -> Home. Home <- Office. Get it? See the difference? How about coming up with MS Home and the bundle of products that would make it as successful in that discrete market as Office has been in orgs?

People do work-related things at home, and they do home-related things at work. They need to be able to share their documents and data between multiple PCs in multiple locations for ONE LOW PRICE. They need to be able to share data and documents with friends and family members who may or may not have the same software products or versions.

Most of the "extra" features are useless annoyances, on the same level as Clippy. Tell the marketing guys to come out with a slimmed-down and simple-to-use version of Office that SMB and corporate buyers can buy AND legally give a (single) copy to employees to use at home. Make it able to seamlessly read and write OOo, ODF, WP, and Works file formats without any extra configuration. If they do that, MS won't ever have to worry about competitors products.