The question over whether or not Microsoft’s brand is strong can be difficult to answer. Microsoft supporters could easily point to the company’s dominance in the software market to prove that it has a well-respected brand. After all, if the company’s brand was poor, how could it sell so many licenses and generate such a huge profit each year?
That’s understandable. But if that’s all Microsoft would cling to in such a discussion, it’s rather short-sighted. Microsoft does have a major brand issue. Its brand is not even close to matching that of Apple’s or Google’s, two companies that consistently make the software giant look bad. That’s something that the company needs to understand. And until it realizes that its future will be in jeopardy until its brand is revitalized, Microsoft will continue to flounder.
This is how Microsoft can rebuild its ailing brand.
1. Say goodbye to Ballmer
The first thing Microsoft should do to rebuild its brand is get rid of Steve Ballmer. Yes, he has generated profits since he became CEO of the company. But he has also presided over the downright failure of the company’s online and mobile divisions. Under his watch Google has become very powerful in markets that Microsoft failed to exploit. In addition, Ballmer is a member of Microsoft’s Old Guard. And that alone makes the company’s brand look outdated. Ballmer has to go, if not for the sake of Microsoft’s future profit growth, then for the sake of the company’s brand.
2. Forget Windows Phone 7
Windows Phone 7 is all the talk in Redmond right now. But when it’s all said and done and Windows Phone 7 finally needs to compete against Android OS and iOS, it will be clear that Microsoft has lost its way. It’s already apparent that Windows Phone 7 lacks key features, which means the mobile operating system is starting so far behind, it could be impossible to catch up. This makes Windows Phone 7 look like more of the same catch-up fare that Microsoft has been putting out in the market in recent years. That’s the last thing the company needs.
3. Go back to the enterprise
Microsoft is still a wildly successful company when it comes to enterprise adoption. In light of that, maybe it’s time that the software giant goes back to its roots and sharpens its focus on technology for the enterprise. After all, that was a key component in its rise in the industry. It’s no secret that its consumer shift has hurt it. The corporate world could help revive Microsoft’s brand. It’s at least worth a shot.
4. Start focusing on the Web
It’s time for Microsoft to also focus its time on the Internet. Bing is a good first step, but it needs to do more. The software giant must be a leader in the cloud. It should also find ways to trump Google’s online applications, like Docs. Google is holding the high ground online right now. And the onus is on Microsoft to take it. The company can only do that if it revitalizes its brand through the Internet.
Microsoft Must Break Away from the Old Guard
5. Ditch Internet Explorer if Version 9 won’t work
Most folks who have gotten their hands on Internet Explorer 9 beta have said that it’s a major step forward compared with previous versions of the software. If that’s true, Microsoft has no choice but to bring it to the market. However, Microsoft simply cannot deliver another poor browser to customers. But if IE 9 fails to win back users or stem the erosion of Internet Explorer’s market share, Microsoft has to consider turning its back on the browser wars. Internet Explorer might be an integral component in Microsoft’s business, but if it continues to make it look bad, it has to go, no matter how big of an impact ditching it might have on Microsoft’s business over the short term.
6. Double-down on security spending
Security is a black eye that has only hurt Microsoft’s brand over the years. And yet, the company continues to trudge on without addressing those concerns as well as it should. Going forward, Microsoft needs to double-down on its security spending and make it clear to the world that it wants nothing more than to become a leader in security. If it can do that, it will go a long way in rebuilding its brand.
7. Distance itself from Bill Gates
Bill Gates might be an iconic figure in Microsoft’s history, but he is a lightning rod for folks who want to criticize Microsoft. He is the epitome of the Old Guard, Microsoft dominance and everything else that today’s consumers don’t necessarily like about Microsoft. Realizing that, it might be time for Microsoft to distance itself a bit from Gates. He might not like it at first, but if he truly wants to help his company, he’ll realize it’s the smart move.
8. Make Windows the lead
Although Windows has its problems, the software is still the most desired operating system in the world by a wide margin. With that in mind, the operating system is also Microsoft’s best entree to customers. If the company can improve Windows beyond what it has accomplished in Windows 7 and set the bar for operating systems, it might be able to lay the foundation for rebuilding its brand.
9. Get into hardware
Microsoft has been extremely successful as a software company. But it might be time for the firm to consider getting into hardware. That doesn’t mean that it should build PCs-it shouldn’t-but it does mean that it should work on a smartphone, tablet and other products that will appeal to customers. Apple has proved that a strong marriage between hardware and software matters in today’s industry. If Microsoft doesn’t accept that, it will have a difficult time rebuilding its brand.
10. Build upon the Xbox 360’s success
Microsoft’s Xbox 360 is arguably the best example of Microsoft fully understanding consumers in its history. The gaming console delivers outstanding functionality, great features and a huge library of viable titles. It has also proved that Microsoft can build its own hardware and appeal to consumers. Using the Xbox 360 as its guide, Microsoft should continue to find ways to innovate in areas where companies like Apple and Google aren’t necessarily competing. If it worked in the gaming space, why wouldn’t it work elsewhere? And the best part is, if Microsoft can become an innovator in customers’ eyes, it will have totally rebranded itself.