If they sold sashimi, they'd call it cold dead fish
That was the criticism leveled at Hewlett-Packard back in the mid-80's. Personally, I think they would have called it "the best engineered cold dead fish", but the point is the same - their marketing sucked (btw, I'm using the broad definition of marketing which consists of the four P's: Product, Price, Place and Promotion). As a result, HP was routinely being handed their ass by Digital Equipment in the mid-range and IBM at the high-end. Flash forward to today, and many argue that MSFT has assumed that dubious marketing distinction. Okay, some might say that MSFT's is "Polonium-laced cold dead fish", but let's ignore the ABM whackers and OSS zealots for the moment and concentrate on the core charge. Is it accurate? Is MSFT's marketing really that bad?
I'm not sure that it is, but I do think that MSFT's marketing execution is hopelessly inconsistent and rarely gets the four P's lined up effectively. For example, a hugely successful viral marketing campaign like Origami, is followed up with a decidedly underwhelming UMPC that costs too much and has too little value-add. Similarly, we see amazing hype leading up to the Zune, only to have it come crashing down when a less-than-complete product was rushed to market. In other cases, such as Media Center, we see a very good product at a decent price that seemingly gets almost no direct advertising. Why? Or we see Office, another generally good product (albeit that there were too many marginal releases until recently), marketed with the now infamous "dinosaur" ads - it's always smart to insult your customers (NOT!). Even the Xbox, which has generally been a good product and reasonably well marketed (albeit still unprofitable), has suffered [at times] from chronic supply problems (e.g. Xbox 360 launch) and variable advertising. On the latter, who was the bozo who thought kids skipping rope outdoors was a good way to promote a gaming console - which is almost the antithesis of outdoor enjoyment? The recent Gears of War/Xbox spots are significantly better, but again - across products and across the company - where's the overall marketing consistency that typifies, say, Apple?
All of which brings me to CES - the Consumer Electronics Show currently going on in Las Vegas - and this week's developments. So far, in reading various reports, MSFT has seemingly managed to underwhelm. Sure, there's been some interesting announcements, but nothing much seems to have really captured the imagination of attendees or the media - well, except another mind-numbingly boring keynote by Gates and interview comments where he apparently joked that the Longhorn/Vista fiasco was "the best $6B I ever spent" - yeah, we shareholders found it a real gut-splitter. Meanwhile, compare and contrast to Apple - a company that lately seems to manage the four P's extremely well. They're having their Macworld event in San Francisco, and Apple's CEO Steve Jobs literally blew people away with today's announcements which included the very impressive iPhone (an impossible-to-miss reminder of what the Zune could/should have been) and the iTV. Indeed, just take a quick look at the "CES coverage" on Engadget for a hint at who's capturing early-adopter interest. Meanwhile, MSFT, with tons more R&D and resources, once again seems to be coming up short and is left promising games on Zune by "2008" - I shit you not - and trotting out executives live Robbie Bach to impotently trash talk Apple. Here's an idea: maybe you should keep your mouth shut and let your actions speak for you? Oh...that's right, they are - which is the problem. Seems to me that the "best management team" in MSFT's history would be focused on improving what's clearly wrong with MSFT's marketing rather than wasting cycles jealously mouthing off about those who seemingly have their act together. But hey, that's just me. And how's the market reacting to all this? Currently, MSFT is up $.03 and Apple is up $7.10. Go figure.
Update: Related - an earlier piece in which Joe Wilcox tries to make the case that MSFT's low-key marketing approach (including the painful Gates/Jobs mismatch) is actually a good thing (LOL!). He also predicted disappointment over the iPhone at CES this week (Oops! Bet he wishes he could rewrite that one.) and Gates' keynote not wowing the crowd (okay, that one was a gimme):