Positioning Surface as "the productivity tablet" won't help

Positioning Surface as "the productivity tablet" won't help

Summary: Marketing is hard, even when you're good at it. And when it comes to consumers, Microsoft is downright hopeless at it...

TOPICS: Microsoft

Although I'm sure some executives at Microsoft wake up each morning wishing that Surface was a bad dream, Microsoft has to do something with that product line. They either have to reposition it, or they have to kill it off.

The current plan of Microsoft's executives is to distort reality enough to create a thing called a "productivity tablet". And then, surely, they will be selling them hand over fist.

Logically, this doesn't sound silly. If you want to go up against the iPad (or Android, now that Android tablets seem good and seem to be selling), an obvious "weak spot" in the tablet's armour is that you can't use them for "proper work".

If you go through most of the stuff I've written about post-PC in the past couple of years, one theme comes out -- smartphones and tablets are about life, and not about work. PCs are primarily about work. The failure of Surface and Windows tablets in general within the Consumerland market can be attributed to this single misstep.

Read: "Here's why PCs and post-PC devices are not the same thing"

Hence "productivity tablet". It's proclaimation from Microsoft that the iPad is no good for work, but that Surface and Windows tablets are.

Of course, it won't work, because Microsoft essentially does not understand marketing.


Engineers struggle with marketing, and from my own experience and from what other engineers tell me the struggle comes from the fact that marketing is illogical. To an engineer, a comfortable scenario is one where you take a system in known state A, apply input B, and then see the system change to known state B. That's repeatable and dependable.

Marketing isn't like that at all. Marketing goes all emotional and fleshy the moment that people get involved. Unfortunately, people are involved from the very inception of a marketing plan. Why should sales double just because you've introduced a pink phone? Or why should customers suddenly one day just stop responding to your kitteh filled TV ads?

There are rules in marketing. Having a simple message that you repeat again and again consistently seems to win. Doing that seems to smooth out the meaty illogicality of individual behaviour. They key is to keep doing that until you find yourself in a position where you "own" an idea.

Take Nokia. Their position on Lumia (and on other phones) has been to own the idea of the "camera". The coverage of the new Lumia 1020 is all about the camera. Even my ZDNet colleague Mary Jo Foley did a write-up of how good it was at photography.

Of course, a smartphone is more than a camera. But by positioning Lumia as being about "taking photos", it overshadows other devices in the market. This is a "unique selling point", or USP. And ownership of a valuable USP is what all marketeers aspire to.

And they key is to create one strategy that highlights the value of the idea through a single message, and keep repeating and repeating it, consistently. Which, in fairness, Microsoft does do. They just have a knack for picking the wrong message.

Yes, it's in some ways vaguely stupid to position something as powerful as a high-end Lumia as a "camera with extra bits", but it's easy for normal people to grasp. This is why it's important for Microsoft to have Nokia involved. Nokia knows how to sell to consumers. Microsoft doesn't have Clue One.

It's no accident that Lumia gets respect in its market, whereas Windows doesn't in its.

(Incidentally, if Lumia is "all about the camera", how cross must they be that Instagram isn't on Windows Phone?)

Conversely, take the upcoming Moto X. That's supposedly going to be all about the "sensors". I'm sorry? Sensors? My dad is supposed to rock up to a smartphone retail and go all goey over sensors, when a smartphone on the next stand is "all about the camera"?


A "taking photos" USP hits with consumers because it's a) universally understandable, and b) emotionally important from a social anthropology perspective -- people like to record their lives.

Specifically, as a USP, "taking photos" hits a need.

Just like "cheap food that tastes nice" is a good USP for McDonalds. Or "apparel for sporty people" is a good USP for Nike.

"Productivity tablets" isn't a bad USP for a tiny market filled with technologists. It's the world's most hopeless USP for the majority of normal, non-technologist customers. You can gauge that using a thought experiment -- how many more iPads would Apple have sold if Office had been available on it from the day of iPad v1 release? Whatever percentage you come up with at this point -- if you came up with anything more than 1%, I've got some bad news for you.

The actual chink in the armour of the iPad is that it's actually very difficult to understand what the value of owning one is before you've actually parted from your money. Still today, years into the iPad and competing tablets being available, I still fail to explain to tablet non-owners why they should go out and become tablet owners.

Of course, I'm not a rock star marketeer, so I have no idea how you position that.

But I do know that explaining to a barista, or someone who works in a factory, or someone who does charity work with disenfranchised youth that "hey guys, when you get home, you can fire up Office on your tablet!" is a lousy USP for the majority of the population.

Topic: Microsoft

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  • It keeps coming

    The Windows FUD keeps coming and coming... but sadly they are not going to succeed. Windows 8 and Surface class devices are a paradigm change....its V1.0... and they are going to get better and better

    Surface as The Productivity Tablet will definitely help...most enterprises are planning to adopt Windows tablets...

