Category Archives: product quality

Good Outlook, bad Outlook


Back in the old days, say 2007, if a huge corporation changed a product and you didn’t like it, your options were few: call to complain; write a letter or email to the company president; play your contacts in the press and hope that someone picks up the story.

Times have changed. When Microsoft announced that the 2010 version of its flagship email product Outlook will not render web pages correctly, but instead use Word as a “render engine” to give a strange, squashed version of HTML email inserts such as e-newsletters, users went up in arms. A group started a viral campaign using Twitter and the web site Fixoutlook.org to demand Microsoft rethink its strategy.

An old product change, but new user complaint tools

Microsoft actually made this change already in the 2007 version of Outlook. Prior to that, email newsletters appeared in Outlook laid out exactly like a web page (above left) while the 2007-onward versions of Outlook squished things inside Microsoft Word (above right). The issue will mostly affect marketers who push professionally designed emails into recipients’ In boxes, and could conceivably reduce email newsletter response rates — one of the few remaining bright spots in internet banner advertising CTRs.

User complaints are spreading: The top 10 ad blog Brandflakes led with the headline “Windows users: Another 5 years of crappy email?” and the topic is beginning to trend in Twitter. Microsoft has responded to the campaign noting its Word editor lets users create graphic-rich emails without HTML.

We can only guess at Microsoft’s motive: by entangling email tightly with its PC-based Word software program, it defends the Windows mothership against the rapid movement of users to other online, free, “cloud” communication options.

Unlike back in 2007, Twitter and social media have gotten a giant’s attention. Right or wrong? Look at the choices above and you be the judge.

Marketing lag, or why it’s now safe to buy a Ford


Buddy of ours is shopping for a pickup. First words out of our mouth were: Buy a Toyota. Cause we all know American cars are crap. Like those Ford Explorers that tend to roll over and almost killed two friends of ours in a snow storm or those 7.5 million GM A-Cars that had gas tanks placed dangerously between the rear axle and back bumper perhaps to save costs, ready to rupture if the bumper got tapped …

But wait. We’re wrong! Consumer Reports has just announced Ford SUVs are climbing up the charts in quality, and now greatly outpace those fancy European models. All that bad press Ford and other U.S. automakers got years ago is still stuck in our minds … but CR has recommended not one but six Ford models (Edge, Expedition, Explorer, Explorer Sport Trac, F-150, and Taurus X). Egad!

This is the problem with marketing. CMOs and marketing managers tend to change companies every two years, and when they come in fresh, they immediately launch NEW! IMPROVED! marketing messages trying to establish a name for themselves. But consumers remember. Ford, for one, faces an uphill battle in convincing anyone it can match Toyota in quality — yet Consumer Reports notes that several Ford models are now better than the giant Toyota Tundra 4WD V8.

You can’t change history, but if you work in marketing or advertising, you have to recognize it. While operations works on tomorrow’s quality control, here are a few things to address in your messaging to consumers today:

– What marcom went out in the past 10 years?
– What PR — good or horrible — did your company create in the same period?
– How will prospective customers remember those marketing messages and PR debacles?
– Is your current brand message building upon that history realistically?
– Are you gradually migrating your customer base to a new awareness?
– Or, are you making promises that are wildly out of sync with where you’ve been?

Just a thought. P.S. Be sure to buckle up.

(Note to lawyers: See here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, the debate that Ford may have inflated tire pressures unsafely low to mask high center of gravity here, and the infamous 1973 Edward Ivey “value analysis” memo for GM here.)