Nick Eaton’s Microsoft blog for the Seattle PI announced yesterday that Microsoft’s CEO Steve Ballmer would once again be giving the opening keynote at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas on January 5th 2011. In my opinion having Steve open CES is a strategic error on the part of the company.
Microsoft has a perception problem; It is viewed as a consumer company when at its heart it is really an enterprise platforms company. For over ten years that mistaken assumption has depressed the stock price, caused the company to set expectations that his has failed to deliver on and has massively undervalued the assets of the company.
The sad thing about this «Crisis in Perception» is that its largely of the company’s own making. Microsoft’s global brand marketing and PR engines continue to promote the false view of Microsoft as a consumer company. Lifestyle commercials like the «I’m a PC» campaign would be perfect coming from a Coca Cola or Nike. Coming from Microsoft they very dangerously reinforce a mistaken impression of what Microsoft is. Steve Ballmer standing on stage at the 'Consumer' Electronics Show does exactly the same.
You would have thought the company would have learned their lesson from the PR mess which followed Steve showcasing HP’s slate computer during last year’s CES keynote. You need no other evidence to understand just how much Microsoft is not a consumer company. Steve was set up to use the HP slate as a counter to Apple’s expected launch of the iPad. Within six months the HP Slate was canceled, HP was buying Palms assets and the iPad became the fastest selling consumer device in history. Where did that leave Microsoft; looking ridiculous, even less clear about its counter strategy to Apple and still dependent on partners who can and will change their loyalties at the drop of a hat.
There’s only one scenario under which I would have Steve get up on stage at CES in 2011: If Microsoft is going to unveil a branded, clearly class leading computing device in which they control the complete end-to-end consumer experience. If that is not what the company is ready to talk about then anything else is likely to be putting just one more nail in the coffin.