    Consumer friendly Surface tablets are already in the pipeline this holiday season...
    • Curious

      "most enterprises are planning to adopt Windows tablets..."

      This is fact?
      • Yes, because iPad is useless and android is banned.

        • Surface doesnt have an emotional connect...

          but the thing works. It takes people more time to discover something like that....but once that initial hurdle is overcome the momentum sustains itself. Android doesn't have the emotional connect of an iPhone, but isn't the thing selling now that it is past its early days?
        • Hahaha

          Android is not banned from big companies psycho! Many of them actually distribute Android phones in place of Blackberry phones.

          As for Surface RT, its biggest problem is the Tegra 3! The second biggest is that it tries too hard to be its big brother.

          Surface Pro? Overpriced at best and simply not offering much more than other touchscreen Tablets.

          As for a paradigm shift, then why hasn't this shift taken hold in the past 13 years? Many of these form factors existed back then. Fujitsu has always sold a keyboardless tablet.
          • "psycho"??

            Quit with the personal attacks, will ya? You're just making yourself look bad.

            I have to say that the "productivity tablet" angle is actually working... Sales of Surface are increasing, and Windows tablets ARE being adopted in the workplace.

            Not just because of problems with iPads and Android tablets, but because of compatiblity with existing Windows programs, and the ability to properly multitask.
      • Re: This is fact?

        No, but it's a MICROSOFTFACT.
        • Well, it's far, far more believable then a

          ldo17fact, that much in undeniable.
          William Farrel
      • No

        The enterprise I work for is adopting iPads. We've even had apps written for our enterprise. We have looked at Windows tablets but feel that they are not yet suited to our enterprise.
        • oh dear

          Unlucky u
        • The key word there is "yet"

          I'm seeing the idea of Windows 8 tablets catching on... in a couple of months 8.1 will be out, and I'm seeing people getting more keen to grab a Windows device.

          It's been far too slow a road, but it seems inexorable that Windows is going to become dominant in the tablet marketplace. Android seems in a bit of disarray at the moment, development has slowed dramatically, and Apple has been becalmed since the loss of Jobs' Reality Distortion Field(TM), staying afloat only because of clever business decisions, not because of better hardware or better productivity software.

          Windows is our past and our future.
    • Did you read the article?

      "Consumer friendly" is something Nokia gets - they've taken an important and fun aspect of what smart phones do, and really put a lot of effort into making it vastly outshine what competitors do... the Samsung and iPhone cameras are OK, but Nokia's cameras are exceptional. And they promote the product with that in mind.

      Microsoft only pieced this together in a rudimentary way in the surface. They looked at some things other tablets didn't have (Microsoft Office and the connect-ability of a PC to physical devices via slots and cables) and then did that stuff. They made the device physically beautiful to hold and touch. They gave it a widescreen aspect.

      But what they didn't do is come up with any angle that actually made any consumer anywhere go, "Hey I want that." Do people at home crave running a Microsoft Office (that isn't licensed to touch any of their take home work?) Do the "me too" movie and music ecosystems say "Hey, I really need to ditch Google Play and iTunes?" (Swapping Zune music for XBox music, aka a winning brand, was wise, but not enough.)

      There was no one thing you could point at a Surface (in its confusing varieties) and say, this is so far beyond everything else in its one way, that I want this. They didn't give it astounding audio playback, or do any more than more or less match retina displays. They didn't make it run at warp speed compared to Android/iPad tablets, or give it multi-day battery life.

      IMO, the closest they got was the keyboard covers. That was truly exceptional - but then got Surface labeled with "well it is really a laptop", which then got it compared unfavourably yet again.

      So no - the Surface will not be displacing iPads or Nexuses this Christmas, no matter how set your heart is on it.
      • k

        We'll see inevitably.
      • Their marketing has been abysmal - but it recently got better.

        I agree, Microsoft has been failing badly in the marketing department, failing to find good angles to sell their great quality products. I see a dramatic improvement in that recently though. The iPad vs Surface ads are a great start, they need more than that though.
      • It did have a USP

        Being able to dance while cliking keyboard covers on and off seemed cool enough to me.
  • Maybe The "Claytons" Tablet

    The tablet for when you don't want a tablet.
    • Re: Maybe The "Claytons" Tablet

      Oh, for those who don't get the reference: http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Claytons
      • Many get the reference

        many just don't really take your opinion seriously, as we know where you're coming from. ;)
        William Farrel
        • whereas your comments

          always seek to diminish others. I wonder why?
          • Seeks to diminish others, Typical Willy...

            No real need to wonder any more.....