Thursday, March 09, 2006

Microsoft fails to understand buzz

At first, it appeared that Microsoft was "going to school" on Apple. They leaked the existence of a product code-named, "Origami" in the attempt to create an Apple-level amount of buzz about the product.

However, Microsoft has created a disaster for themselves. From our perspective, there is a difference between simple buzz and advocacy - a nuance that appears to elude Microsoft. Advocacy is active positive communication (buzz) about something. Antagonism is active negative communications about something (also called buzz). Simply receiving buzz isn't enough for a company, it needs to be positive to be useful.

For example, there has been recent "buzz" in the political world about the Dubai Port World deal. None of the "buzz" was favorable. Rather, it was all negative. That is why the deal is now dead. Therefore, it is dangerous to instantly be happy when your product or company has buzz.

This is where Microsoft messed up. If you have read much of this blog or read our book, The Paradox of Excellence, you will know that we think expectation management is critical. We create positive buzz or advocacy when we positively surprise our customers - when the actual is better than the expected. Unfortunately, Microsoft didn't adhere to this philosophy - to its detriment.

Microsoft succeeded in creating lots of unrealistic expectations about what Origami was going to be. For weeks, there has been broad speculation about the potential of a truly exciting and exceptional new product. Yet, the actual product failed to capture our imaginations. In fact, it was such a disappointment, there is now a serious backlash. You know you're in trouble when ABC news calls your product the "Sum of Two Failures" and CNN says it looks "paper thin" (the non-flattering meaning). This is buzz, but sounds more like the buzz that comes from machine gun strafing than it does from the heart palpitations of gadget geeks worldwide.

Apple must be breathing a sigh of relieve. Not only is Origami a bust, it is clear that Microsoft still doesn't understand what it means to create brand advocacy.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Surprise, Surprise, Surprise

I'm not mimicking Gomer Pyle. I'm giving you the secret to creating more value and growing your business. The secret is to deliver positive surprise.

The other day, my son made his first big purchase, buying himself an iPod Nano. After three months of hard work, saving and scrimping, he had finally accumulated enough money. On Saturday, (after he had ordered it and before it had arrived) he came to me with some serious buyer's remorse. He started to realize how much money he had spent to buy this product, how much he had sacrificed to get it and he was filled with regret. As it normally is with kids, this remorse was temporary. But, what happened next teaches us a lot about why Apple is so successful.

He had purchased the Nano to listen to music and to see pictures. What he didn't know was the iPod had games. He was ecstatic. He had received something for free. He didn't know the iPod had a clock and a stop watch. His watch is on the fritz and he basically got a free watch. The iPod had many features he didn't expect and it was smaller than he remembered (especially after seeing his dad's big clunky one). As a result, he was surprised. Positively and substantially surprised. As a result, he has moved from remorse to advocacy.

If we want to build value with our customers, we also need to create positive surprise. There are several implications.

1) Apple plays up big general features, but leaves the small, cool features as surprises. Customers aren't told in advance (or aren't told as often.)

2) This means they UNDER market some features. For many marketers, this is very difficult. We want to "sell" everything we have to sell. Yet, the lesson of Apple is less is MORE.

3) Advocacy doesn't come from simply satisfying a need. It comes from exceeding an expectation. Apple had satisfied my son's need (want) for music to take with him. Yet, even before he got it, he was disappointed and sad. Yet, advocacy came when the product did things DIFFERENT than he expected. MORE than he expected. That is when he became an advocate.

4) Companies that want to create value must follow the same course of action. Creating positive surprise is the key.