Microsoft is one of my oldest clients, the launch of Windows 95 was almost like art. Since then, it pains me to say they have aggressively done product launches badly. In sharp contrast, Steve Jobs took over Apple and repeatedly showcased how to do it right. It wasn’t just the presentation, it was also the packaging. It got so bad that even Microsoft’s own packaging guys created a video showcasing what the firm was doing wrong. But institutionally the company just didn’t seem to get it.
However, this week at its hardware launch it finally got it right again with a vengeance (thank you Kathleen Hall) and if you’ve been watching the coverage of its Surface Book it paid huge dividends. This is a learning experience that I think should be shared. Microsoft is hardly alone in the practice of doing product launches badly and more firms could benefit and learn from its mistakes.
Events have a reason for being
Unfortunately, it seems vendors often view these events as things that they have to do and forget they are supposed to get reporters, and by proxy, buyers excited about buying their products. They are generally instead showcases for how well some never-to-be-seen-again executive can read slides or a poorly placed prompter.
In the new Steve Jobs movie, the Jobs character talks about playing the orchestra. I learned the background behind that statement: When he was hiking barefoot all over India (not a wise thing to do by the way) in his youth he became fascinated with evangelists or holy men. These men could hold large audiences enthralled for extended periods. Despite being in a very poor country they were able to get the people to donate money to what apparently was a very lucrative life style. Folks that could barely afford to eat donated money to these “holy” men who would then buy luxury cars and mansions and no one seemed to care.
Jobs learned that if you had strong stage talent, if you seeded the audience with “believers” and if you executed like they do a show in Las Vegas or Broadway, you could move minds and sell lots of products (or just get people to give you money). The products didn’t even have to be that good (recall when Jobs first arrived at Apple he thought the products were crap but he still got enough folks to buy them to keep the company afloat). Fortunately, he fixed the products otherwise this all would have likely come crashing down, but his was one of the recurring examples that firms either wouldn’t follow or wouldn’t repeat.
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