It turns out Microsoft just might have some PR / marketing mojo in it after all. Drawing media comparisons to Apple-style launch events, Microsoft yesterday unveiled its Microsoft Surface tablet, err, PC… More on that later. Microsoft was secretive leading up to the event telling select media only the day and city for the press conference and then the actual location only the morning of the event. They finally got the media really excited – probably for the first time since the Xbox 360 launch. So, from a PR perspective, how did the event succeed and where could they have done better?
You’re Such a Tease
In the days leading up to the event, Microsoft was able to – for the most part – keep the media guessing. This lead to all kinds of rumor stories about what Microsoft was going to announce and that in turn led to more intrigue leading up to the event. There are only a handful of juggernaut companies capable of enticing media days before a launch. Microsoft being one of them, they took full advantage and it worked. There were rumors of an Xbox 720, rumors of a new Barnes & Noble tablet, and more.
It’s a dicey thing to do too because if you create such intrigue leading up to an event, you better deliver the goods. Microsoft did. I’m no tech industry analyst but, the Microsoft Surface device will now go on to more great media coverage leading to its actual availability – many of these stories may question if this is a laptop killer and also make people wonder if it is an iPad threat. This is also a bit of the problem. The Microsoft Surface seems to sit at a crossroads between a laptop and a tablet. Perhaps this is precisely what Microsoft wants – for Surface to be a killer device for both – but, that didn’t seem to get this across to media in live blogs covering the launch. Microsoft would do itself a service to clarify the role of Microsoft Surface and I believe it would be good to position it as both. In my opinion, it’s not the norm that devices actually converge but the Microsoft Surface device does. Why not come out and actually call it the “Microsoft Surface PC tablet” and setup a new market category of ultra-convenient Ultrabooks that double as high-performance tablets? I believe this sets a mindset for the device that is clear and all promotions for it should be exactly about that – it’s a strong PC performer when you want it to be or a killer tablet when you want that.
As for the actual event, it was very successful with few hiccups or need for better planning. I’d question the 3:30 pm Pacific time that was set – quitting time for the Central and Eastern time zones – which I believe may have alienated some media from covering the event and some consumers from tuning into it. A mid-morning launch would have seemed more appropriate but, perhaps Microsoft had its reasons. Then there was apparently an unexplained delay – the actual press conference didn’t start for around another hour later. It’s not good to keep press waiting for that long, particularly given that Microsoft is no media darling – it just opens the door for potential subconscious negative feeling for the event that can translate into negative press.
It also appears – from the media coverage at the event that I saw – that media were invited for close-ups of the tablets but were not actually allowed to get hands-on with the devices. Was this to build more intrigue or to draw annoyances – I read a little of both. Finally, pricing and availability were vague. It seems the two versions of the tablets will sell around $500 – $1,000 and be available around October or November. While it’s good to build solid media coverage leading up to its actual availability the timeline here may be a bit long in the tooth.
The price point will be a topic of many media stories – is it too much to take on the iPad, or Ultrabooks for that matter? This is where positioning the Surface as a “PC tablet” will pay dividends as it sets up the mindset that Surface is much more than an iPad and delivers convenience that Ultrabooks do not.
Microsoft will also now need to address concerns that its partner PC OEMs may have. Did Microsoft just announce it will compete with the likes of Dell, HP, etc? Was this just a call to OEM partners to also raise the bar? Does Surface actually complement OEM offerings instead of compete with them? These are all questions that will be discussed in the media and Microsoft best be prepared to address them – with transparency – or let the media define the answers for them.
Did They Do It?
So, did Microsoft succeed with its event? Yes. Very much so. This device will be the talk of the town for quite a bit of time, though with availability in October or November is that too much of a honeymoon? It’s a truly innovative device in a tech world that commands nothing less and sets up the opportunity for Microsoft to do great PR and marketing for it. I give them an A for the event. Even the initial YouTube video to promote it gets a strong A. Can Microsoft do it again – can they supplant current tablets and Ultrabooks like the Xbox 360 did the PS3? Is this a real-life “revenge of the nerds?” Time will soon tell and we’re all continually intrigued to find out. It’s what any PR practitioner would want. Now, just don’t mess it up.