An unfortunate success story for anyone keen on Office 365

2-Color-Design-Hi-Res-100px-widthOn December 30, 2014, the Business Insider website published an article written by Julie Bort, titled Why An Ex-Microsoft Exec Chose Google Apps Over Microsoft’s Office 365 For His Startup. Bort’s article follows the form of a success story, much like the success stories Microsoft publishes on its web sites. But the success story presented by Bort’s article actually tells the story of the conversion of a once prominent executive at Microsoft, and his new business, over to the ranks of subscribers to Google Apps. Even worse, Rahul Sood (the former Microsoft manager of Microsoft Ventures) explains how his team considered subscribing to Office 365, before finalizing their decision, but decided to pass.

One wonders why Microsoft’s own PR effort hasn’t produced more of these articles: in other words, success stories written by writers not directly affiliated with Microsoft, and published on independent websites. As I just noted, Microsoft’s own websites present an extensive set of this content. But somehow the impact of an article like Bort’s is greater, especially given its title. As to the actual detail she presents, arguably, basing a decision on the email component of a suite of Office applications like Office 365 (or Google Apps) is not likely to be appealing to cloud, SaaS stakeholders from any organizations looking to move beyond email, and into one of the more collaborative and informative methods of exchanging data included with Office 365; for example, Yammer newsfeeds, or SharePoint Online Document Libraries and Lists.

But the detail doesn’t matter when the title, itself, amounts to news potentially embarrassing to Microsoft. There is no way to ensure once prominent Microsoft executives like Rahul Sood will continue to choose Microsoft’s own solutions. But there should be no impediment to the PR team at Microsoft looking for the same type of content (meaning ex-executives at Microsoft competitors opting for Microsoft solutions) to balance the public perception of just who is using Office 365.

The kind of content tracking capability implicit to Office 365’s Managed Metadata Service may not be important to a gaming startup like Sood’s. But any startup in a heavily regulated industry will likely pass on GMail as a principal method of exchanging data, anytime, and choose, instead SharePoint Online Document Libraries and Lists, if compliance reporting is a requirement for the business.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2014 All Rights Reserved


Oracle Lifts the Covers on Updates to its HCM SaaS Cloud Offers

On September 23, 2013 Oracle® announced updates to its Oracle HCM Cloud and Oracle Talent Management Cloud SaaS offers. This Oracle PR effort follows closely on a similar effort, published the prior week, by one of Oracle’s direct competitors in this market — Workday.

This PR is, in my opinion, only marginally effective. Conspicuously absent from the press release were any mentions of the unique scalability of the Oracle solutions. Certainly these SaaS cloud offers should integrate very well with Oracle’s on premises HR solution suite. So there is an inherent advantage for enterprise customers with a substantial commitment to Oracle’s on premises HR software to opt for the Oracle cloud offers. The same scale of operations, whether via public cloud, or via private cloud behind corporate firewalls, cannot be achieved with the Workday solution.

Instead, the press release mentions hooks to social media software, principally LinkedIn. In fact the Workday solution can directly compete with this feature. Just last week Workday announced a partnership with Salesforce.com. Salesforce.com already includes hooks to LinkedIn, facebook, Google + and Twitter. Further, Workday can leverage the Chatter feature of Salesforce.com (which has established a credible beachhead across likely sales prospects in this market) to capture even more data from social interaction.

I think the less-than-optimal design of the Oracle PR effort is entirely consistent with similar efforts made by other mature enterprise ISVs. The trend is to react to the efforts of cloud challengers. Businesses in reactive mode function very much like people in the same mode. Strategies are formulated to contain ambitious strategies from competitors, and to exploit any weaknesses in them.

In contrast, I think these efforts should be the result of assertive, expansive strategies. The strongest suite Oracle®, or any of its peers can play, is to emphasize the scalability of their solutions. After all, what enterprise CIO wants to throw out an investment already amortized in on premises ERP applications like HR and Finance?

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2013 All Rights Reserved


ISVs Should Thoroughly Manage Public Relations Efforts for New Products to Capture Targeted Results

Public relations collateral — press releases, news articles, public appearances — must be micro managed by ISVs to produce targeted results. Microsoft® recently debuted a free app for Office for the iPhone. The public relations campaign for this product should have been better managed to provide Microsoft with a product introduction to the small, smart mobile device market worth the effort.

The iPhone Office app breaks new ground. Microsoft eschews the recent strategy of forcing markets into the Microsoft scalable computing architecture (including PCs, the Surface Tablet, and Windows Phone 8), and, instead, brings the Office suite to the most prominent example of the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) trend in enterprise computing, the iPhone. So this should be a huge win, with substantial public approval, right?

