Thursday, March 22, 2007

Looks Like They Forgot To Add Marketing

Microsoft has been a marketing focused company for most of its history. Independent of the merits of its products, it has often excelled in both marketing strategy and tactics. It is hardly a coincidence that its current CEO, Steve Ballmer, began his career at Proctor and Gamble. Thus it seems particularly puzzling that for its latest and most ambitious product ever – Windows Vista, marketing appears an afterthought. Sales of what Microsoft expects to be a blockbuster are off to a slower start then predicted. The Vista products have received mixed reviews, but it’s the marketing that hurts.

Microsoft can commit marketing sins the rest of us cannot get away with, because over 90% of new PCs automatically come with Vista. The marketing opportunity is with the tens of millions of computers running one of the versions older than Vista. When the choice is to stay with the older product for free or pay for Vista, marketing is crucial. So what’s wrong with Vista’s marketing?

Too Many Products With Indistinct Positioning.

Vista is not a single product. It exists in five (count’em 5) versions each at different price points. The products homepage ( is longer on animation than substance. One clicks, waits for icons to dance around the screen, clicks again and gets a paragraph, which claims but neither shows nor convinces why this is for me. These are somewhat ordered on a continuum perhaps from simple to sophisticated or home to business, or clueless to tech-savvy. The positioning is not clear and that’s a problem

Unclear Benefit Proposition.

"Easier, Safer, More Entertaining, Better Connected" says the web site.

This smacks of “new and improved” from the bad old days out of the marketing museum. Want to know more, download the product guide. This guide may need a guide. Depending on its format, it weighs in at from 24 Mb to 61 Mb. The formats are not what computer users have been taught to expect. There is no Word document or Adobe pdf collateral for Vista. Rather the guides come in new proprietary formats, which require you to first download and install viewer software.

Vague Claims and What Seems Like Mere Puffery.

Clicking further does not always yield more information or enlightenment. Consider this description of the Vista Business version. Often hyperbole substitutes for demonstration. Why spend $99.50 for Vista Home Basic when for $ 159.00 or so, you can get Vista Home Premium with an “Elegant Windows Aero desktop experience”. Experience is getting expensive, but I guess you have to be there to appreciate it. The page depicting this is neither elegant nor an experience though it tells us:

"Windows Vista Business is the first Windows operating system designed specifically to meet the needs of small businesses. You'll empower your entire business to work more efficiently …"

Curiously Vista is subordinated on Microsoft’s own home page, not only to the new version of its office software, but even a to a fix for the new onset of daylight saving time. This last, some days after the time change, when you had either manually changed your clock or decided you didn’t care what time your computer claimed was.

Microsoft chairman Bill Gates is well known and for a businessman fairly recognizable. The site depicts him much younger and with a beatific smile that participants in an informal poll I conducted found unsettling.

Vista may be a fine product, but until Microsoft tells and shows what’s in it for customers and there by return to its roots, sales are likely to lag.

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