Doodling for Profits – The Blue Monster reaches Business Week!

Hugh and Steve, get a well deserved mention in Business Week!  Excerpt follows the break.  Rock on Guys!

In the fall of 2006, a group of senior European executives at Microsoft (MSFT) entered a meeting expecting to see a PowerPoint presentation. Instead, Steve Clayton—then the chief technology officer for Microsoft’s U.K. Partner Group—showed them a hand-drawn image of an impish blue creature bearing gnarled fangs and sporting the provocative caption “Microsoft: Change the world or go home.” After a few initial gasps, recalls Clayton, the attendees engaged in a lively discussion around the current direction of the company and the brand. “People liked the way it changed the angle of conversation,” Clayton says.

The image was not the product of Microsoft’s marketing department or an ad agency, but of cartoonist, writer, and marketing strategist Hugh MacLeod—a friend of Clayton. Ever since MacLeod sent the cartoon to Clayton and posted it on his blog, gapingvoid ( more than a year ago, the “blue monster” character has become an unofficial corporate mascot among many Microsoft employees, posted in cubicles, printed on business cards and T-shirts, and added to e-mail signatures. “I’m told it always leads to an interesting, atypical Microsoft conversation,” says MacLeod—the result he had hoped for.

A Blue Monster Special Reserve!


Congratulations to Hugh and Steve on the announcement of Stormhoek’s Blue Monster reserve!  

Blue Monster hits the Financial Times.  How cool is that?

Microsoft launches a tipple for techies

Tonight, a select group will gather in a bar in London’s Soho to quaff a crisp, South African white wine bottled in their honour.

The hand-picked guests toasting the new vintage are not, however, wine connoisseurs but techies. The gathering marks the launch of the Blue Monster Reserve label, created by winery Stormhoek for Microsoft and its employees.

Own-label wine and personalised bottles have become increasingly popular in the corporate world, particularly among investment banks, as gifts to clients and offered to guests of corporate events. The companies hope the corporate vintages will add an air of class and sophistication to their image.

But unlike customised wine bottles given by banks and law firms to clients, this label did not originate in Microsoft’s corporate communications headquarters.

Hugh MacLeod, a cartoonist, blogger and marketing strategist for Stormhoek, created the Blue Monster image after getting to know Microsoft employees.

Mr MacLeod met these “Microsofties” through his day job. “We sponsored a series of ‘geek dinners’ for bloggers and techies in the US and the UK,” he said. “I met a lot of people from Microsoft through these dinners, and they all said the same thing: we want to change the world.

That notion of a kinder, gentler Microsoft is at odds with its cut-throat corporate image. Critics have accused the software giant of abusing its dominant position and of stifling innovation in the industry. In 2003, the European Commission found Microsoft guilty of uncompetitive practices and levied a record €497m ($689m, £342m) fine. The result of its appeal against that decision is due on Monday.

The cartoon of a sharp-toothed blue creature and its tagline, “Microsoft – change the world or go home”, has now been adopted by some Microsoft employees and fans as a symbol of the company’s innovation.

“People see Microsoft as a big, bad corporate monster,” Mr MacLeod said. “Yet all the Microsofties I’ve spoken to say they just want to make great products and do good works. It was obvious that Microsoft had to get better at telling their story.”

“Wine is a social object, and so is the Blue Monster: they both inspire conversation,” he said. “And we thought the cartoon would look really cool on a bottle.”

Steve Clayton, chief technology officer at one of Microsoft’s UK affiliates and a nine-year veteran of the company, said Blue Monster reminded people that Microsoft “has a sense of fun and humour”.

Mr Clayton has been at the forefront of the Blue Monster movement: he uses the image on his business card and is the administrator of a “Friends of Blue Monster” Facebook group.

“[Microsoft’s HQ] has been very supportive of us using the Microsoft name alongside the Blue Monster image,” Mr MacLeod said. It makes sense; they’ve been around for about 30 years and are trying to reinvent themselves to embrace a new generation.”

Blue Monster-branded bottles will be available only to Microsoft and its affiliates. “We have no intention of selling the product outside Microsoft,” said Jason Korman, Stormhoek’s chief executive. “The wine itself only went live last week, and already we’ve had massive interest from different parts of the company.”

Mr Clayton readily admits the Blue Monster movement, despite his involvement, is outside any influence from Microsoft: “[The cartoon] has encouraged a whole new series of conversations by people who are passionate about Microsoft, both internally and externally. Blue Monster is a community which has developed its own distinct identity.”

For Mr MacLeod, the Blue Monster represents a revolution of sorts. “We started an underground movement within Microsoft, and we knew one day the guys in suits would finally take notice. That moment has finally arrived.”

If so, it will be marked in true internet-era style: not with an act of anarchy but a clink of glasses.


