I'm sitting here in Seattle's airport. My flight is delayed. The plane is broken. A new one is getting flown in. But, it gives me some time to think about how people perceive brands and what can affect that perception. Particularly when it comes to Microsoft
Now, what do you think when I say “Microsoft?” Do you think “Monopolistic? Ruthless? Rapatious? Arrogant? Low quality? or Untrustworthy?” Many people do.
Come on, admit it. Microsoft doesn't have the best brand in the business. Why is that? Microsoft has earned that position in your mind through its behavior. I know that down in Silicon Valley I watched as Microsoft's economic power expanded and people became fearful. Heck, three years ago I was almost fired because I made a Microsoft employee mad at me (I was in the wrong and was a jerk).
But, one reason I took this job is because Steve Ballmer laid out what the company is doing to change. I've talked a lot about these things on my blog over the past few months. For instance, we now have a values statement and every employee is asked to review the statement regularly and evaluate their own behavior. Another major thing is that a major change has been made to executive's compensation — it's now based on customer satisfaction scores rather than on just sales or market value created. At the PDC you saw us really making an effort to let you in on our development processes and listen to you. Today we're digging through all the Weblog posts. We're reading all the newsgroup threads. And we're evaluating all the feedback we got from the PDC. It's a mountain. Thousands of posts and requests with tons more coming in every day. Finally, I took the job because I saw Longhorn and saw that Microsoft is making a major commitment to product quality and innovation. At the PDC you only saw a small piece of the Longhorn puzzle. But, even Longhorn is frustrating because it's years away from being shipped.
What is customer satisfaction? It's a representation of the emotion you feel when you think of a specific company and/or product. What do you think about when you think of “Microsoft?”
In the past few weeks I've had conversations with hundreds of customers. Including three just in the airport here tonight. Suprise suprise, Microsoft is not liked. We are not liked. Let me repeat that again. Worse, we're not just not liked, we're feared. That's not a good brand situation. It's not a good customer satisfaction situation.
One guy in the airport just asked me “why don't you fix the bugs?” Another guy in my comments noted “your executives are arrogant and pop off their mouths.”
Even in my own attitudes I've found myself worrying more about Microsoft's future and talking about it than getting in customer's shoes and trying to find solutions to their problems. I'm glad that my coworkers are doing things like “AdoptAnISV” and kick me in the pants to make sure I stay focused on helping people discover and use our technology.
One executive today (in a meeting with more than 100 employees) asked “what do you think customers would think if you told them you'd like to spend an hour in their shoes?” He gave the answer: “they probably think you've stolen their shoes and you've got an hour's head start on the police.”
Yes, even the executives know they must change their own behavior and their attitudes toward the marketplace.
So, how do we turn around that brand perception?
1) Make everything we do a “win-win.” Let's be honest. Other companies are scared of us. I would be. Microsoft is well-known for dominating the software market. We can't run away from that. Microsoft is dominant. It +is+ scary. But, how can we turn that around? How can we find ways to be successful while also making our partners and customers successful? How can we turn around and get a vibrant ISV market again? I have learned recently that there's teams of people here focused on doing just that. Our “Adopt an ISV” program is just a small part of that effort. Some of our executives are regularly meeting with Silicon Valley venture capitalists and business owners to let them know about what we're doing and where there are business opportunities to create value (translation: create companies and create jobs).
2) We need even better marketing than we've ever had before. IBM's advertisments, for instance, in this month's Fast Company, are better than ours at explaining how they are adding value to businesses. Apple's iPod advertisements have no freaking words. Not one. Yet those ads communicate more about that product's value than our own advertisements. If you've read this far and assume that I think that Microsoft's products aren't exciting, you would be absolutely incorrect. One stinking little feature (out of hundreds of new ones added) in Office 2003, for instance, has radically changed my life. Yes, search folders have. Far more than an MP3 player ever will. Yet, we are not good about communicating that value to people. Heck, even the Xbox's marketing isn't half as noticeable as Apple's iPod marketing (and Apple is making a lot more money on the iPod than Microsoft is on the Xbox). Ever seen an Xbox? It's way cooler than an MP3 player. We need to really step up our marketing efforts. For products we already make.
3) We need conversational marketing. Why? Conversational marketing is what I'm doing right here. Take on a nasty, tough, issue head on. And talk about it. Listen to customers. Listen to our enemies. Listen to our friends. Point to the ones who don't like what we're doing. Respond. Oh, sure, point to the ones who make you look good too. Then work to respond.
4) Build better products. That's a tougher one cause building products takes a long time and the time between customer's problems and the day when they get fixed is an extremely long time. For instance, what happens now when an application crashes? It asks you if you'd like to report the problem to Microsoft. There are teams who are trying to learn from that data and fix the problems. Due to data we've learned from those we're rebuilding the driver architecture, for instance. That's a major freaking deal. But, you won't see the results for several more years. So, it's going to take something like six to eight years from the beginning of collecting that data until the day when you really see huge changes in our products. That's too long. It makes everyone think we're not really listening.
5) Find ways to work with the rest of the world. Looking at the world objectively, Microsoft isn't going away. Sun isn't going away. Apple isn't going away. Linux isn't going away. IBM isn't going away. Our customers don't care that Microsoft wants everything to run on Windows (let's be honest, we'd love that). They just want to make all their systems work together. I've been speaking out against Web standards, for instance, in an attempt to get people to really explain what they want and why they want it and customers have been pushing back saying “we need a way to ship software to EVERYONE at as low a price as possible.” We need to find a way to make it easier to deliver software that works on all platforms. That's a big challenge, particularly when we're faced with competitors who don't trust us and who don't want to work with us (and, often we don't trust them or want to work with them either).
6) Find ways to demonstrate humility and empathy. This is a hard one. How does a global corporation that aggressively goes after new markets show humility and empathy? I wish I had the answer to that question. One way is to look for ways to make other people and other companies be successful. What would happen if our executives talked about making Real Networks successful? Making Apple successful? Making, even, gasp, Linux successful? Would that change the tone of the industry? Would that make Microsoft any less powerful or successful? I still believe this industry is not a zero-sum game. Raise the water level and all boats rise, even Microsoft's. I still see tons of computing challenges out there that we can attack together. Can anyone help here?
What do you think? How can we work together to make a win-win? [The Scobleizer Weblog]