Microsoft -- damned if they do, damned if they don't...

Microsoft -- damned if they do, damned if they don't...

Summary: Doesn't matter what Microsoft does, people complain. Perhaps they need to work out a different way of talking to people?

TOPICS: Microsoft
Sheep_and_sheep_dog (1)
Microsoft's B2B sales approach is a like herding docile sheep using a well-trained sheepdog. But that approach doesn't work in Consumerland...

I thought what Microsoft was planning to do with the Xbox One -- basically trying to move to a world where game content was delivered online rather than being dependent on a physical disc -- was pretty clever. But now we know they're not going to do it, reverting what was a bold proposition into something that's just another "meh" console.

What Microsoft was trying to do was set the the clock forward to a time when the idea of moving physical bits about on a disc could actually be considered ridiculous. In 2023, there probably won't be any physical shops left to sell the discs in!

I'm joking of course, but undoubtedly we're moving to a "digital first" world. Game discs are "digital last".


What's interesting about this is how this u-turn highlights Microsoft's inability to look like they're winning.

In Windows 8, they remove the Start button -- everyone complains.

They then announce the Start button is coming back in Windows 8.1, but not in the way that people want (i.e. it still goes through to the Metro-style Start menu) -- everyone complains.

If Microsoft were to blog today that the Start menu was coming back as well, everyone would complain.

It's obvious that this point that Microsoft can't win. But why?

Historically, Microsoft have always made products for themselves. If you run a billion dollar multinational, you need a good database. Most people would just buy one. Microsoft is in the rarified position of being able to write one.

So they did, and now other billion dollar multinationals can use it too and SQL Server is a successful (and rather good) product.

Similarly you find the same thing with Exchange and Outlook. And Visual Studio. And a whole load of other B2B products.

Of course, not every company is like Microsoft and Exchange and Outlook will work for a business with ten employees as well of a business of 100,000 employees. But, in that scenario the customer is a company, not a consumer.

When a company buys software they always do so rationally. They make a business plan, and that plan has to be traced back to some benefit to the organisation. Moreover, the people who make the decision get to impose the choice on the users. Sometimes this is totally transparent -- ten people might decide to swap out Oracle for SQL Server, and a hundred-thousand people might find themselves using different software without knowing. Or caring. Or, more importantly, complaining.

That scenario gives Microsoft a ton of freedom. If Microsoft wants to change the licensing rules around SQL Server, they only have a (relatively) small number of people complaining at them, and by extension a small number of people to convince. it's quite easy for a Microsoft account manager to sit down with a bank's CTO and smooth their troubled brow to save a million dollar license sale -- it's much harder to get a hundred-thousand people to sit down in a room with you.

But as Microsoft tries to pivot to B2C and move to delivering "devices and services", as an organisation they become fish out of water and nothing about their B2B approach works. Putting someone on a plane to save a million dollar sale is obvious. Doing the same to save a $50 sale -- not so much.

There are a bunch of problems on Consumerland. One is that consumers don't act rationally, or even in concert. People buy things because they fancy it, not because they've written and had approved a detailed business case.

I watched the online fallout after Xbox One with interest and it was almost 100% negative. Then the Xbox team u-turns and boom -- suddenly there are a thousand blog posts from people complaining that their exciting new world has been taken away. Where were those people in the first place?

It's entirely unstructured, irrational, and -- and this is Microsoft's problem -- unwinnable.

Apple has the same problem though -- look at the fallout over the UI changes in iOS 7. It's the same thing. In Consumerland, the cliché "you can't please all of the people all of the time" is drawn into sharp relief.

For me, I'm wondering whether Microsoft has a level of freedom over in Consumerland that is workable. This is an organisation that is used to doing what it wants, and that can use a huge number of very smart, very self-selected geeks to inform their product design.

Moving over to Consumerland, it's like previously they had a nice collection of docile sheep and a very good sheepdog with which to control them, but now they need to herd a bunch of anxious feral cats. You need a different approach and put that previously effective sheepdog out for retirement.

