A lot of people are talking about
Microsoft's recent giveaway of fancy
new laptops (preloaded with Windows Vista) to influential bloggers. Some are calling it a
terrible breach of ethics by both Microsoft and any accepting bloggers. I don't agree.
Instead, I think
Robert Scoble's take is right on. In short, he says that Microsoft is smart to try to get bloggers talking about its
product, and that bloggers can ethically choose to accept such an offer so long as they disclose
it in their writing. Sounds right to me.
That does not mean, however, that Microsoft couldn't do a better job of executing on its
intentions. For a model, I would recommend Sun's
"Try and Buy" program. (Yes,
Sun is my employer and that makes me biased--but it doesn't necessarily make me wrong.)
This program allows anyone to receive a variety of Sun hardware products for a free 60-day
evaluation. Sun even pays the shipping costs in both directions.
Now obviously these are different programs. But at their core, I think both are forms of
loss leaders intended to help products gain increased exposure (and, the companies hope,
subsequent increased sales). Where I think Sun gains the high ground is with its true
grass-roots approach. Participants don't have to be on any special prescreened list. Some
will turn out to be IT pros with big budgets, some will turn out to be bloggers with large
audiences, and some will turn out to be friendless and living in their mom's basement.
That's okay. I would argue that it's better to be too broad with special treatment than to
narrow; better to give everyone access and rely on probability to catch the movers and
shakers than to try to identify them up front. I'm not sure what to call it. Maybe
it's the difference between a shotgun and a sniper rifle. Maybe it's the difference between
top-down and bottom-up thinking. Or maybe it's just better use of new media concepts in
Whatever it's called, I think Sun's approach has more "get it" factor than Microsoft's.
Like open source ideas are doing for software and Web 2.0 ideas are doing for content, this
kind of modern marketing should be about enabling a bubble-up meritocracy. No one can
guarantee ahead of time who the key influencers will be for a particular product. So the
best thing a vendor can do is to improve access for everyone and then let the market of
ideas do the rest.
Again, I'm not suggesting that Microsoft (or anyone else) is wrong to provide special access
for targeted influencers. I just think it's better to start by providing open access for all
and treating targeted add-ons as an afterthought than to do things the other way around.