Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Windows 7, Microsoft 0

The newspapers are filled with the story. The airwaves are saturated with the drama. Everywhere you look, the story of the century is about to drop on us. You know, the story? THE STORY? No, not that little presidential election thing. Not the global recession. I'm talking about the real scoop of the century:

Microsoft's unveiling of Windows 7. Yawn.

Just how deep into denial does one have to be to even begin hinting at a major product launch at a time when everyone's mind is on survival and nobody's future is certain? About as deep as our friends from Redmond, who believe that Windows 7 is akin to the Second Coming, or more appropriately, its Seventh Coming.

What makes this story so interesting is that Microsoft is a brand that's never really been a brand. Sure, it's a very successful company, but as I've written previously, there's no brand there. Even Microsoft fans can't agree on why Microsoft is their brand of choice, unless you corner them in a dark alley, where they'll admit they use the stuff because everyone else does. That's not brand loyalty. That's brand coercion.

More proof that Microsoft is an identity with no concept of brand was revealed as the behemoth introduced its successor to Vista, ignobly christened Windows 7 . What's wrong with that name, you may ask? Plenty, unless you're a company that's grown so large and so imposing as to believe it can function autonomously, totally without regard for the rest of the world's opinion.

In the first place, the nomenclature deviates wildly from its predecessor's, namely, the ill-fated Vista. Microsoft, never one to publicly admit its gaffes, still hasn't copped to the less-than-ecstatic market embrace of Vista. What it has done is decide to name the new product with absolutely no reference to Vista, a passively aggressive nod to the notion that Vista's performance was something less than stellar. When you're really happy with a branded product, you launch line extensions the same way a proud papa names his sons: There's Dad, Dad Junior, Dad the Third, and so forth. Hey, if it can work for the Kings of England, it can work for software.

But the dopiness doesn't stop there. While good product names are always born from good branding strategies, the converse is also true: Horrible names hail from non-existent brand strategies. Such is the case with Windows 7. If you doubt that, try asking anyone -- including Microsoft users -- if they recall Windows 6. Or Windows 5. You're likely to get that puzzled dog expression, because nobody recalls them. But Microsoft, in its infinite wisdom, rationalizes the name by gazing deeply into its own navel and pulling out the fact that the system is indeed the seventh incarnation of the Windows platform.

Anyone care? I doubt it. More to the point, does the name carry any significant importance to anyone, about anything, other than the Microsoft honchos?

If you really want to know how Windows 7 got its name, I can venture a pretty good guess: There they were, standing in front of a focus group -- probably many focus groups -- asking the participants questions like, "What kind of feelings do you have about Windows? About Vista?" And then they asked the question they hated themselves for asking:

"Who does a good job of naming their software?"

You can guess whose name came out on top: Apple. With their System 6, System 7, System 8, System 9 -- and in a sensible progression that conveyed the dramatic shift of platforms -- OS X. Once again, Microsoft, arguably one of the world's largest and most successful companies found itself playing catch-up to a competitor who can barely claim a 7% share of market.

Makes you really look forward to Windows 8, doesn't it?

Friday, October 24, 2008

Bush's Socialism Shortens the Recession

I know I'm just a branding guy, but you have to remember that a big part of branding is about the linkage between how the brand is perceived and what the brand delivers . I constantly tell my clients that "Brand is not product. Brand is brand. Products are proof of what the brand promises.

Which leaves me somewhat confused regarding everyone's misperception of what Socialism actually is and is not.

Don't get me wrong, I'm a firm believer that the business of America is business. As far as I'm concerned, if General Motors and Bank of America go down, you might as well use your dollar bills for kindling after the power goes out. The American economy is way too important to the entire planet to be allowed to falter and die. The global economy is, to the chagrin of some, far more global than anyone really cared to admit. It being the most coveted market in the world, if the United States goes down, it takes the fortunes of every off-shore enterprise with it. Flushed along with your domestic job are thousands of foreign dependents, knocking out the foundations of other countries' economies, the strongest of which barely hold their own even in good times.

