Brand 2.0

Just days after Microsoft launched a new marketing campaign, the company found itself coming up a bit short on its promise.

Just days after Microsoft launched a new marketing campaign, the company found itself coming up a bit short on its promise.

The new campaign, entitled "People Ready," is about how Microsoft's products and services empower people to succeed. It marked a change for the company, whose past marketing efforts have been more about the products, and not so much about the end user or the business value.

And while Microsoft may have seen this as a b2b campaign, it was also a branding campaign, even if that wasn't Microsoft's initial intent. David Hamilton, director of Marketing@Microsoft, the company's marketing division, says Microsoft wants to make sure it's not seen as just another company that exists solely to sell more products. This campaign speaks more to the company's heritage, he says, by talking about people, and how Microsoft's products enable them their companies to succeed.

Microsoft's marketing initiative is just the latest example of a company shedding the technology-centric/speeds-and-feeds focus of yesteryear, and working to build more a customer-friendly brand. This is not new for Microsoft; the company has been moving this way for a few years now. But this seems to be the most concerted effort to date.

But whether it's cruel irony or just bad luck, two of Microsoft's ubiquitous products, Windows and Office, are facing delays that undermine the very promise of the new campaign.

The products, originally scheduled to be available by late 2006, now won't hit the shelves until January 2007, missing the back-to-school and holiday shopping frenzies [however, corporate customers who buy bulk licenses will have access to the new version of Windows -- also known as Vista -- in late 2006].

So those setbacks beg the question – how can Microsoft make the "People Ready" to succeed, if they don't have the tools to do so? The delay is relatively minor, save for the obvious impact of missing those aforementioned buying periods. But the bigger issue is what this does to Microsoft's image.

It's been open season in the media ever since Microsoft announced the delays, with plenty of Microsoft bashing and armchair quarterbacking to go around. Just look at when Sony announced that the new PlayStation3 would be available in November – much of the news coverage harped on the fact that the new gaming console, anticipated in the spring, wouldn't be available until the fall.

As competition grows fiercer, missteps such as products delays can have an impact on a company's brand. Microsoft has been knocked for not being the innovative company it once was and should still be. The new campaign is an effort to take on IBM, but most Microsoft detractors like to refer to Google and Apple Computer instead, as the companies that have made true innovations, thereby causing Microsoft to acknowledge the competition more than it has in the past.

This campaign speaks to the evidence that customers, whether a consumer at Best Buy or an IT manager, don't want to be sold just another product. They want to buy an experience, a solution, or an opportunity; not just a piece of hardware or software in a box.

That's what Microsoft's latest marketing/branding campaign hopes to offer – an opportunity for people to succeed, but also an opportunity to see the company as innovative again.

Time will tell if people are buying what people Microsoft is selling.

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