Microsoft’s SuperBowl ad was remarkable in a number of ways.

  • First it was extremely thought provoking. It answered that question “What has technology done for us”. This comes at a time when tech entrepreneurs are getting some bad press, particularly here in San Francisco, for excessive and conspicuous wealth.
  • Secondly, it is revealed at the end of the ad that the voice over was being spoken via a computer by NFL player Steve Gleason, who now suffers from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. This was a real kicker and made the ad all the more real and a tearjerker.
  • But finally, it is showing a newer side of Microsoft. One that is not all about product, product, product which would have been the Microsoft of old.

Now, one ad does not make a marketing strategy, so it will be interesting to see how this plays out.

The recent announcement of a new CEO is setting some high expectations for Microsoft to grow and evolve beyond the Balmer-era (or is that Balmer-error). Microsoft needs to be able to engage with customers, both corporate and consumer at a different level than purely product. This product-centric approach has served them very well in the past with hugely profitable product lines of Windows and Office. But those days are over.

As a long term Microsoft Partner and a member of their Worldwide Partner Advisory Panel for 4 years I got early insights and a chance to help shape their strategy around the cloud. Not everything we suggested was acted on – this is still Microsoft!!  So having seen the potential inside Microsoft, I was disappointed to see it stumble over the last few years. As I wrote in a blog a while ago “When your favorite Uncle is no longer cool” it felt like Microsoft was fumbling in the dark for new direction and identity.

Microsoft seems to be finding a renewed level of confidence. Windows Mobile 8 is not up there with the iPhone and Android yet, but it is making great progress when many analysts declared Microsoft’s mobile strategy dead and buried. The cloud strategy is starting to work and feel more connected and consistent. The Xbox gaming platform is a serious player. And the list goes on.

But the challenge that Microsoft and every other traditional software vendor out there is having to come to terms with is “living with less profit”.  Cloud based app subscriptions may be more valuable over the long haul, but the reality is that cloud is not as profitable as on-premise. And that is the bitter pill that Microsoft has been trying to swallow for the last 5 years.

Maybe the SuperBowl ad shows a new dawn for Microsoft. I do hope so.

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