By: Hillel Fuld (@hilzfuld)
If you were within twenty miles of the worldwide web this week, you must have heard that Steven Sinofsky, the president of both Microsoft’s Windows and Windows Live divisions, is leaving the company, effective immediately.
It’s all anyone seems to be talking about and for once, the buzz is justified. If there is one man that is the father of Windows 8, which as I wrote last week, is Microsoft’s biggest undertaking in decades, it is Sinofsky.
Why don’t we talk for a second about the challenges Microsoft faces in the coming months. Yesterday. Ballmer, who after hearing speak recently, is one of my favorite people in tech, was quoted as saying that Surface sales are off to a “modest” start.
That did not do great things for Microsoft who needs to be screaming success from all possible hilltops. Microsoft PR jumped in and said that the CEO simply meant that the company is starting off with a modest distribution model. As in, consumers can only get the Surface online and in limited Microsoft stores, not any other big chains. Great, glad you cleared that up.
But why is it that Microsoft had to come out with that “correction” so urgently? Simple. People like to be associated with success. Microsoft, with its new cool Surface ads, and an objectively well-built tablet, was in the process of getting its mojo back. It was on the long road to mobile relevance. Except when the CEO says their flagship product is selling “modestly”, he might as well have taken out a shotgun, pointed it at his foot, and pulled the trigger.
So Microsoft needs to communicate success. How does it do that? It does that by telling consumers that the Microsoft of 2012 is not the Microsoft of 2008-2011 as far as mobile is concerned. No more half-baked products, no more platforms that never reach mainstream consciousness, and no more horrible branding mistakes.
Well, Microsoft was doing a fairly decent job communicating that as I mentioned in my previous post. Then they go and do something like this…
The news is so fresh that all we have at this point are speculations about exactly what happened there. The thing is, it doesn’t really matter. It doesn’t matter if Sinofsky left or was asked to leave. If there is a list of things Microsoft should avoid right now (and by right now, I mean until Windows 8 reaches any sort of decent traction), letting the father of Windows 8 leave and causing these kinds of waves is at the very top.
You know what this piece of news communicates? Remember all the points that I said Microsoft needs to communicate above? Now reverse them and that is what Microsoft is saying here. This is the best and most important product you have released in decades? Really? Then why is the person behind it abandoning ship?
Windows 8 is a fight to the death and Microsoft is going all in with no intentions of stopping at anything? Then why is the person responsible for the success of this platform leaving?
Sinofsky leaving Microsoft is possibly the worst thing that could have happened to Microsoft’s branding and communication right now. No, not possibly. It is the number worst thing that could have happened and Microsoft should have taken a nice chunk of that $1.5 billion marketing budget and given Sinofsky a raise, if that was what was needed.
I dare say, this news will pretty much deem all the clever marketing the company has done for Windows 8 in the past few months, worthless. Can they come back from this PR disaster? If anyone can, Microsoft can, but if they thought they had their work cut out for them before this development, they just entered a whole new ball game and I for one hope, Ballmer himself understands that. If he doesn’t, I can predict right now who the next to go will be.