So it makes sense to me to help things along. Just as a father instills character in his kids by providing matching funds for their cars instead of simply buying them, I see no real issue with bolstering support for a national economy that drives the international economy. I especially have no problem when (as has happened in the past) the government program turns a modest profit for its taxpayers. What could be more capitalistic than that?

Yet there are Conservatives out there who object to the program as Socialism. In one sweeping move, they decry any means of injecting a speedball into our national economic arteries as socialistic. Curiously, the Socialism to which they object carries over to tax increases, but doesn't attach itself as easily to tax cuts. Aren't both products of government intervention? Even if you subscribe to this latest definition of Socialism, shouldn't it apply equally across the board?

More to the point, if Conservatives insist on calling the bailouts Socialism, aren't they labelling George W. Bush, arguably the most conservative president in American history, a Socialist?

I can't answer that one just yet, but one thing I can tell you is that this "recession" isn't going to last nearly as long as anyone in the media thinks. Despite the volatility of the stock market, there's still plenty of money out there. And it's the smart money guys that are going to make sure this recession doesn't last long. You want to know why? Because it's way too huge a profit opportunity, that's why. Here's the proof:

You may have read about all the vanishing wealth from this economic turbulence. Really? According to Reuters, October 24, 2008, it hasn't vanished at all. It's simply been diverted from commodities like oil into real estate:

Sales of previously owned U.S. homes rose 5.5 percent last month, the biggest gain since July 2003, and the inventory of unsold homes fell, a hopeful sign for a housing market mired in a long slump...The National Association of Realtors said on Friday that sales of existing homes rose to a 5.18 million-unit annual rate from the 4.91 million unit pace set in August. Economists had expected sales to rise to only a 4.93 million unit rate.

Still think I'm nuts? Check back several blogs ago, when I went on the record to state that gas prices at the pump would start falling just as soon as the market manipulators grabbed their profits from that little panic. Never before have oil prices jumped as high and then fallen as fast as they did in 2008 -- totally according to plan:

Hmmm. Where can we put all that money, do you suppose? Why, in foreclosed real estate , of course! It's next on the buy-low-sell-high circuit. And as soon as all that capital quietly snaps up all those foreclosures, guess what's next? Institutional stocks. Banks. Industrials. All those companies that the smart money boys need to rehab and finance those foreclosures they just bought.

Housing prices recover. Companies start hiring again. The consumer economy breathes new life. And Joe SixPack gets his home equity back, enabling him buy that 60 inch plasma television which, after five years, will be paid off at twice the price it should have cost.

And who do we have to thank for this quicker recovery? America's first Socialist president, George W. Bush.

I mean, it was his idea, right?

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Obama/Biden Taps Glinda

In October, 2008, there are really only two issues that anyone is interested in discussing. One is the global economy (or lack thereof) and the other is the campaign for the presidency of the United States of America. I'm no economist, but I've lived through enough up markets and down markets to know that civilization as we know it simply can't exist without a global economy. I also know that as long as greed ranks within the top three human vices, no economy can stay bearish forever.

Besides, the media likes to harp on "the worst economy since the Great Depression." What more could I possibly add to hype like that? Especially when half of the talking heads were five years old during the 1987 market correction?

Of course, what those talking heads are experienced in, all they've ever known, is what the rest of us like to call the Culture of Fear. This is why they continue to "report" every news story as if it were the next Black Death. They simply don't know any better. I've written quite a bit in this blog about the Culture of Fear. For those of you who aren't familiar with its effect, it's the reason why people switched from marketing their goods with "Be the first on your block" to "Don't let is happen to you!"

Living in fear is an awful thing. You're afraid of eating the wrong thing. Saying the wrong thing. Doing the wrong thing. In a fearful environment, terrorists are always just around the corner. The other driver is never careful. And politicians aren't who or what they seem to be.

This is why negative campaigning has, until recently, been so effective in politics. It's a whole lot easier to cast suspicion on the other guy than it is to work hard on being a better alternative to that guy. I suppose negative tactics work to an extent. After all, nose-diving jetliners into American real estate is enough to add credibility to just about any perceived threat. But decades of xenophobic fear-mongering does take its toll. Which is the secret to Barack Obama's latest brand surge.

