All for the cost of dinner

Steve Rubel pointed this story out:

Last Night Jim Allchin, co-president of Microsoft’s Platforms, Products and Services Division met with a small group of bloggers and technologists here in San Francisco for dinner. The purpose of the dinner was to have an open and broad general discussion about Microsoft, their products and strategies, and general issues in software and technology today.

I’d bet Allchin got more pointed feedback out of that few hours and few hundred dollars over dinner than he could have gotten with a $50,000 focus group. And PR…. here I am writing about how Microsoft is doing something right. Can you imagine such a thing just a few years back? There’s a very key message here:

It’s not about spending money, it’s about having the conversation.

Marketing (and even PR) people tend to see things in terms of how much the budget is. The first step in any new project is asking "What’s my budget". When it comes to interacting with consumers, money is a second step. The first step is to figure out what you’re trying to do, who you’re doing it it with, and who to talk to.

Probably about 60% of my (fairly tiny) budget each year is focused on travel costs (hotel, rental cars, planes). Yes, only about 40% of the budget is divided up on "activities". This isn’t because I don’t have enough money, it’s because working with community is about the conversation, the relationship not the glossy programs.

This isn’t to say that glossy programs don’t have their place. It’s all part of a integrated approach to accomplishing a mission (usually to sell more products). Glossy campaigns are part of what fuel interest in the product line overall within the community. (Think Apple commercials and the Apple iPod community)

Colleagues always ask me "How can we actually talk to consumers". I make a funny hand/arm motion representing me picking a person on my left and moving them to my right. It’s literally that simple –  if you want to talk to someone, ask. If you’re asking the right people, they’ll be happy to join you. After all, everyone likes to feel like they’re the expert on a subject and their opinion is valuable.