I’m often engaged in a variety of conversations regarding Microsoft, obviously because I'm opinionated about the company – more to the point, its almost become a niche thing I seem to tap into. In that, I could talk about Google or Adobe but often I get the “that's your opinion” vibe. If I talk about Microsoft in the same way, i get the “Oh really?!!” interest vibe.
That’s often fueled allot of my soap boxing as i feed off that quite happily and its not that I want the 5sec of fame, its more that I feel I am adding an insight or value to a conversation around me, like I have this small pocket of information that enables someone beside me to unlock a pattern or compounding issue relating to Microsoft and its technology / culture. It’s hard to put into words, but in reality the more people I interact with the more I get this overwhelming sense of “yeah, you’re right, I couldn’t figure out how to say that but yes, that make sense now” moments.
Let me attempt to articulate the flaws I am seeing inside Microsoft as a brand that I personally have found reflected back at me via these conversations (you are feeding my addiction hehe).
Often Microsoft when they launch a product alert the masses well in advance around what's coming. They endeavor to flood the market as fast and aggressively as they can with the said product. It often gets to a point where they effectively buy there place in your memory through constant rinse/repeat approach to alerting you. If they don’t get you on the first pass, they’ll get you on the second or third etc. Its an old tactic and with the budgets that also get allocated to various teams that are enough to keep 5-6 startups a live for years, it often comes with a sketchy at best yield.
The problem with this tactic is we as consumers at times are great at ignoring this as we’ve spent a large amount of our adult lives watching this same formula repeat itself over and over. We often can predict its movements ahead of time and so when we see the pattern emerging its easy to then point out the flaws and faults (often allot of the tech journalist profit from this). Those who aren’t used to it see others doing this and go “wow, its like you’re able to see the future!!!” and so this in turn fuels the engine.
If you however, look across the skirmish lines to Apple or Google. They really often more than most, don’t do this. They are often associated with this sense of surprise effect and more to the point they give you this other sense that “while stocks last” or “you better hurry now and get it before others find out and no stock will be left” kind of moment(s) at launch / announcements.
Apple is by far the most effective in the way they announce “new”. Microsoft staff often see this and try a lot of the times to emulate that success but they do so in a way that’s inconsistent at times or often messy / half-done. Yet when ones do succeed (much like a group of tree’s all fighting for sunlight over one another, one will eventually emerge) the said success breeds more “see, it works” momentum and thus the cycle internally repeats itself.
Microsoft has this flaw, they tend to not comprehend that in order to win the masses over one needs to create the element of rarity, there’s no sense of prized ownership or differentiation in their approach. The only time I would argue this has come to the surface – hehe – is well with concepts like Microsoft Surface, XBOX and in many ways with Windows Phone 7 – although that funnily enough is a problem.
I digress, but with Windows Phone 7 I watched the launch with interest in that to me Microsoft was looking for ways to sell the vibe “while stocks last” and “get one now ahead of everyone else” momentum, and they almost had it but for some reason, it was a fizzle effect. They didn’t in a nutshell sustain that momentum, it was a sense or rarity and then it was gone just as fast as it came.
If you’ve been a devoted customer for quite some time to Microsoft you’d be hard press to find the said customers to argue that Microsoft is always committed to one particular goal or idea. The reality is, it is often a company that abandons ideas faster at times than they were projected. It has to do with the culture within the company mostly which then spills over into the customer / product lines.
I often make remarks about Victory Emails and how they are so wrong for the company but I don’t articulate why. Here’s why.
Microsoft staff are like abused children in some parts, in that they seek affection / attention through what I would call “ACE” dropping. In that, abused children often do this as a copining mechanism to emulate affection or love given they have often had this part of their lives destroyed. What happens is the said child will wow everyone around them with the first ace up their sleeve and everyone suddenly goes “that's amazing” and the said child then basks in the glow from this effect.
The effect however only lasts for so long and so they need to keep that momentum alive by dropping their second ACE and again, it happens again.. This pattern repeats itself for an average of 4-5 times at most before the said child starts making plans to abandon these sets of folks and seek out new people to wow / win over.
Inside Microsoft, this is a surprisingly consistent pattern I observed. You’d see these rising stars come in fast and hard, only to fizzle out around the first year maybe second year and then just as fast as they came they’ve left. Think of this like watching a bunch of fireworks come and go and then quietness follows. Its in the quiet times that you peel away the covers and start seeing staff ping / pong around teams via internal transfers and commitment calibrations etc.
There is never really a consistent holding pattern and when you do find that consistency its usually owned by a personality who’s found a way to just sustain the calm effect (under the radar) or is a complete jackass and dominates through power-politics – never really is there that spark of “Wow” in that seat.
