Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Microsoft Brand Paradox

Its reputation apparently in retreat, Microsoft still has banner year after banner year, and is among the world’s most valuable brands. I believe this is a case that Keller (2008, p 72) describes in which a company gets behavior loyalty even though they don't have an engaging resonance with its consumers. Haigh and Knowles (2004, p 24) additionally note that other intangibles are included in various definitions of a brand. These other intangibles include: 1.) Patents, and software; 2.) Business process and supply chain configurations; and 3.) Contracts, distribution rights, and licenses.

Microsoft has fundamental patents on computer technology that is uses as a barrier to entry. Parloff (2007, p 1) reports that Microsoft is using this intellectual property to outmaneuver Open Source competitors. Microsoft also has an effective business process. A common gag in the high-tech industry is that there are two types of sales reps, those who make their quota and new ones. This may be true for IBM, Oracle and Sun but not Microsoft, who keeps on sales reps even if struggling and works with them. The sales teams eventually gain in-depth knowledge of their customer accounts. Neumeier (2006, p 18) talks about bridging the brand gap, and this requires “crystal clear and potent communications,” the kind Microsoft gets from reps with long experience on an account.

Microsoft has a long-standing relationship with the computer market in general. Keller goes on (p 84) to discuss customer relationship equity that creates a “tendency to stick with a product, above and beyond objective and subjective assessments of the brand.”He postulates (p 86) that increasing customer equity (like relationship equity) results in increased brand value.

My own experience is that this is particularly true in high-tech. There is great risk and high cost in migrating from one technology platform to another. The natural tendency is to retain the existing relationship, unless the brand in question poses more risk than a change. Keller (p 9) notes that brand loyalty provides a “predictability and security of demand” and is a barrier of entry to competitors.

A strong brand can also become a virtuous circle: a strong brand results in better market performance, better market performance increases brand awareness and image, which in turn increase brand strength. Keller says (p 12) that a strong brand is valuable reassurance to business customers. These are large buyers and I know Microsoft has sales teams dedicated to these large accounts, and top execs are also.

One very important value delivery strategy in high-tech is Total Cost of Ownership (TCO). Keller (p 14) observes that a value delivery strategy is an essential element for selling to business customers. Microsoft is aware of this science of branding 1-1, and has imbued in corporate customers the belief that its brand has the lowest TCO. For example, Window’s ease of use gives it a lower total cost of ownership (TCO) in four of five usage patterns tested (see Gaudin, 2002, p1; Microsoft TCO, 2008, p1; Microsoft Speedy Hire, 2007, p1; and Microsoft Key Stone, 2007, p1).

Keller also asserts (p 16) that high-tech customers are “committing to a long-term relationship.” Microsoft has structured a brand that has lasted over time. It provides presales technical support, product support services after sales, consulting services, and a strong commitment to research and development so an investment in Microsoft will retain its value over time.

Microsoft continuously improves its software through investments to improve fundamentals such as reliability, security, manageability, and performance. This investment in tomorrow by Microsoft helps safeguard learning Microsoft technology. Woodie (2006, p1) cites an IDC study that in commitment to long term viability, Microsoft just edged out IBM for top spot.

These are seasons Microsoft has a strong brand but not an equally strong reputation.

Gaudin, Sharon (December 6, 2002). Microsoft-Backed Study Slams Linux TCO. Datamation.

Haigh, D. and J. Knowles (June 2004). What’s in a brand? Marketing Management.

Keller, K (2008). Strategic Brand Management. Pearson/Prentice-Hall.

Microsoft Key Stone (2007). Retrieved on October 24, 2008 from

Microsoft Speedy Hire (2007). Speedy Hire Case Study. Retrieved on October 24, 2008 from

Microsoft TCO (2008). Retrieved on October 24, 2008 from

Neumeier, M (2006). The Brand Gap. New Riders.

Parloff, Roger (May 14 2007). Microsoft takes on the free world. Fortune Magazine. Retrieved on October 24, 2008 from

Woodie, Alex (January 10, 2006). Microsoft's Partner Channel the Strongest for Software, IDC Says.Retrieved on October 24, 2008 from

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