Steve Clayton and his Blue Monster

 The Blue Monster

I was lucky enough to interview Steve Clayton at Microsoft’s UK headquarters at Reading on Monday. Steve is the Chief Technical Officer for the Microsoft Partner Group. Along with his team, he manages Microsoft’s relationship with 35,000 partners across the UK. Maintaining an excellent relationship with so many Partners is a key priority on Steve’s list, I was interested in how he manages this challenge. 

I was also interested to hear Steve’s insights into the challenges and issues faced by SME’s in the UK today. In particular, how the new breed of web technologies can help to raise small business profiles. The highlights of the interview are detailed below. Steve is also an active blogger. However, his blog is somewhat different from other Microsoft blogs in that its not product specific, more a general overview of the industry.

In reading his posts, you’ll discover he’s an avid Liverpool FC supporter, a big fan of BBC’s Dragon’s Den and one of his top five CD’s is Blue Lines from Massive Attack. The blog balances his Microsoft and personal interests in such a way that is both informative, interesting and stimulates a conversation. How many people reading this post, would expect that from a Microsoft employee?

Steve’s approach is not to force a Microsoft sale upon his readers. Instead, he promotes goodwill. Across Steve’s team there are 14 active bloggers with a combined readership view of over two million. Therefore, I’m not the only one that sees the ‘goodwill’ approach as compelling. In fact, a large proportion of the readers of his blog are not Microsoft Partners at all. Readers, (including myself), enjoy reading his daily thoughts on technology.

Having spent over an hour with Steve on Monday, I truly believe that he is a hidden gem at Microsoft UK.  In fact, in my opinion he is Microsoft UK’s answer to Robert Scoble.

Of course, he is passionate about technology. However, his passion strives further. He is equally passionate in helping SME’s and Partners to be more successful. In an open message to Microsoft UK’s Managing Director, Gordon Frazer. Can we have more bloggers like Steve Clayton please? 

The Blue Monster campaign (read below) grabs my attention, sparks a conversation and builds a bridge. As a Microsoft end user and as a customer, I would like to see more of this.

Interview Highlights

Q. What is the Blue Monster and how did its story come about?

“I met Hugh MacLeod at a Girl Geek Dinner in London around 8 months ago. We got into a discussion about Microsoft and Robert Scoble. Hugh, expressed the opinion that Microsoft needed a new way to tell its story to the public. Hugh comes from an advertising background and in the wake of Microsoft’s Department of Justice troubles, he felt that the company could benefit from a new way to reach out to consumers”.

“Hugh enjoys drawing cartoons and one day, he sent the Blue Monster cartoon to a few Microsoft guys, including me and Robert Scoble. Hugh’s vision was that the Blue Monster signalled a rebirth and re-growth of company, that was taking on another complete change within the I.T. industry. The I.T. landscape had evolved with Software as a Service and the whole Web 2.0 phenomenon. Looking at it from the outside, could Microsoft go into another round with a different set of competitors and come out and do well?”

“Hugh stated that the cartoon was something that we could either use, or discard. Well, I decided to use it and hence why it is now on my business card. When I first got these [Blue Monster] cards printed, I used to hand them out together with my standard Microsoft business card. However, I quickly discovered that people would keep the Blue Monster card and give me back my standard Microsoft business card!”

“The beauty of the Blue Monster is that it is open to interpretation. It could represent Microsoft saying that we are going to change the world, or we are going to go home. Or, it could represent customers saying, Microsoft you do change the world, if you don’t get that then go home! It can be seen from so many different angles. If Blue Monster had been launched as a corporate campaign, it would have likely died a death. People, would have said that Microsoft is just trying to be cool. Its just not about that. It comes from the grass roots level and hopefully, that’s where it will stay”.

“Blue Monster and its slogan of, change the world or go home drives a lot of the thinking on my blog. What I really want to do, is change people’s perception of Microsoft. At the end of the day, these 4 buildings [Microsoft HQ] that we are sat in, are home to a bunch of regular people who care about their job, passionate about what they do and are passionate about this company. Unfortunately, not many people get to see that. So that’s what my blog has been about, exposing these 4 grey buildings out to a public that actually, I think wants to get to know us a little bit better”.

Q. Can you share any insights of SME’s today?

“What we have have seen is that technology is allowing smaller companies into more places more often. An internal phrase we use at Microsoft is, ‘making your business look bigger than it is’. The advances in technologies such as Wi-Fi, broadband and mobile devices means that SME’s can do their business anywhere. However, it appears as if they are in more places than they actually are. We have a number of good examples of small businesses that are doing just that”.

Q. What techniques have worked best for you to get your message out there?

“Blogging has been the biggest thing to get the message out there. That has driven other things like the Blue Monster cards. I also get involved in community events. For example, Chinwag run a series of monthly events in London and I also attend Sarah Blow’s London Girl Geek Dinners where I meet lots of different people. I’ve recently joined the Board of the British Interactive Media Association. Getting out into the community and public speaking all help to stimulate the conversation”.

