Selling Microsoft

Yesterday I was doing my daily trawl through Google Reader and came across an interesting post over on Liveside.net 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.

IPTV

I’ve just been catching up on a few days worth of Tweets and Blog posts.  One of the articles I’ve been reading was a piece on c|net about the MS Mediaroom IPTV solution.   It sounds like there are 1 million or so people on the system now which is great.  My guess is a fair chunk of those are from BT here in the UK through their BT Vision product.  The article talks about how IPTV will merge into Media Center, and find it’s way into homes through that route, but to be honest I think they’ve missed a huge piece of the story.  Xbox.

The announcement last month of MS IPTV integration into the Xbox 360 gives the platform 10 million potential users in one go.  At an Architecture Forum seminar on Tuesday it was mentioned that roughly 75% (IIRC) of Xbox’s are online using Xbox Live.  So that could be 7.5 million IPTV consumers.  Not a bad number really.  To my mind the key will be how well the services are integrated into the Xbox console, and how the services are provided and billed. 

From what I’ve read it sounds like the new Xbox IPTV services are being launched though the existing telecoms partners, BT in the UK, AT&T in the states etc.  From what I understand, in the UK at least it’ll only be available to BT broadband customers.  If it was me, once I knew it was all working I’d try to open this up wider.  Give it free to BT broadband customers (god knows we need something to chear us up…) but charge a small subscription for everyone else.  Use the MS Points model for billing so you can order it straight through the XBox console.  Easy. 

(Of course there there would be problems around bandwidth etc.  Here you need at least 2MB/s to even get the BT Vision installed… but those are problems that will ease with time)

Bundling content and features into games consoles is a great way of making technology mainstream.  It worked for Sony and Blueray, why not for IPTV?

Michael Dell on Social Media

Shel Israel posted up a pretty good interview with Michael Dell about Social Media in Dell.  Dell seem to do a really good job at this, the various blogs and sites they use to connect to customers work well.  They’re certainly far ahead of most hardware vendors I’ve spoken to recently.  It’s good to see another big corporate really embracing the new way of doing things.