Windows 8 was like this. Windows 8 losing the Start button was very much like "dammit cats, you will be herded by this sheepdog!" Xbox One's u-turn is very much like "oh, I don't like the look of these cats! Come on, Shep, let's go home." Neither of those approaches represents a win-win to both Microsoft and the market.

The question is, what do they now? We don't want a Microsoft that can't or won't innovate in Consumerland. Both Windows 8 and Xbox One show bold innovation aimed to provide benefit to consumers at large.

The answer could be "fix the messaging". Microsoft talks to consumers like a sheepdog barks at feral cats. You need infrared goggles and acres of time to understand Microsoft's vision for anything. No consumer is ever going to care.

Consumers need it simple. Just like Apple manages to do.

What do you think? Post a comment, or talk to me on Twitter: @mbrit.

Image credit: Wikimedia

Topic: Microsoft

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  • Should have held true

    I think bullying Microsoft into capitulation is going to set the industry back.
    • Very good article

      Matt made a very good point. However, the strange side of this negativity is, "Is it due to the consumers misunderstanding the message or bloggers/Reporters mistranslating?" I think the latter is what standing between Microsoft and Consumers. They unleash negative articles about whatever Microsoft does and the consumers read them. Hence, what have already noted.

      I have seen many work colleagues and friends and family members, who, at the beginning of Windows 8, believed it was useless OS. As time went by and they had the opportunity of trying it, they all agree it is cool operating. Each one of them told me, reading negative blogs made them believe it what they assumed about W8.

      Now Xbox One is truly going through the same situation. As Matt highlighted the "message" needs to be improved. But also the means of delivering the message must be changed.

      A decade and so ago, the middle man was powerful. He stood between the vendors and consumers. Then the web came along, and the middle man was knocked out of the equation by the B2C business models.

      Now vendors/suppliers need to think about how to get their messages to the consumers without it being distorted by bloggers, who have their own motives.
      • Mistranslating should not exist

        if consumers either understand MS's message and they agree with it. Don't blame bloggers when the fact is MS failed to convince consumers. Many consumers don't even read blogs. For example, many of my friends who never read blogs simply hate Metro UI. The main reason is they use track pad on the laptop and the Metro UI is really hard to use in such situation (some of them even use the red dot on Lenovo laptop).

        Your friends who read blogs are half geek already. At least they are willing to spend time learning the OS through blogs. Many of my friends simply go to the store and try Windows 8. Then you should have some ideas on what has happened when they tried to use the track pad to operate Metro UI.
      • MS just sits there and takes the hits

        I've said repeatedly that MS needs to form a media group to counter the negativism towards it in the tech and general media. But MS just sits there and takes the punches hurled at it. Not only would a media group help it with product releases, it would significantly help the company's stock price, which is based mainly on perception of the company.

        Media clusters are like gravity wells, which suck people's thinking along a certain direction. You see it repeatedly: a few influential outlets like the Verge write stinging comments about MS products, then other blogs and the established media pile on, creating this vortex of negative views, which suck consumers in. A MS backed media group would be able to counter this by creating its own vortex of reasonable views about MS products. I'm bewildered why MS just sits there, and does nothing about tech media using it as a whipping post.
        P. Douglas
        • Negative is not reasonable?

          I find it interesting that you would phrase this with "reasonable" opinions being a counter to "negative" opinions. It sounds like you believe the two to be at odds with one another--as though anyone whose opinion is less than 500% pro-Microsoft is a heretic worthy only of purgation.

          I would counter that perhaps Microsoft should go private so that they can ignore the impact of negative opinions and just do as well as they can.
          Third of Five
        • A media group?

          MS will get no complaints from me on that, as long as it's done openly. But don't just state the party line and attack anyone who doesn't toe it; doing so is both undignified and ineffective.

          What a lot of us do object are is efforts to influence public opinion behind the scenes through either astroturfing or stooge journalists. This is apparently something that a number of large corporations do, and some on this board and elsewhere think that MS does so. If MS has been doing that, then management should understand that it's been wholly ineffective and the program should be terminated.

