If a phone is launched in the forest, does anyone hear it?

This is a bit of a rant (I do that a lot, don’t I?) Partly it is a rant about Microsoft and its Windows Phone 7 launch. It is also partly a rant about our local Bell Mobility retailer, and their complete lack of customer service or sales skills.

I am in the market for a new smart phone. My current phone is a 3 year old HTC touch, which I like, but it beginning to show its age. Over the past few weeks, I have been looking at both the iPhone 4 and the Samsung Galaxy S. I like the iPhone, but am pretty much anti-Apple because I do not really approve of either the undeserved hype around their products, or their obsessively controlling attitude towards developers and users alike. The Galaxy S looks like an interesting option, however.

For the sake of completeness, however, I wanted to wait and have a look at a Windows Phone 7 device. I am tied to Bell, so unfortunately my only choice would be the LG Optimus Quantum. I am not a fan of slide out keyboards, but I thought I would give it a chance.

I have been faithfully watching the Bell Mobility site for news of the launch. That was a waste of time. Even now, on launch day, there is no information, just a form to fill out to “get more information when it is available”. Last night (November 7) I did get an email from Bell saying the device would be available in their stores today.

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So today I go to my local Bell partner retailer (Sounds Fantastic in Moncton). Actually, I tried calling Sounds first to save myself a wasted trip, but three calls over the course of a couple hours all went unanswered. I figured they must be really busy. So, I decided to visit the store on my lunch break. Not busy at all – in fact, no one there. So I was able to very quickly get the attention of a helpful sales parson. After a brief sequence of questions and one-word, grunting responses, I learned the following.

They do not have any Windows Phone 7 devices.

He does not know when/if they are getting any.

No, he does not know if anyone else in the area is getting any.

No, the guy who might know if they are getting any is not in today.

Not very helpful. He could have maybe taken my name, or tried to find out the information I needed. But he was too busy (even with no other customers in the store).

So that is my rant about Sounds Fantastic. I was very disappointed by the service, but not surprised. It sort of matches all my other experiences there (on the mobility side, anyway – they seem to be completely different business).

Now to talk about Microsoft, and the Windows Phone 7 launch in general.

How can a major tech corporation manage to launch a major new product, and yet generate no hype whatsoever. I have commented on this before. It seems to me that Microsoft’s biggest weakness right now (and for most of the last decade) is its marketing department. Microsoft makes some very cool technology. In my opinion, they are at least as innovative as Apple, and probably more so (at least they are innovative across a much broader spectrum of technologies and solutions).

But lets looks at Microsoft’s marketing track record (especially marketing to the consumer market – their marketing to the enterprise seems pretty good).

  • Tablet PC: Microsoft launched the Tablet PC back in 2002. Since about 2005 it has been a viable platform. I have been using productively that entire time. And yet, even up to about a year ago, I would have people see me in airports, on airplanes, and many other places, ask me what they device was I was using, and be surprised that anything like that existed. Microsoft completely and utterly failed to communicate the existence of this technology outside of the hard-core techie community. And even within that community, they failed to communicate the power of the platform, or to entice developers to develop for it.
  • Windows Vista: Where to begin on Windows Vista? To be clear here, Windows Vista was far more of a marketing failure than a technology failure.  Yes, Vista had its problems. The vast majority of them (in my opinion) were due to third party driver and application updates or lack thereof – this is of course a marketing/product management issue as well. Vista’s biggest problem was public opinion, and failed marketing. For how long did Microsoft sit back and watch while a certain competitor raked them over the coals with very popular and effective TV commercials? When Microsoft marketing did respond, what was the best they could do? Seinfeld and Gates in obscure, bizarre skits? Please.
  • Microsoft Surface: Ok, this is not a consumer-oriented device (yet), but it is an example of Microsoft coming up with really cool technology and then actively hiding it from the world. Until a year ago, it was very difficult to get any information about it at all. Buying one was damn near impossible. Even now, people look at it and say “hey, that’s copying the iPad” – not knowing it has been around for 3 years.
  • Windows Phone 7: Major new launch, and no hype or energy at all, outside of hard core Microsoft circles. A few articles here and there. Even mobile service providers carrying the devices have almost nothing on their web sites about the devices, and then it is buried. And then I go to a store to look at one, and there are none.  Not “we had some but they are sold out”, just “we have none”. I realize I live in a backwater of the world, but it is amazing to me to see how little attention Microsoft has generated for this launch.

This to me is indicative of what truly ails Microsoft right now. In the enterprise market, they are very healthy. But in the consumer market, they cannot generate any hype. As everyone in this business (or any business) knows, you can have the best products and technology on the planet, but if you cannot get the word out, get people excited, and manage consumer perceptions of your products, you will fail!

Update: After my experience trying to look at a Windows Phone 7 device at Sounds Fantastic, I decided to reply to the above Bell email, asking why there were none at my local Bell dealer. Yes, I know it would bounce because that message was obviously form an auto-mailer. I did get an automated response, though:

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Good enough. I happily click through the l;ink to voice my concerns – only to see the following page:

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Just not my day for talking to Bell Sad smile

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Apple Marketing and Political Mud-slinging

I was wathing one of Apple’s “I’m a Mac, I’m a PC” commercials last night, and noticed how much Apple’s marketing campaign resembles the mindless mud-slinging which permeates the political campaign process. I cannot remember the last time any of these commercials actually mentioned anything good about the Mac, or even mentioned anything about the Mac’s capabilities.

I am sorry, but saying “you should buy my product because XYZ sucks” is a pretty lazy marketing campaign – especially from an organization that pretends to be innovative.

Where does Innovation live?

This is a question that has been challenging me for a number of years now. In most organizations I have seen, both R&D and Marketing/Product Management believe that they own the innovation process for the company. And, they frequently both behave as though they do, and run along in their own independent directions, often at odds with each other.

Just to clarify here, I am talking about the innovation process, not the sources of great ideas – ideas can (and should) come from all parts of the organization, and beyond. I am talking about the process by which the generation, collection, evaluation, and potential implementation of ideas is made purposeful, continuous, and sustainable, as opposed to serendipitous and accidental.

The problem I see is that neither Marketing nor R&D by themselves knows enough to own the process entirely. Marketing is (quite rightly) focused outwards – customers, prospects, markets, analysts. This allows them to analyse all of this information and decide where our products should go. My problem is that I do not believe that this, in itself, is enough. It is pretty good for incremental, evolutionary development on reasonably mature product. However, I do not believe that this process of data collection and analysis will lead to revolutionary, transformational product ideas or enhancements.

On the other hand, R&D is (again, quite rightly) focused on technology, or how to get things done, and on better ways to get things done. This allows them to come up with cool new solutions to problems. Unfortunately, on its own, it also frequently leads to cool new solutions which nobody wants (or at least, not enough to pay for). However, without this “technology push”, how do we know the art of the possible, and how can we introduce transformation product improvements into our business?

Add to this mix the distrust between Marketing and R&D found in many organizations, and it is a wonder innovation happens at all. And the fact is that although innovation does happen within this structure, it is frequently accidental. It would be nice to be able to make this process more predictable and purposeful (I will write another day on my thoughts around whether it makes sense to make innovation predictable).

I am rapidly coming to believe that the only way to really get control of this process is to break down the barrier between Marketing and R&D, and create a truly collaborative process for innovation. How to do this is still a mystery to me, though I have some ideas. I would be very interested in hearing other’s ideas and experiences in this area.