Microsoft’s Latest Blue Screen of Death

blue-screen-of-death

I was puzzled about Microsoft’s decision to exclusively sponsor the Fox program, “Family Guy”, to promote its new Windows 7 operation system.  So earlier this week I was downright amazed (and not in a good way) when Microsoft announced that it was bowing out of the arrangement:

“We initially chose to participate in the Seth and Alex variety show based on the audience composition and creative humor of ‘Family Guy,’ but after reviewing an early version of the variety show it became clear that the content was not a fit with the Windows brand,” a Microsoft spokesperson said in an e-mail statement. “We continue to have a good partnership with Fox, Seth MacFarlane and Alex Borstein and are working with them in other areas. We continue to believe in the value of brand integrations and partnerships between brands, media companies and talent.”

Here’s what didn’t “fit” with the Windows brand: riffs on deaf people, the Holocaust, feminine hygiene and incest.

My question to the brand managers at Microsoft is this: Did you ever watch “Family Guy”?

So much for basic planning.

Unlikely Inspiration: Hyundai Reinvents Its Products, Marketing (With Great Success)

The Genesis, 2009 Car of the Year

The Genesis, 2009 Car of the Year

In recent Wall Street Journal reports, things are looking up for one auto company.  But you guessed it: not an American one.

Beating last year’s worldwide decline, Hyundai’s sales rose five percent, and last week, reported that Q3 profits tripled.

What Hyundai is doing right is “a sustained corporate effort at reinvention,” notes columnist Paul Ingrassia.  Among the steps and wins he details:

- New QC initiative

- 10 year, 10,000 mile warranty to allay quality concerns

- Second-place tie with Honda in 2004 J.D. Powers Initial Quality Survey

- Genesis, its first luxury vehicle, voted 2009 Car of the Year, Detroit Auto Show

- Marketing Assurance Program allowing buyers to return their car if they lose their job with a year of purchase.  This initiative, part of its Hyundai Momentum campaign, led to Hyundai Motor America’s VP of Marketing being named Brandweek’s 2009 Grand Marketer of the Year.

Ingrassia points to several lessons for GM and Chrysler, recommending that both “make their marketing more relevant,” given global competition. (GM has recently done so with its 60-day money-back guarantee.)

A second Journal piece, Advertiser Banks on Blank Look, again features Hyundai, this time with a few bold advertising decisions:

- Buying all of the ad space in a newly-built subway station, and at three adjacent to it, plus in most of the trains, near their Seoul headquarters.

- Leaving most of that ad space blank, except for a small service icon and company logo; in other areas, “giant white panels have a pink eraser in the lower right corner and a short explanation: ‘The world is flooded with too many ads … For a short while we wanted to leave it empty for you.’”

The ads are the culmination of a 2004 identity campaign for Hyundai Capital, its consumer loan arm. Started by the company’s then-new CEO in 2003, the identity campaign helped the company re-position and grow its share from two to its current 16 percent.

This success “gave Hyundai the confidence to try its largely-blank ads,” according to Hyundai Capital’s CMO.

Inspirational?  Yes, and proof that a sustained internal effort to “reinvent” itself in response to market perceptions, plus the fortitude to produce thoughtful, relevant and remarkable (read very different) marketing, not only gets noticed, but builds the brand and impacts sales – even in tough times.

Building a Better Customer Trap Part Two: Give Them Helpful (Not Commercial) Information

mouse trapWhere are your prospects and customers going for information?  And, what non-commercial information are you sharing?

 • Know your audience

As described in our previous post (Part One: Who Cares?), know what your customers want and why they buy. Where possible, augment that with anything more they should know before they buy. Then use all of this in your marketing content.

For example, our client, CAPSYS Technologies, recently published an entire book applying this exact principle.  “ECM Buyer Beware: Real Insights and Answers for Decision Makers” encapsulates more than 20 years of knowledge, insights and real-world solutions facing companies trying to manage paper and electronic data using  enterprise content management (ECM) hardware and software tools. 

The author, Paul Szemplinski, methodically walks readers through the in’s and out’s of many aspects of these systems, sharing truly helpful details on every page.  Anyone that manages or makes budget decisions on IT systems will find the book a goldmine.  He did it without blatantly touting his own firm, introducing a breakthrough SaaS service from his company only in the very last chapter.

The tone?  Educational and forthright.  Paul knows the business and therefore shared what he knows, for the benefit of the reader.  Period.  The reader draws his or her own conclusion.  Whether or not numerous new customers result, he has done them all a service.

 • Create a program that regularly provides valuable information

The new mantra is value, not just a sales pitch.  While we all know the primary purpose of marketing is to sell, in today’s densely crowded marketplace, we simply must give our target more reason to listen to our story. 

The obvious example of this: Traditional ads are increasingly ignored.  Relevant ads (i.e., Google search) are growing exponentially. If we provide valuable, non-commercial information to both current customers and prospects, we build an environment of trust. People appreciate the expertise, and seek it out when the time to buy comes.

Map out a new program that reaches your targets at least quarterly; or find ways to fold non-commercial content into your existing tactics.