If you look carefully, Obama and Biden have chosen their tactics quite judiciously. The closest they ever get to disparaging McCain and Palin is by associating them with Bush and Cheney. And even then, they don't bring out the warning lights. They simply let the truth speak for itself: "If you actually like where Bush and Cheney have brought you, they maintain, you're going to love McCain and Palin." Other than that, neither Obama nor Biden have done anything to strike fear into the hearts of Americans. In fact, they've striven to do just the opposite.

Just as Glinda the Good Witch reassures the Munchkins in The Wizard of Oz, Obama and Biden have replaced the fear factor with reassurance, positioning themselves as the messengers of good news:

Come out, come out, wherever you are,
and meet the young lady, who fell from a star.
She fell from the sky, she fell very far
and Kansas, she says, is the name of the star.
She brings you good news.
Or haven't you heard?
When she fell out of Kansas
A miracle occurred.

Okay, so Glinda was off by one state. But by enlisting the perspective of Glinda, Obama and Biden become the harbingers of the best news possible: At last, we have someone in control who can solve our problems. The accusations and finger-pointing to which the American public has become numb is being displaced by two guys who are actually offering up answers and suggesting positive solutions. It almost doesn't matter if their solutions don't work. The fact that they're not fear-based is new, fresh and something for which the voting public has been aching.

And, unfortunately, something of which neither John McCain nor Sarah Palin seem to be aware.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Palin's Perception of Pain

There's no question that the only Vice Presidential debate of 2008 was a ratings bonanza. The latest media audits report that well over 70 million people watched the 90 minute match-up between Alaska's Governor Sarah Palin and Senator Joe Biden. I'm not going to bore anyone with who won or lost. The last thing America needs is one more analysis of an event that clearly needed none. As far as I'm concerned you can justify your vote whichever way you wish. After all that's what everyone else is doing.

And that's the part of this election that bugs me the most. Immediately after the debate, notoriously conservative FOX News was polling its own in-house studio audience as to who won the debate and, not surprisingly, found for the Alaskan governor. Not long after that, left-leaning MSNBC had poll figures indicating that among undecided voters, the senator from Delaware was winning by a two-to-one margin.

The winner, it would seem, was determined by the political agenda being driven by any given medium reporting it.

In this, perhaps the first not-only-white-men-get-to-play election, a curious development has occurred, where even the appearance of respect for the office has been displaced by a supreme lack of appropriate behavior by the people running. Believe me, I'm thrilled that the election of 2004 was the last of the all-white-men-only contests. What doesn't sit well with me is the degeneration of the contest into a fad-frenzied spinfest, centered totally around people and personalities, instead of on the offices for which they're campaigning.

Can any student of history imagine Lyndon Johnson winking and mugging at his audience? John Kennedy dodging questions from a moderator? Abraham Lincoln preserving the union with a "shout out" to his third grade elementary school? At what point do we reconcile a candidate's inappropriate behavior with his or her qualifications to hold office?

It's not terribly difficult to pick away at both candidates for their political views. But I'm not a political analyst. I'm a branding guy. And as anyone who knows me can tell you, I'm all about the perception that people, products -- and yes, politicians -- send out to their consuming public. A big part of that perception has to do with consistency and credibility. In other words, what you say has to jibe with the way you say it.

When you're second to the leader of the free world, people need to hear straight answers to the questions that are put to you, not those for which your media trainer has coached you. When your finger is one heartbeat away from the button, people need to know that you've got something more than a wink and wisecrack driving your decisions.

When you're staring down Iranians, Russians and North Koreans, light-hearted references to Joe Sixpack don't quite cut it.

Personally, I think it's great that the election of 2008 broke the white/male barrier into a million little pieces. And I'm glad that a conservative Senator like John McCain considered a woman to be his running mate. Too bad McCain chose the wrong woman without considering her public perception.

It will likely prove to be the deciding factor in race...the losing one, of course.