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A Lesson from Microsoft: Control Your Own Destiny

It’s nice to know that what happens in Vegas stays there. But with Microsoft’s announced departure from the Consumer Electronics Show, there will be fewer secrets in Glitter Gulch.

Or not.

Steve Ballmer’s opening-day keynote last week apparently conjured up a little déjà vu, with many of his product announcements having been heard before – more than once.  There is even some speculation in the press and blogosphere that Microsoft’s decision to exit may not have been entirely its own.

What is interesting, though, is Microsoft’s official explanation for ending its starring role. In a blog article posted in December, Frank X. Shaw, the company’s communication chief, wrote that the time had come, “because our product news milestones generally don’t align with the show’s January timing.”

Now, on one hand this sounds like boilerplate rationalization. Sort of like the politician who says he won’t seek reelection because, “I want to spend more time with my family.” After all, Apple said exactly what Microsoft did when they pulled out of MacWorld.

On the other hand, Microsoft just might be on to something. And it’s something that applies particularly well to B2B vendors.

Times keep changing

In his post, Frank posed some questions. Here are two:

  • “Are we adjusting to the changing dynamics of our customers?”
  • “Are we doing something because it’s the right thing to do, or because ‘it’s the way we’ve always done it’?”

These are questions that all B2B communicators ought to ask themselves and their management – for a couple of reasons.

First, even if you weren’t at CES competing for attention with 3,000 other companies, you may not be getting heard. If you’re saying the same things you’ve been saying for years, the message has lost its glitz. Especially if they are the same things your competitors have been saying all along too. Often, the reason for not changing the patter is, “we don’t have time” or “we can’t reach consensus on something new.”  It usually boils down to a variation of, “the way we’ve always done it.”

Second, it’s not always obvious that you’re falling behind. It doesn’t matter whether you have a Twitter, Facebook or YouTube presence. What matters is whether you’re serving up the right information. That’s because B2B buyers have grown more sophisticated in the ways they educate themselves, select vendors and make purchasing decisions. So even if you have a Website, videos, webinars, a blog and white papers, you should continuously ask if what you are saying is being understood, leaving an impression and making a difference. If it isn’t, it’s time to adjust.

On your own terms

In the ideal, you want to communicate to an audience of decision makers, consultants, industry thought leaders and influencers who you have a stake in convincing. Hopefully, these are the same ones who have a stake in what you are selling.

Today’s marketing and publishing tools let you do that.

Just like Microsoft, you don’t have to depend on the kindness of the press. Instead, you control the timing, rhythm, distribution channels and content of all your messaging. Even if you’re part of a small or medium sized company. And you can tailor your messages in response to the questions your audiences are asking. But to do that, you need to continually stay up on what’s important to them.

So who knows whether CES is looking for a new headliner with more cool or if the tradeshow circuit no longer fits Microsoft’s strategy. Either way, the lesson is the same: Customer expectations and behavior are changing. So if you want to stay relevant, you have to change too. Perhaps in some fundamentally dramatic way.

 

Frank’s two questions are a good place to start.

 

 

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