Microsoft Corp. late last month kicked off a massive product launch with the release of Windows Server 2008, Visual Studio 2008 and SQL Server 2008—technologies designed to increase office productivity.
To unveil the new products, Microsoft held an event in Los Angeles on Feb. 27, featuring a keynote speech by CEO Steve Ballmer, who spoke to a crowd of more than 4,000 software developers, IT professionals and Microsoft partners.
“Today, we get a chance to launch three of the most important new Microsoft products,” Ballmer said. “And I see each and every one of them as simply an enabler of the kind of heroes represented here in this room and in the IT and software development community around the world.”
“Heroes Happen Here” is the theme of the launch, and the $150 million campaign to promote it features software developers and IT professionals as unsung heroes who are transforming business and society.
While the new-product introduction is being billed as the largest enterprise launch ever for Microsoft, its marketing budget lags those of other big efforts by the company, such as its $500 million “People Ready” campaign introduced in 2006, and its $400 million “Realizing Potential” campaign in 2002.
However, while those campaigns were more horizontal branding efforts, targeting both consumers and businesses, “Heroes Happen Here” is Microsoft's largest enterprise effort targeting the IT community with a fully integrated campaign.
“The ad campaign is a nice touch for a lot of IT professionals,” said Christopher Voce, an analyst at Forrester Research. “IT pros often don't get a lot of attention until something breaks.”
The “Heroes Happen Here” campaign was developed by McCann Erickson, San Francisco, and includes print, online and events.
“One thing that's different since 2003 [when Windows Server first debuted] is that we didn't buy any TV at all,” said Bob Visse, senior director of Microsoft's Windows Server division. “A significant portion of it is online, and we still have a big percent of the audience reading IT magazines, so we invest a lot in print ads. Just five years ago, we spent a lot of money on TV.”
He declined to disclose how much of the budget was spent online, although Microsoft has stated that it intends to shift at least half its marketing budget to online in the next two years.
“Heroes Happen Here” is an umbrella campaign intended to drive software developers and IT professionals to events taking place in 225 locations around the world, where they can learn about the new products.
In addition, Microsoft kicked off a product-driven campaign called “The Server Unleashed,” also developed by McCann Erickson, which highlights specific features of the new server, including network access protection.
The ads feature images of a robot running on legs of steel, designed to demonstrate strength and reliability.
“The creative idea and business objective is to further establish ourselves as the most reliable server operating system ever delivered from Microsoft,” Visse said.
“The reason that's important is that since our early entry into the market, we've had some legacy brand perception issues around the reliability of Windows Server. If we have perceptions that we are not the most reliable choice in the marketplace, that is a bad competitive place for us to be. We want to make sure people understand the new benefits and features that increase the reliability of the server product.”
One of the new features is server core installation, which provides a minimal installation option that makes for a more reliable and secure environment.
Another core capability is virtualization, which allows IT professionals to maximize network resources by running multiple operating systems on a single physical server.
“The virtualization solution will be the biggest draw to the product,” said Forrester's Voce. “The first major benefit to virtualization is that it shrinks the physical number of servers that are needed in an organization.”
But Microsoft also faces a challenge in this space, he said. “VMware [a Palo Alto, Calif., software company] is the dominant player in virtualization,” he said, “and right now Microsoft is seen as chasing them.”
Voce added that Microsoft's new marketing campaign has been designed to address some of its challenges.
“They are communicating the story about what they consider to be the overall infrastructure—combining physical and virtual infrastructure management and how that can weave into strategies like highly available disaster recovery solutions for organizations,” he said. “They are really emphasizing those things in their marketing.”
Al Gillen, research VP-systems software at IDC, said the product launch is a significant one for Microsoft, although the company does face some challenges with it.
“It's significant for the simple reason that it's a product around which customers will shift their deployment behaviors,” Gillen said. “We believe that with Windows Server 2008, customers will have to look at the product and step back and decide what they're going to do. Will they embark on 64-bit technology and virtualization? They will have to look at why and where they deploy those technologies.”
Gillen added, “I think the real issue is not that it is complex, rather that it will be time consuming for customers to go through the deployment. Customers will not rush into this product.”
However, Gillen said customers that don't take advantage of some core capabilities like virtualization “will be missing a really good opportunity.” M