Tuesday, July 29, 2008

ballmer: experiences experiences experiences experiences!

In a memo to Microsoft employees last week, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer addressed a number of "strategic topics" facing the company in its new fiscal year. It's very interesting. You should read it.

There are two specific things in the memo that caught my eye. The first is the emphasis on "experiences". For your convenience, here is the paragraph (my highlights):

Apple: In the competition between PCs and Macs, we outsell Apple 30-to-1. But there is no doubt that Apple is thriving. Why? Because they are good at providing an experience that is narrow but complete, while our commitment to choice often comes with some compromises to the end-to-end experience. Today, we’re changing the way we work with hardware vendors to ensure that we can provide complete experiences with absolutely no compromises. We’ll do the same with phones—providing choice as we work to create great end-to-end experiences.

Here's one way to think about the value of the experience - say you want a birthday cake for your 6-year old son. You could:

  1. Buy the ingredients off the shelf and bake it from scratch according to a family recipe
  2. Buy a Duncan Hines cake mix and bake it according to the instructions
  3. Go to Costco and buy one of their famous sheet cakes (make sure to give them careful instructions on what to put on the cake)
  4. Schedule a party at Chuck E Cheese which comes with a cake [WARNING: LINK INCLUDES ANNOYING MUSIC]

The first choice is the least expensive, the fourth is the most expensive. But the fourth isn't just a cake - it's an experience that includes a cake. Their argument is that the experience is what the consumer wants - something consistently memorable, valued and pleasurable.

The Chuck E Cheese value proposition to people with birthday cake needs is "why fumble around making a cake (which odds are won't turn out well) or buy some nasty sheet-cake (which will have odd things written on it) when you can have a complete birthday experience that your child will treasure! It's more convenient for you, more fun for your child and his friends, and we can craft exactly the sort of party you want to meet your budget."

Microsoft has woken up to the fact that it is a scratch-made cake, and it's eyeballing Apple's high-margin birthday party experience. Finally, they get it.

Now that I think about it, they once got it - with the Microsoft Windows XP Operating System, where XP=Experience.

Remember how unwilling consumers were to let go of XP? Could it be that they liked the experience of stability, interoperability and familiarity? Hmm.

(On a related note, AppleInsider noticed this focus on 'experience' too.)

The second item that caught my eye is Mr. Ballmer's choice of words in reference to an upcoming marketing push surrounding The Microsoft Windows Vista Operating System:

And later this year, you’ll see a more comprehensive effort to redefine the meaning and value of Windows for our customers.

Any time you have to tell your customers what the meaning and value of your product or service is - something is broken. To borrow a thought from the new book Tuned In by Craig Stuff, Phil Myers and David Meerman Scott (my italics):

We often see tuned out companies create products and services that do not resonate. To compensate, they must adopt drastic strategies to drum up business for their offerings. You know how many companies talk about their "product evangelists"? And how many organizations say that they are "missionaries in the market" and that they need to "educate people about the issues so that they see the value of our product or service"? These missionary selling strategies are simply symptoms of a tuned out company. You shouldn't have to wave your arms around and shout at people to convince them to pay attention to your product or service. A resonator is a product or service that sells itself.

The reality is that the Microsoft Windows Vista Operating System did not and does not resonate with the marketplace. This is not the fault of Apple's superior marketing. This is the fault of the product.

The bad experience caused by customers being forced to use a product that they don't want/need/understand/appreciate is creating negative brand equity every day, and no amount of "here is why you should like it" will work. Even moderately tech-savvy consumers will see this as intellectually dishonest and offensive.

So rather than lecture us on how valuable and meaningful their product is, perhaps a better approach for Microsoft would be to clean up the mess around the Microsoft Windows Vista Operating System, spend some time talking to the market about what it really wants, and then build and launch that instead.

My guess is that customers and potential customers will tell Microsoft that they want to have a great experience with their computer and the software that runs on it.

Go figure. Is it any wonder people are buying more and more Apple products when they have the choice to do so.

Oh, and in case Mr. Ballmer does decide to adopt the "experiences experiences experiences experiences" mantra to replace his "developers developers developers developers" mantra that worked so well for him, here is a video you can enjoy to see how that will look.


1 comment:

mark allen roberts said...

Thanks for the mention of our book Tuned In.

Tuned in companies create products we call resonators that immediately connect to buyers as a solution for an unresolved problem.

I don’t know how many clients I have met with that have said “we need to create the need for our product in our buyer’s minds…”

Very tuned out.

The experience, experience, experience mantra is great if the product solves an unmet need or problem I have.

Creating a breakthrough experience follows after connecting to the unresolved market problem.

The experience one has with a Mac is awesome. Why not help me have that experience without having to teach me a new system. However if your plan is to force feed me Vista, what better time for me to learn the Mac?

Every force will be met with an equal and opposite force. There is a high probability how Microsoft handles this may be a tipping point for many businesses to move to a Mac.

Jumping to the experience on a product when I am not sure what it solves and why I may want it will result in BIG marketing bucks.

“We need to educate the market” I’m sure is being tossed around the board table. The good news is they have the budget. Bad news if you own their stock.

Thanks again for the mention of our book.

Mark Allen Roberts http://www.tunedinblog.com/blog/pragmatic-marketing.html