          But the best thing MS could possibly do for its public image is to produce great software that people are happy to buy and use, instead of what people are expected to buy and use. Indeed, it's MS' 25+ years of trying to maintain and extend its dominance of the industry that is the source of most of the bad publicity, not media bias.
          John L. Ries
        • Simple

          Microsoft has become late 80's IBM doing "design by committee" and when complaints arise, upper management just overrides everybody else.

          Since they have no individual voices, nobody can defend choices. Most decisions like Metro and DRM were top-down.

          The real sheep are inside MS, not outside.
          • i am not an expert

            but im pretty sure you dont know how Microsoft works behind those walls at Redmond.
            Emmanuel Fransson
    • Bullying PIPMS?

      Mere peasants like you, me, and the average tech journalist are going to bully MS into capitulation? Really?
      John L. Ries
      • Sometimes, even the dumbest of comments can spread like wildfire, and

        people begin to believe it.

        "A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes."

        When lies and spin and disinformation become prevalent, then, a company can become defensive, while the ignorance continues to cause damage. Once people start to learn the truth, the people who wore out the negativity, will be the ones becoming defensive, while claiming that, a certain company should've listened to them from the beginning.

        What MS put out with Windows 8 might have been quite different from the versions of the past, but, looks are deceiving. Windows 8 is basically Windows 7, with a new face. That new face didn't really change much, and it's actually quite easy to use. But, because of the complaints MS responded, but it probably didn't have to.
        • True enough...

          ...but care to explain how all that is relevant to my post?
          John L. Ries
          • Because you are relevant to the part about...

            "..lies and spin and disinformation".

            You recognized yourself in those words, so you needed for me to confirm the obvious?
          • No, I didn't recognize myself

            And you didn't explain how a handful of malcontents (some of whom admittedly are journalists) can "bully" a Fortune 500 corporation simply by talking it down. If it's that easy, then MS is in bigger trouble than I thought.

            The more rational explanation is that MS made major changes to Windows that most users didn't want, the market punished MS for its presumption, forcing MS to back off (or at least offer a compromise). You'll doubtless agree that markets are supposed to work that way (too bad they often don't).
            John L. Ries
    • Bullying Microsoft ??!! wth man!...

      your terminology is strange, and ironic...
  • The answer is to make changes only beneficial to consumers

    That's the hard lesson. Xbox: Consumers for games are multifaceted in their economy - they buy used games in a situation where they wouldn't buy that game at all. They splurge on the new games if it's one they really want. Digital format wasn't the issue - charging more for it, making it temporary in some situations, etc., all those preconditions weren't there before. Windows: When you reintroduce the start button, it directs you back to metro? Look, if you want enterprise to adopt Windows 8, go full desktop mode as an option. An option - isn't that what consumers want?
    D.J. 43
    • Not sure I read this correctly

      But the Windows 8.1 Blue update WILL have a straight to desktop boot option. That has been confirmed a long time ago... (together with Start button coming back). So you will have the "option"..
      • Seeing will be believing

        Trust is another issue. We all will have to see once it is out if straight desktop and avoidance of tiles will be there.
        D.J. 43
      • Did MS deliver the message to consumers?

        None of my friends who are not interested in new technology knows that we will have this option. When we go to a store, we can only see the Metro UI. If we are lucky, there may be staff who explain this to us. However, most of time we need to find it out ourselves. If we can't find it out, we are not going to buy Windows 8 (or buy it but complain to everybody).

        That "confirmed a long time ago" is totally useless since MS hasn't delivered such confirmation to the general public. Only Geeks or those who are interested in Windows 8 news know this confirmation.

        Moreover, an option of desktop boot is not enough. Many of us also need the option of using the old start menu. MS needs to remember that Windows 8 is a hybrid system for both tablet and desktop. MS shouldn't force us to use tablet UI under desktop environment.
        • How

          do you think they should deliver that msg ?
          • The message is the massage

            Marshal McLuhan