Saturday Dec 30, 2006

Bribery 2.0

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 product marketing.

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.

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woodjr

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