If staff can’t commit to a set idea or goal over a large body of time, then how on earth can a product ever remain consistent and focused? If Microsoft were to announce tomorrow that staff transfers were to be put on hold for minimum 5 years – I'd wager you’d see a high exit rate of staff for one and secondly you’d see an entirely different marketing and engineering effort from within the company itself.
The reason being is the rising star’s can’t keep doing their 4 ACE pony tricks to wooo over others and as such you’d likely see a steady / calm growth from within around planning and focus. Victory emails themselves would have less of an effect as “congrats, you did a great job, but, you can either get a promotion or a pat on the back, either way you're not moving out of this team buddy, sorry!” moments.
Internally until this is solved, Microsoft will always come across externally as a company that lacks depth in terms of commitment.
I’m not going to beat on this drum to loudly, but I’d wager i’d be hard pressed to find a single person outside the company that would argue strongly that the company seems to have clear definitive goals around what they do (ie taps into commitment). The problem an internal one yes, but externally they don’t have a sense of clustering or grouping in that their pattern is inconsistent and often hard to parse.
If I were to put a bunch of XX’s on screen right now like this:
XX XX XX XX
You would typically see the X’s in groups of two? In that the clarity around that pattern is simple. It’s information if you will is broken into a consistent but clearly defined pattern.
If I were to take that same concept and apply this formatting to it:
The pattern isn’t as clear and for those of you paying close attention, you may also notice I added an extra “X” without others probably realizing it. The point here is simple, Microsoft’s approach to product positioning and placement isn’t consistent and as a result you have the secondary effect vs.. the first. You can’t get behind the information as you’re too busy in your own mind, trying to separate the X’s into clusters that enable you to digest the information more closely.
This is how I would illustrate the massive amounts of bad information / inconsistent look of Microsoft’s entire approach to everything it does. There’s not really one person or person(s) being the gatekeepers of the said pattern in terms of how the company saturates the market with new information. It just seems to be a case of inconsistent X’s and at times some other letters mixed in.
Too many Options
I mentioned earlier that Victory Emails are a dangerous beast within. The other reason to this reason is the inherit concept of what success is or isn’t within the company. Popularity wins first, yield comes second is probably a pattern i’d argue as being “yup, that’s about right”
If you were to look up research around how humans deal with options, you’d probably settle on the concept “less is more”. On one hand we humans are attracted to options, we all actively want more options than we can handle but in reality we rarely ever agree with the options and furthermore in a consumer driven situation – we often more than most don’t buy more as a result.
In that most research I've read on the subject highlights that if customers were given 100 items to choose from, the said customers who were initially attracted would be quite high. If the said situation was reduced to 30 items, the attraction would be much lower than the 100 but the purchasing or acquisition behavior would be actually significantly higher than the initial 100 🙂
Inside Microsoft I often would notice quantitative analysis was often used as a metric of success “congrats, you’re popular!” where as if you were to peel away the word success here, and study the qualitative analysis of the said “success” you’d find the yield to me much lower.
“All the major journalists are talking about a products, they reach millions on our behalf, success is ours!”
“All the major journalists who reach majority of the same customers talked about our products but not in a really in-depth way and often more than none had a negative remark about us or two”
Inside Microsoft you have a PRIME score which keeps track of positive/negative PR, but the point here is that whilst yes you had the journalists from around the worlds full attention – the reality is what does that actually mean? you reached a larger customer base then say your random blog post? but what did that reach mean? and more to the point what effects has that reach on the purchasing or adoption behavior of your customers. Furthermore, how can you then map this against other products in the market and where is the overlaps occurring and lastly who’s really competing for attention – external companies or other teams internally?
Inside the company there’s really no conductor or movie style director who’s keeping a steady handle on how information flows in and out of the company. It often comes in large volumes and is spread far and wide with often no real data to support success or failure – more perception.
The point to this post isn’t to beat the crap out of the brand – yet again – it’s more to clarify the patterns I personally see in the way the company approaches us, the consumer. It also taps into conversations I’ve had over the years (employee and ex-employee) with how the products and customers are bonding. The company itself has a large amount of problems that often just don’t seem to finding any hint of remorse or success in stemming the tide of failure.
What I am seeing is an exodus of some no-name on the blogsphere staff shifting over to Google or other. If you look at these staff leaving as isolated “oh, darn xyz left” then it’s not so bad. If you start adding them up and back tracking what they did for the company and more specifically the products they managed or ran, you start to see – well I do anyway – a pattern emerging of “oh wow, this is quite bad as the successors are def not as capable and what does that mean for that xyz work they were doing?”
Staff are important and the end final point I have to say is the above is simply a dump of patterns I see and how the on flow from the centre out is what is causing the most pain for the company. The products themselves will have a bumpy lifespan over time and sure the community surrounding the products will also share the same amount of turbulence. The actual cause of all these bumps though start with the above, these are the engines if you will producing the chaos.