Not so fast. The Wall Street Journal editorial team, a set of entrenched Microsoft skeptics, managed to turn this very promising new product and the new direction in product marketing it exemplifies, into a no better than a “C-” quality set of announcements. On June 18, 2013, Ms. Katherine Boehret, produced a write up on the iPhone Office app launch for the Journal’s “The Digital Solution” column: At Work With Microsoft Office on an iPhone .

We think Microsoft’s Public Relations team should have better managed Ms. Boehret’s introduction to this product. The point she makes about the need for an Office 365 account, for example, is really not an issue for what we can’t help but take to be the market for this app: employees working for enterprise businesses. Most of these organizations maintain Office 365 accounts. So the $100.00 annual cost for a basic subscription to Office 365 will not be an impediment to enterprise IT’s plan to outfit personnel with this app.

Her point about a missing Outlook component for the app is also not much of an issue. Microsoft recently debuted Outlook as a cloud application, which will certainly be accessible to any iPhone owner with the above mentioned Office 365 account. In fact, it’s easy to sign up for the free Outlook online Software as a Service (SaaS) offer without an Office 365 account.

But these points were portrayed in her article as big issues, marring an otherwise “beautiful” app. To repeat: we think Microsoft’s Public Relations team could have done a better job introducing Ms. Boehret to this new product. Perhaps her observations of internal struggle at Microsoft about the new strategy as a reason for the less than satisfactory design of the iPhone Office app are accurate.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2013 All Rights Reserved


On Steve Ballmer’s “Transforming Our Company” Memo as a Public Relations Document

Much has been written about the “One” Press Release published by Microsoft® on Thursday, July 11, 2013. But we think the accompanying memo, “Transforming Our Company” is an equally important piece of public relations collateral for markets to digest.

The memo is written for internal publication, but a link to it is provided in the press release as posted to Microsoft’s public website. So the Public Relations team at Microsoft clearly planned this piece of content to be read by the general public.

This piece reinforces cornerstones of Microsoft’s product brands, and paints them with a picture of a company intensely focused on transformation. Simply consider the following statement, which we have excerpted from the memo: “We will strive for a single experience for everything in a person’s life that matters. One experience, one company, one set of learnings, one set of apps, and one personal library of entertainment, photos and information everywhere. One store for everything.” This statement provides little indication of a transformed Microsoft. Since the mid 1980s Microsoft has espoused the importance of personal computing. Further, Microsoft has always embraced a scalable architecture for its software products. The design principles of Windows 8 for PCs, Windows 8 for smartphones, and Windows 8 for tablets are clearly rooted in a commitment to a consistent, cross platform user experience.

But what is new about the statement we’ve quoted and the rest of the memo is a tone of urgency, The memo is written very much in the style of a “declaration”, meaning a position statement formalizing a new direction for the company, which includes scant opportunity, if any at all, to turn back.

Early stage technology businesses can benefit from a close study of this type of public relations content. In the two stock trading days since the press release and memo were published, the value of Microsoft shares outstanding has increased by more than 5%. Not bad for a couple of pieces of public relations collateral.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2013 All Rights Reserved


RelatelQ Raises Venture Capital Investment and Benefits from Some Prominent Press in the Same Day

Never underestimate the power of free publicity. RelatelQ, a Palo Alto early stage ISV announced a successful effort to raise $29MM from several venture capitalists on June 13, 2013. This news was included in an article with even bigger impact for the business, Your New Secretary: An Algorithm .

It’s not easy to quantify the impact of Ms. Rusli’s article on the visibility of RelatelQ in its market. But it certainly didn’t hurt to have the article published coincidentally with the public announcement of the cash injection. In fact, from the description of the technology in Ms. Rusli’s article, it isn’t earth shaking, nor particularly new (anyone familiar with the late 1980s who was actively involved with personal computing will likely remember Lotus Agenda, which had a lot of the same capabilities back in 1988). So the lesson for early stage ISVs is what you say amounts to how you say it and who decides to publish it. As we’ve noted time and time again in this blog, Marshall McLuhan is still alive and well and just as brilliant, for his own venue, as Albert Einstein was for his. “The Medium is the Message”.

We visited the RelatelQ website hoping for an opportunity to take a look at their application, but found an “invitation only” note on the front page. We’re not sure this public posture benefits them, but, bottom-line, we can’t access their software.

The notion of what the software can do is exciting. We used Lotus Agenda for 3 or more years in a team setting with tremendous results. Our gross revenues went from $7MM to over $28MM in the same timeframe. So using an application to autosort travel notes, jourrnal entries, call reports, etc. can be a very valuable activity.

If your business can benefit from a successful effort to convince a reporter or two to write about what you’re up to, but you lack the internal staff to get the job done, contact us. We’ll be happy to make our best efforts on your behalf. You can send us a message, as well.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2013 All Rights Reserved


Allow Press Release Campaigns An Ample Amount of Time To Work Before Reaching Conclusions On Their Effectiveness

IMB Enterprises, Inc. has considerable recent experience crafting press release editorial content for weekly distribution. Our clients have used PRweb as the distribution method for these press releases.

