Paul Graham’s latest insightful and controversial essay declares Microsoft is Dead. Some people didn’t get it: it’s a metaphor. Microsoft is not going out of business anytime soon, but it is ceasing to matter in terms of the future of software.
Paul points out the four big reasons Microsoft is Dead: Google, Gmail, Broadband, and Apple. Open source is missing from this list. Open source is screwing with a lot of traditional software companies, not just Microsoft.
But there’s another reason: how people choose what marketing to believe. Microsoft represents the Old World of Marketing. In the New World, word of mouth, reputation, and trustworthy information matter more, particularly in technology.
Word of mouth trumps bad, expensive marketing. What marketing even reaches people? No one reads direct mail, solicitors waste their time cold calling or are legally prevented, DVRs eliminate TV ads, spam filters are serviceable, blocking popups is a default, and even Flash can be blocked on your browser. Advertising has a lot of heat on it because so little gets through.
What about Apple’s expensive marketing? There’s one fundamental difference between their’s and Microsoft’s. Microsoft’s sucks. Have you ever seen the Steve Jobs keynote introduction of the iPhone? Can you even imagine this out of Redmond?
If marketing is going to get through, it better be damn good, because expense will not ensure success. Witness the Microsoft “Wow” campaign. It is doomed for two reasons: bad marketing and product problems. Even brilliant marketing won’t save a bad product. Which brings me back to the power of word of mouth.
Robert Scoble started using a Mac recently. Ironically Robert told me when we were at Microsoft’s Mountain View campus. What does that have to do with Microsoft being Dead, you say?
Scoble is all about word of mouth. He is word of mouth. He has thousands of followers on Twitter who know when he installs this utility or that progran on his new Mac. In the tech world, he is the Big Dog if you measure the sheer Blizzard of Bits emanating from the man through his Scobleizer blog, the Scoble show, his tweets on Twitter, and God knows what the man produces via IM and email. It’s frightening. He is a self-fulfilling prophecy of the new tech world.
The point is: people listen to him because he is insightful and authentic. He has far more influence than “Wow” on a billboard, or another crappy Microsoft marketing campaign that cost a fortune. Microsoft doesn’t get word of mouth because it starts with great products.
Great products start with first experiences. Buy a Dell Windows computer and a Mac. Side-by-side, take them out of their box, turn them on, and set them up the way you want.
After a few hours with your new Dell and your new Mac, compare the time you spent answering pop-ups you didn’t want, turning off annoying reminder features, and getting your security software working non-intrusively. There is no security software on the Mac. With the Dell, there is a good chance you will never control the pop-ups because it takes patience, or an engineer friend. If you are converting your data from an older model to a new, then these first few hours are brilliantly simple with the Mac. The OS X utility for migrating data stuns people used to Windows.
I haven’t done this exercise with Vista, but five minutes with Vista was one of my Worst All-time Computer Experiences. Nor would I recommend you buy Vista yet until Microsoft sorts through the initial problems, some of which are dangerous.
The killer app of marketing today is word of mouth and reputation, and Microsoft has lost this game.