  • Let your target talk back to you

Involve your customers in the conversation.  Use online and/or social media tools to create a “user community” that talks to each other.  With every exchange, you are building your brand.

For tips on brainstorming dozens of valuable subject matter ideas for your company, read the white paper: Information: The New Marketing Currency, Go to our homepage www.rurelevant.com, and click the banner.

Your Family Guy of Family Guys

FamilyguyCouch_v2_05_72Microsoft is taking a page out of 50’s era TV variety show advertising.  Only this isn’t Sid Caeser and “Your Show of Shows”.  It’s Peter Griffin and “Family Guy”.

The maker of Windows signed a deal with Fox to sponsor a variety show produced by “Family Guy” creator Seth MacFarlane and the voice of the family patriarch Peter Griffin.  Taking a cue from the single-sponsored shows of old, this planned mix of live action, music and animation will feature Windows-branded information throughout the program in lieu of commercials.

As Stewie Griffin would say, “What the deuce?”

With good reviews of Windows 7, particularly a near glowing assessment from the dean of technology writers, Walt Mossberg, why would Microsoft resort to promoting a product on a show with humor (read raunch) close to “South Park”?  Type in “Windows 7 Reviews” into your browser and you’ll get pages upon pages of what tech types already think of the new OS.

Microsoft’s creative team at Crispin, Porter & Bogusky will walk the tightrope of how much promotion will be too much without turning it into an infamous (and cringe worthy) “Windows 7 Launch Party” infomercial.  But if Microsoft decides to go heavy handed, the audience won’t be laughing with Microsoft, it will be laughing at them.

I’m unsure why Microsoft is concentrating so much time, energy and cash on the demographic that watches “Family Guy”.   This infortainommercial could turn out to be like Super Bowl beer commercials.  Singular, funny, creative, yet unable to sell product.

Questions, Part 3: 13 Questions To Pin Down A New Product Launch

Keyboard question-mark

I won’t belabor the need for companies to think about the intended customer before they develop a product.  As it happens, PR/marketing folks typically are brought into the process after the fact.  With that, these are the customer-centric questions we ask before embarking on any plan for a new product or service launch:

  • What trend(s) do this new product and/or service capitalize on?
  • What would be the ideal behaviors (current situations, issues their facing, marketplace position, etc.) exhibited by the intended customer?
    Describe the intended customer:

    • Current customers (which ones)?
    • Prospects (which ones)?
  • What experiences does this offering provide for the intended customer?
    • Positive
    • Negative
  • How will the customer financially measure the value of this new offering?
  • Does this new offering require the customer to change anything? (i.e. current behaviors, processes, systems, etc.?)
  • How will this new offering new be adapted into the customer’s business? Describe training, implementation, conversion, usage, migration, etc.
  • What are the next best alternatives compared to this offering? (i.e. what does it compete against – competitors, other offerings from company, and the intended customer’s internal resources?)
  • Can partners provide help through co-marketing opportunities, leads, etc.?
  • Buying process – which positions at the intended customer company will recommend, approve and influence the decision to buy this new offering?
  • How will the sales force be trained in this offer?
  • What will be a successful launch? List the target revenue and profit contribution for this offering during the 6, 12, 18, and 24 months?
  • How do these intended results compare with previous new offering launches?

What customer-related questions do you ask?

Going For The Gold

Sydney-2000_Olympic_Medal_PodiumThere’s been a lot of talk in Chicago (our town) about the Olympics these past months, weeks and days.  And now that the buzz and excitement has dulled to a quiet mumble (for obvious reasons), it let me to ponder:  If you were evaluating your agency the way the Games decides winners and those just a step behind, how do they rate?

Gold – Agency offers and applies well-constructed, strategic planning to your product or service offering; there is a solid mix of senior account people and supporting writers and peripheral talent; they possess a good working knowledge of your markets, customers, sales channels and nuances that go into moving your products; they regularly prepare and present creative, actionable, big ideas that apply to your business, as well as your bottom line; and, the agency regularly stops to assess what is working, and what is not.

Silver – Agency offers good, applicable plans to your products and services; has senior talent available to your account, but their presence is more ceremonial in nature; they have a basic understanding of your markets, but still ask more questions than you care to answer; they present good ideas, some of which might work, but they are not backed by strategy or a focus on the bigger picture that is your company’s performance; and, their measurement is adequate, but not easy to understand.

Bronze – Agency offers good, basic planning, based more on what they have done in the past than what you are trying to do in the future; there is a good mix of people on the account, but you haven’t seen the senior-most folks since the original pitch; they possess a basic understanding of your markets, but really have no true “feel” for how to reach prospects and customers; they present cookie-cutter programs that may or may not suit your specific needs; and, the measurement they present is defensive and vague.

And here’s a tongue-in-cheek aside:  if your senior-most agency people have a MapQuest page peeking out of their briefcase, you might ask to see them a bit more often ….

There is something to be said for thinking, analysis, experience, big, actionable ideas and measurement that makes sense to all involved, and holds both parties accountable for their end of the bargain.

As you apply the above template to your agency, what medal would you give them?  Are they even on the podium?