March 9, 2010
RED BOOK OF CREATIVE STRATEGY
Not surprisingly, iPrimate believes in evolution. Survival of the fittest is a reality that characterizes every business sector – and, to survive, you’ve got to adapt. However, it’s better if you can plan your evolution rather than having it thrust upon you. Thus, one of my favourite maxims is “Manage change instead of being managed by it.” And managing change is strategy.
The Red Book of Creative Strategy for Microsoft Canada’s Home and Entertainment Division is pure strategy. And, that’s pretty cool. According to the best principles of strategic planning, it was initiated as a courageous, forensic inquiry into how to manage and grow an area of business without any pre-conceived notions of what the solution might be. And that’s not as common as it might sound! If you take a long, honest look at many communication projects, there often isn’t a clear separation between strategy and execution. So what? Well, it’s completely understandable that people (businesses) are driven to get to real, tangible outcomes as soon as possible. However, executional urges often compromise strategic intent, and the result is sometimes less successful than it might otherwise be. In the long term.
The Red Book is, in fact, an encapsulated version of the model that sits at the heart of iPrimate’s strategic process – the Truthtych, which consists of three interconnected pieces – The Challenge, The Situation and The Essential Truth. In the best tradition of strategic planning, this 1,2,3 process is a simple, logical and tenacious wayof getting to the truth of what’s going on – in a particular marketplace, or business environment. The Truthtych supplies the information required to commit to a strategic direction… and the inspiration to do so, as well.
To effectively prepare you to absorb the thinking of the Red Book in the marketplace where it was initially applied, consider the following visual context:
So, now you have a picture in your mind of a marketplace. It’s the home computing marketplace for PC’s. Incidentally… it’s important to realize that for Microsoft – my client – home computing is a very different (and much less well-defined) opportunity than business computing. And it’s also worth considering that, for obvious reasons, home computing comes much more easily to a consumer-oriented company like Apple than it does to Microsoft.
This story actually takes place in the early 2000′s, when home computing was nowhere near as developed as it is today. At the time, Microsoft chose to spend whatever marketing funds it dedicated to home computing on short term, tactical initiatives to build sales at certain times of the year – seasonal, gift-giving times. That’s when consumers tend to buy games and gizmos, which were a big part of the Microsoft Home and Entertainment offering (as you can see in the visual above). However, there was some question about whether this seasonal pattern would continue for all time, and whether it was in Microsoft’s best interests to just pop into view at certain times, and be absent at other times of the year. That question was at the heart this project.
Our job in the Red Book was to find the truth about what was going on. To do so, we started by defining The Challenge. It was pretty simple (as it should be). [EDITORIAL NOTE: iPrimate does not accept multi-page briefs. Just 120 words or less. Your Challenge has to fit on a PowerPoint slide in no less than 24 point type!] Well, in Microsoft’s case, The Challenge was simplicity itself: To get consistent sales – and consistent sales increases – of Microsoft home computing products all year long.
Next, comes The Situation. This is the task of exploring, defining and analyzing the context within which The Challenge is presented – i.e. what’s going on out there? It’s due diligence in research to uncover and understand whatever ‘extenuating circumstances’ are making themselves felt in the marketplace where The Challenge is situated. These circumstances must be taken into account. They must inform all future strategy and tactics.
In the case of this Microsoft Home Computing challenge, it was easy to see that there was plenty going on. In 2003, when this project started, the home computing marketplace was really just beginning to break out of the straitjacket it had been in for the first 20 years of its evolution. The computer’s natural habitat had originally developed as a predominantly masculine domain, populated by a particular animal… the geek. No surprise, then, that “Gifts for Geeks” had been a highly successful holiday promotion for Microsoft for a number of years! However, computers in the home were finally making the transition from the basement to the family room. What kind of adaptation was required to be able to hunt and kill in the new environment?
We identified eight key areas in The Situation, and burned some brain cells in researching them – from consumer apathy re: PC’s, to an unclear Microsoft brand image in this marketplace, to the expanding competitive landscape as cell phones and music players proliferated in the home environment. However, the most important finding that made itself known was the change and growth of PC and Internet usage among women. It was a pretty obvious realization when it came up… I mean, we’re talking about family computing here… but its obviousness is at the heart of the strategic insight – and proof of the iPrimate contention that sometimes you can’t see the wood for the trees!
Here’s the logic train: historically, the computing marketplace has been focused on men; we want to build it with women; women want different things from computing – they’re not interested in features… they want benefits; we’re talking about a place here (the home) where women are very much the prevailing authority; the home is a place where families learn, grow and attempt to find fulfilment – and Mom/Mum/Mama plays a big part in it; we’d better do something to win her trust that is not predicated on just selling another gizmo.
The Essential Truth is where ‘magic’ happens. It’s the primal insight that stems from all that we have learned in our situational analysis, and leads to cracking the code of the assignment. In the case of The Red Book of Strategic Creativity for Microsoft Canada’s Home and Entertainment Division, the Essential Truth was:
Clearly, if Microsoft wants to appeal to mothers, it needs to offer more than just cool toys. Somehow it needs to show that it holds dear some of the same values that thrive in the family/home environment (education, communication, inspiration etc.) If it does so successfully, the company may come to be judged to offer both value and values – and that’s in the eyes of the person who wears the pants (figuratively) in most families.
The message this Essential Truth was communicating loud and clear was that we needed to romance the primary decision-maker in the family into some kind of committed relationship with Microsoft that had more than just a mercantile reason for being. We needed to offer her something that was substantial, meaningful and relevant in the family context – not just a frivolous flurry of bits and bytes. And, we needed to build this relationship over time, because true love takes time. Infatuation doesn’t – and we weren’t interested in that.
So, what evolved from this strategic analysis was Microsoft Home Magazine.
I like to think it’s a tribute to the initial concept – drawn from the Red Book of Strategic Creativity – that Microsoft Home Magazine is still alive more than 7 years after launch – www.microsoft.com/canada/home/ But you really have to know the Microsoft culture to understand why that is a tribute. Ideas and executions come and go very fast at Microsoft. And, very often – and not surprisingly – when they die, it’s because they’re not making a buck. However, to win the long-term customer, you have to be prepared to not make a buck. Until the long-term. Does that sound like Microsoft?
It’s a delicious dilemma – and Microsoft Home Magazine is somewhere in the middle of it.
Damned proud to be part of the deliciousness!