Microsoft & Nokia – A good time for change

September 5, 2013


Just one day after the biggest corporate deal ever – Vodafone’s selling of its 45% stake in Verizon, Microsoft announced its acquisition of Nokia’s mobile phone business. By far the smaller deal of the two, this is undoubtedly the most intruiging.

It’s difficult not to to feel some ambivelance about the world’s formerly largest PC company acquiring the previously dominant and preeminent mobile phone manufacturer. As market share dwindles, it’s a timely deal and could, if handled correctly provide a real alternative to the current iOS-Android hegemony. Ultimately however, as it stands this deal demonstrates not how far Apple, Google and Samsung have advanced, but how far both Microsoft and Nokia have fallen. The markets seem to echo this sentiment, with Nokia’s shares understandably jumping 35% while MS’s fell more than 5%.

To technology observers Microsoft’s difficulties are hardly surprising, but Nokia’s fall is still massively disappointing. I well remember owning a red 8210 during ‘web 1.0’ – by far the coolest phone in the world back then. But for too many years to remember, I’ve been continually amazed at how slow MS seems to move, let alone advance. If ever there was an allegory for a giant, lumbering tech dinosaur Microsoft is the living embodiment.

What next?

Microsoft must surely change, and change massively. Steve Balmer has always been bullish, as CEOs  invariably feel compelled to be. The trouble is, I don’t think anyone at Microsoft truly understands how far they’ve fallen, and the level and extent of change required to get them back on top. Steve Ballmer’s departure is a great start, and combined with the Nokia mobile acquisition provides a fabulous opportunity to effect real change. They’ve got the brains and presumably intent, but do they have the stomach and the will? History does not paint a flattering picture.

The problem with many corporate behemoths is that they tend to implement marketing selectively,  as and when (they think) they need it. This is because they embrace the traditional paradigm of R&D, design and manufacture. Then market. it’s a compartmentalised process that worked perfectly for many years, but is irreconcilable today. This is evident in the way Microsoft, in particular, market their products. There’s no cohesiveness, no big picture, no plan and no continuity. There’s no brand architecture…no design language. Rightly or wrongly, Microsoft is perceived as a company that lumbers through technological applications, responding to emerging markets instead of defining them, creating and innovating. Doggedly hanging onto old business models, because of their revenue generating lifeblood is Microsoft’s biggest problem. Poisoning new ventures, such as their Surface with this same old thinking is another. Why would I contemplate buying a “non-professional ” Surface when there’s a Pro model? What does that make me, a Surface “Amateur” user? A lightweight? A student? A child perhaps? These are major purchases that people research, and ineffably calling something a ‘Pro’ isn’t helpful – it just makes everything else in the range sound inherently flawed. If you create  a range of products, deferential them from within. Don’t superficially cripple them.

They just don’t seem to get it. This embarrassingly naff sales and marketing strategy is what got them into trouble in the first place. And then there’s the name, composed of two archaic contractions that sound utterly outmoded to today’s generation. “Micro” as in microcomputer and “Soft” as in software, a term which nobody outside professionals such as myself uses anymore. I’m not suggesting a name change to, say, “SmallApp”, but something of-the-moment yet forward looking, unique yet timeless. Heck, even IBM’s abbreviated nomenclature works, because its meaning is still relevant today, even if their function has shifted dramatically.

At the semantic and lexicological level, where the terms “apple” and “google” are so powerful, it’s even worse, comprising two words of obvious negative attributions in tiny and squidgy.

The solution for Microsoft isn’t one of better marketing, or responding better and faster to the challenges and agendas set by Apple and Google. It’s about defining who they are, and who they want to be. Massive change needs to be effected in whatever form that’s required, be it a name change and abandonment of everything decrepid. Keep the stuff that pays, but compartmentalise it in a way that sustains identity and promises continued quality, not clogging up the new stuff. Only then will they be able to shape and influence the future. To matter again, as love them or hate them they once did. There’s never been a better time for change.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: