Microsoft the most respected brand–how’d that happen?

May 18, 2007

I’ve seen several studies in the last couple of years that show that Microsoft (our neighbor here in the Pacific Northwest) is now the most respected brand, or company, or name or whatever. This is truly remarkable and if it is indeed the case, it should be studied by all of us involved in reputation management. Because it was only a few very short years ago that the name was almost universally hated, it had more blog sites attacking it than anyone else, it was always in the news in a most negative fashion. It was accused of being a bully, driving others out of business, doing all kinds of things illegally–mostly related to aggressive business tactics.

I’d like crisisblogger readers to share their thoughts. Here are a few possible explanations:

– Microsoft communications became much more transparent, particularly with their blog policy that enabled thousands of employees to openly blog about the company (this is Robert Scoble’s primary explanation)

– Bill Gates left the CEO position and others, particularly Steve Ballmer became much more visible

– Bill Gates became one of history’s greatest philanthropists

– Their products stopped sucking (I’m writing on a Mac–what do you think I think)

– Their business practices changed, they became less mean and aggressive

– All the lawsuits made them a victim of aggressive prosecutors and lawyers

– press coverage went through the cycle of build up, tear down and now build up again

My opinion? All of these had some minimal impact, the biggest thing that changed was Google. The simple principle is that we all hate a monopoly and we deeply distrust anyone with unchecked power. Power corrupts… Google demonstrated that there was someone to check the power of Microsoft, someone to challenge their market position and even someone who could make them look vulnerable. We love vulnerable.

If this is the case, what does this mean for crisis managers and reputation managers? That the environment you operate in may have more to do with reputation than anything you can do or say. This is critically important because I see lots of evidence everyday that people are not really studying or understanding the reputation environment they operate in. One company that seems to understand this is Toyota. This remarkably successful manufacturing machine has overtaken GM in the US and is overtaking it in the world as the world’s biggest car company. Of course, for profitability they overtook them a long, long time ago. They are nervous as heck about getting to such a strong position. They are not a monopoly for sure, but they have good reason to be fearful of the “ginormous successful global giant” label in this environment. You can see evidence of their thinking all around–promoting US manufacturing plants to the US market–they are sellling their plants more than their cars these days. And branding new lines not with the Toyota name but introducing other names like Scion.

Despite this, I predict a growing “I hate Toyota” movement. It’s just in the air we breathe.


3 Responses to “Microsoft the most respected brand–how’d that happen?”

  1. Ken Beegle Says:

    Another contributing factor is weblogs / the developers at Microsoft becoming the marketing. I’d argue that beginning with Robert Scoble’s work at Microsoft demonstrating a more honest and at times self critical view, a lot of the wind was let out of people’s sails who were anti Microsoft. Now with the number of bloggers and news/information coming out of the company, it dilutes the voice of Microsoft haters.

    Also, it is more difficult to hate an individual person than a nebulous corporation. The developers participating in discussions online and off, provides the face of smart developers many of whom are very idealistic.

  2. Jon H Says:

    I think you’re right on the money, Gerald. I would add Wal-Mart to the top of the list of companies that went from lovable success stories as a regional retailer offering solid staple products at a time (1970s and ’80s) when rural communities had few good retailing options, to a mega-success global giant spawning a whole cottage industry of anti-Wal-Mart groups. And there indeed seems to be the possibility of a similar backlash against Toyota. The Japanese automaker has an enviable success story but its strident campaign to paint itself red, white and blue borders on the obnoxious, as do its new Tundra commercials blantantly made in the style of Ford’s long-running F-150 spots.

    So… can Wal-mart repair its reputation? It needs to follow up on steps taken to be an environmental leader, and it needs to do more to improve on its lousy record on fair treatmnet for its workers. And it needs Edelman to quit making blunders like last-year’s flogging across America campaign.

    Is Toyota ripe for a fall? As you say, its Japanese management team is hyper-conscious of a possible backlash and has gone out of its way to speak with humility, even as it steam-rolls anything and everything in its way. Last year’s spate of recals and some slippage in quality seems to have led Toyota to recommit to process improvements,scary given that the company already does so many things right. But Toyota is less accomplished at handling reputational missteps. Twice in the past two years, Toyota’s chairman has said that the compnay felt sorry for its American competitors and would raise prices in an attempt to “help” GM and Ford as the two companies struggled to stanch share losses. This false humility doesn’t sit well with American consumers, to say nothing of the price-fixing laws that it would violate. We shall see…

  3. […] doubt Chairman Toyoda has plenty to worry about. But, as I commented here a long time ago, his biggest worry from a reputation standpoint comes from his success. Strange thing about this […]

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