Initial results, captured over the first month of efforts, did not expose the reach of the effort. Now, six months into a regular campaign, and looking at the entire 26 weeks of activity, we can say referrals from PRweb to links to our client’s website are the 8th most productive source, per Google Analytics. After a month, PRWeb produced an insignificant number of site referrals. But over the last 6 weeks, since May 1st of this year (the first year of this client’s effort to publish weekly press releases), PRWeb has been the 5th most productive referral site for us.

So our experience leads us to conclude the market for computer software (our client has a software offer for collaboration, content management, document management markets) looks for a consistent effort on the part of businesses publishing press releases. Purchasing an annual subscription for this type of publishing makes the most sense.

PRWeb has a “normal” and a “premium” press release annual plan. We captured insignificant additional value from the “premium” press release option. Crafting the release editorial content to include important keywords already determined to attract useful prospect interest, together with selecting useful market targets for distribution, did a lot more for us to get the right audience reading our content.

Each press release is supported with status updates to

  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn
  • Google Plus
  • and facebook

We recently convinced our client to subscribe to VisualVisitor. This tool, which provides rapid notification of website visits by originating business, is particularly useful for our direct marketing teams. As we have expressed in other posts to this blog on the topic of VisualVisitor, we find businesses do not have the same level of “annoyance” when they are notified about websites their staff apparently visited as the general public, in a retail marketing setting, may demonstrate. So we are very hopeful the combination of growing interest in our client’s press releases, in combination with rapid identification of website visitors, will produce some useful sales opportunities.

If you are considering a press release campaign, but lack the internal staff to manage the effort, please consider IMB Enterprises, Inc. We can manage the campaign, produce the editorial content, and provide the direct marketing outbound follow up contact effort you will need to ensure the success of your campaign. Please send us a message to learn more.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2013 All Rights Reserved


On the Importance of Marketing Communications and Public Relations to Emerging Tech Businesses

On Thursday, May 30, 2013, the Online New York Times published an interview, conducted by Adam Bryant, with Roman Stanek, the CEO of GoodData. When Adam Bryant asked Roman Stanek to describe his “leadership style”, Stanek used the opportunity to not only touch on his own efforts, but to comment on the most important skills of a successful tech CEO. He specifically highlighted ” . . . the importance of communication skills. Having a vision and having confidence doesn’t mean anything unless you’re able to communicate it to your team, investors and customers. The ability to communicate well didn’t come easily for me. I always assumed that everybody would see things the same way I see them, and now I understand it takes a lot of time to get people aligned.”

So Roman Stanek here makes a strong case about tech CEOs: Successful tech CEOs not only have promising ideas, a lot of stamina, and a mechanism to market products. They also have to be strong communicators. They have to be articulate, and capable of inspiring teams and, presumably, customers and a market.

But why, then, are tech businesses, themselves, so often poorly equipped in the areas of marketing communications and public relations? When products are ready for markets and product marketing strategies are in place, there is no excuse for clumsy marketing communications and public relations efforts. Messages should be developed alongside products and refined through a process similar to beta testing a market. CEOs should be out bouncing ideas off of customers, industry influencers and communities of likely users. The messages used to communicate these ideas should be carefully built to stimulate useful response, which, in turn, can be used to build a picture of market sentiment, etc. But the majority of tech businesses appear not to attend to these points.

If your early stage tech business can’t afford to miss marketing communications and public relations opportunities, please contact us. We’ll be happy to expand on these points for you. We can even show you how using temporary services from us, or one of our competitors, can help you traverse the challenge of a public launch while you get your team message in place.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2013 All Rights Reserved


Microsoft Announces Release of a New Version of SharePoint Online

Public announcements about products should be carefully timed and composed. Press releases, public appearances by company executives and even marketplace opinion pieces must all be closely coordinated with a product brand. Marketing communications efforts must adhere to the same guidelines.

But an apparent announcement by Microsoft® of a release of a new version of SharePoint Online, surprised us.

We maintain an Office 365 Enterprise E3 Plan account and recently completely a migration (actually, the migration occurred on April 6, 2013) to a new version of SharePoint Online. Our user interface is now consistent with SharePoint 2013, on premises. So what is this announcement all about?

Mystery can certainly be used to build market anticipation for a product. But the mystery enveloping yet another “new release” to a recently implemented “new release” for SharePoint Online, confused us. We expect lots of other SharePoint Online customers will experience the same confusion. Especially when the uncertain nature of the timing of the upgrade is factored in.

