Selling Microsoft

Yesterday I was doing my daily trawl through Google Reader and came across an interesting post over on about Re-branding Microsoft.  I commented on it at the time but was thinking about it a bit more while I was driving to work this morning.

For the most part I still disagree with the post about blogging at MS, but I do agree that the Microsoft brand and image is a bit on an enigma.

I’m quite fortunate that my job within a large enterprise customer gives me pretty good access to resources and people at MS and the other big software and hardware companies.  When you’re working closely with MS the lasting impression (in my case at least) is one of a company built on smart (very smart), enthusiastic and interesting people.  I like being around those guys and working with them – things get done, and usually get done quickly and well.

Taking a step back and talking to friends in other positions and other companies, some of their views couldn’t be further from mine.  They’ve been conditioned by OS release after Office release after patch release into the view of a bland, arrogant monopoly. 

I guess this is partly what the Blue Monster is all about, trying to get that internal MS out to the wider world.  I think the MS blogs really help here, there are some amazing resources out there that do more for MS than any campaign ever has.  (For example although he doesn’t know it, and has never met me, I for one owe Joel Olson a beer someday for all the help his SharePoint blog gave me a few years ago!)

So where am I going with this…?  Well I’m not in marketing, I’m an IT guy.  But despite this I can see a glaring opportunity, a case in point:

Last Friday I was at the Insight customer event in London.  It was a good day with interesting seminars and good range of vendors there to talk to.  The company that left a lasting impression on me was SanDisk.  A strange choice really considering there were huge stands from the likes of HP and Sony and people dishing out free gadgets for attention.  But SanDisk did something different.  On their stand they had a magician.

This guy was good.  He was using card tricks and slight of hand to tell stories about encryption and removable storage.  The cards went blank to show they were encrypted and came back when you said the magic password.  Now that description doesn’t do him justice, but rest assured he was funny, talented and left the people spoke to with a smile on their faces.  Whether he sold many encrypted USB drives or not I don’t know, but he did a damn good job selling SanDisk.

In contrast, the MS stand was your average bunch of Vista desktops and sales guys.  There were a few bits about OCS and other cool stuff, but it was… well… just an average stand.  You didn’t walk away thinking better or worse about MS.  It was indifferent.

If it was me I’d have gone there with two or three PC’s and some big screens.  I’d have had Photosynth on one, SeaDragon on another and maybe someone with Popfly on the third.  I’d have got a big projector and beamed Photosynth or SeadDragon onto a wall or the ceiling or anywhere people would see it.  I’d bet money the stand would have got more attention and that most people would walk away with the wow they were missing.

Sure those aren’t products you can buy, and they won’t directly make MS a penny, but they do impress.  They do inspire.  They do show MS doing something different, something interesting that will, as Hugh says, change the world. 

Sell Microsoft not the products.

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  1. Thanks for continuing the conversation, Tom. I ran across a blog post by Hugh McLeod yesterday that I wish I had seen before, it illustrates what I was trying to say:

    While I totally agree about the value of MS blogs, what has been diminished is any attempt to “puncture the membrane”. Now, what’s inside MS stays there, and what we see is some Waggener Edstrom version of “the face of MS”. Blogs about how to better use released, mature products are abundant – blogs about what MS is thinking and where they may be heading are scarce.

    We may need a good magician before this is all over ;)

  2. Tom – thanks for the thoughts. I agree with you, we sometimes need to remove some of the corporate polish at events like this and just demo the hell out of cool stuff.

    The team I worked with last year in the UK did a series of events called Vista After Hours…basically they showed up and did 90 minutes of demos of cool stuff ranging from Home Server, Media Centre, XBOX, Live, Vista and more. *that* changed peoples percpetion about Microsoft and I hope we can do more of it.

    anyway….great feedback. I’m off to chat with the higher ups to see whay they think :)



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