We think the public relations team could have done a better job at managing the public announcement of this “upgrade”. Unfortunately, this gaffe occurred soon after a couple of much more encouraging public announcements from Microsoft, which lead us to think (the prior two posts to this blog treated these announcements) the company had substantially, and successfully renovated its public relations strategy.

Reading the announcement on the Office 365 Blog, an article on the Redmond Mag web site, and some other opinions, we could not help but think how much better the announcement could have been handled by simply one spokesperson. A carefully composed notice, with specific details differentiating May’s “upgrade” from April’s “upgrade” would have been helpful.

Early stage ISVs grappling with how best to handle public relations can learn a lot from studying the activities of Microsoft’s PR team over the last month.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2013 All Rights Reserved


New Public Relations Strategy at Microsoft Eschews Denial and Affirms Public Opinion

On May 7, 2013, the online edition of The Wall Street Journal published an article authored by Shira Ovide, Microsoft Concedes Windows 8 Misses Expectations. We liked what we read in this article. Here’s why:

  • In a short statement, Ms. Tami Reller, co-head of the Windows Division, broadly echoed marketplace sentiment about the quality of the Windows 8 launch: ” . . . and frankly we also didn’t get everything we dreamed of done in the first release . . .”
  • Shira Ovide summed up Microsoft’s recent public announcements about “Windows Blue” as ” . . . an unusually frank admission about the shortcomings of its Windows 8 operating system . . . “
  • The focus of the article shifted from Steve Balmer bashing to lots of details from Ms. Ovide’s conversation with Ms. Reller, which proved much healthier for Microsoft

It’s certainly difficult for a market leader to gracefully change its public persona from an organization frequently perceived as calculating, to one now voicing a ” . . . frank admission about . . . shortcomings”, but the PR team at Microsoft appears to have changed the view with this article.

PR does not exist in a vacuum. Marketing communications, and even customer relations activities from both sales and marketing teams also contribute to the public brand message. If Microsoft can exhibit more of this transformation through these other product marketing avenues, the market message will have to improve.

We don’t see the same disconnect with the promotional effort for Microsoft SharePoint, another product with a huge share of the market for a wide range of enterprise business requirements, including collaboration, document management, and business intelligence gathering. Despite analyst knocks we think SharePoint 2013 and, particularly, SharePoint Online, Office 365 is doing very well. Most of the brand management effort for this product has been handled by the application design team. The interface is visually much more appealing. Product features are also more accessible for business users.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2013 All Rights Reserved


Microsoft Implements a Welcome Shift in its Public Relations Plan for Windows 8

Public Relations is an important tool in the product branding process for any business. Independent Software Vendors (ISVs) need to skillfully implement a Public Relations function. Early stage ISVs can benefit from a study of the activities of mature, large ISVs.

Microsoft®‘s Public Relations function has been very visible over the last several months. Many brands are in a state of transition at the company. While its marketing communications efforts have maintained a consistent tone throughout these changes, the Public Relations strategy appeared to take a significant shift in direction in early May, 2013.

Let’s focus on the launch of the new Windows 8 operating system. Windows 8 debuted in the fall of 2012. A serious Public Relations problem arose soon after:

  1. Steven Sinovsky, Head of the Windows products division abruptly left the company. Formal comments from Microsoft indicated problems for Mr. Sinovsky arising from what we, and likely the public, could only construe as a breakdown in the proper performance of the marketing team — not the picture Public Relations would otherwise want to paint for the public

Controversy arose soon after the launch of the product about actual sales numbers for Windows 8 licenses. As Tom Warren wrote on The Verge on April 26, 2013, Six months on, Windows 8 sales are a mystery, despite an early announcement of sales of 40 million licenses for the new OS as of the end of November, 2012, and an additional 60 million announced in January of 2013, ” . . . at the current point in the Windows 8 rollout, Redmond has not yet disclosed the latest figures. Microsoft’s Q3 earnings have come and gone, and Windows revenue was flat despite a reported downturn in PC sales. At the same time in Windows 7’s history three years ago, Microsoft was declaring it ‘by far the fastest-selling operating system in history” with over 10 percent of all PCs running Windows 7. The company also announced 100 million license sales for Windows 7 on April 27th, 2010.'” (quoted entirely from Mr. Warren’s article. Please click the link we’ve provided to read the complete article).

Bottom line, the actual sales number are, at a minimum controversial, and at best indicative of a very cool reception for the product by the public.

Finally, questions were arising around the same time about Microsoft’s product distribution strategy. These questions stemmed from the company’s decision to enter the computing hardware business with the Surface tablet.

We think it’s useful to file most of the Public Relations tactics we’ve noted here in the “denial” bucket. The message of the denial bucket is “we’re fine, they’re wrong”. In the next post to this blog we’ll speak to the shift we noted early this month in the Public Relations strategy, to one better labeled “sober acceptance”. We think this message is working better.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2013 All Rights Reserved