“From the feedback I receive, there is a clear interest in the stuff I talk about and the way we talk about it. I’m convinced that people want to have a relationship with Microsoft. There are other prolific Microsoft bloggers such as Eileen Brown, who is driving a really strong message to get more women into I.T. Then there’s Darren Strange, also known as the Office Rocker! Darren is our Product Manager for Microsoft Office, very well known and a great blogger”.

“I would say there are about a core group in the UK of about 20 really good, almost Professional Microsoft bloggers, who have similar mantra to me. Blogging allows us to put a public face to the company, whether its about us talking about a Microsoft product, division or a particular aim”.

Q. What communication techniques did you try that didn’t work?

“When I first started my blog it didn’t work. I’m fortunate that I’ve got some good friends, particularly in the Partner community. They told me honestly that they did not enjoy reading my blog. Right at the start, I was writing about things that always had a Microsoft angle, a product or a piece of technology. Ultimately it took me some time to find my voice during blogging”.

“Whilst out for a pint, I asked a friend about what he thought about my blog. He said it was okay but he wasn’t reading it all that much. When I asked why? He replied that he felt that I was trying to push the product a bit too much. I then asked what he wanted from my blog? He replied, What I want, is the conversation that we usually have down at our local pub. That is probably what most of your readers want and would quite enjoy. An open, frank and fairly random conversation at times. This is where my blog is now. At times, it makes me nervous because there’s quite a lot on my blog which has nothing to do with Microsoft”.

Q. What do you think are the major problems faced by small businesses in the UK today?

“Time and awareness. There’s a huge amount of things a small business can do. Such as, promoting themselves on the web, Search Engine Optimisation and having a blog. Most businesses are too busy trying to run their business and have little about what I.T. can truly do for them. Web 2.0 is a good phrase for the I.T. industry, but most people do not understand what it represents. My mother has no clue as to what Web 2.0 is. However, she knows what a blog is. Actually, she didn’t know what a blog was but when I told her it was my online diary, she then started to read it”.

“So, our challenge is really, time and putting this Web 2.0 stuff in a language that everyone can easily understand”.

Q. If you could offer an SME once piece of advice, what would it be?

“My one simple piece of advice to a small business is simple. ‘Go Blogging’! I’ve seen what it can do for companies. My favourite example is English Cut, which is discussed in Naked Conversations. If a small tailor on Saville Row can go on to build a business through blogging, then anyone can. Go Blogging, is about differentiating your business and telling your story. In essence, it is about imparting some knowledge and adding some value to your reader and potential customer”.

The Long Tail has proved that no matter how bizarre your niche, there is a market out there. The important thing to realise is that as long as you have something interesting to say, are not over selling and your message is consistent, honest and authentic, it will work. I’m absolutely convinced it will work for any business”.

Thank you Steve.

Why small firms should blog…

Credit goes to Steve Clayton (Microsoft) for this post on his blog.

An article was published by Phil Muncaster in the UK’s IT Week magazine (October 9th 2006) – that was entitled “Businesses failing to cash in on blogs”. It got me thinking.

“According to research of 2000 UK SME’s by Fasthosts that Phil quoted, nearly half of SME firms understand the business benefits of corporate blogs (which I doubt highly) but only 3% have plans to start one”. Mad eh? Here is why Steve thinks they should:

It’s a differentiator: clearly this research shows your competitors are not blogging so maybe you should? Get in there early, lead the way and grab your audience. That’s what English Cut did with significant commercial success.
Your customers will soon expect it: well they will as soon as your competitors give them a way to talk to them and have an ongoing dialogue in a way this is becoming increasingly common. If Dell, GM, Carphone Warehouse and others are doing it (and benefiting) shouldn’t you be?
It’s not as hard as you think: creating a good blog is time consuming but it’s getting easier and easier with tools like Technorati helping you raise your profile, Windows Live Writer making it as easy to blog as write a Word document,
You control the message: Steve attended a great seminar with Matthew Stibbe about how to write well (I’ve got lots to learn) and one thing that Steve took away is that ad agencies, PR companies and those kind of tactics have their place but often dilute your core message with marketing doublespeak. When you control the message, it’s likely to be more respected, authentic and honest. Which means people are more likely to listen.
People will find you: Trust me, search engines make you very find-able. I often look at my referrer logs to my blog (use Statcounter for free) and you’d be amazed at how people find you with the most obscure searches on Google imaginable. Write your stuff, do it frequently and be honest and people will find you. Trust me.
The Google effect: I know several small businesses who pay money to appear on Google (and MSN) sponsored ad links. They get some business from it for sure and it’s clearly a good business for Google. Here is my secret though – I have *never* clicked on a sponsored link on Google for the simple reason that it is sponsored – to me it’s artificial and I bet I’m not the only one who loses the use of their right eye when using Google and doesn’t even see that list of sponsored links over there. What does this mean though? Well if you blog often enough and with intelligent use of titles and keywords you will organically rise up the Google rankings. I’ve been amazed at my own rise for pretty broadly used words like Vista so it proves it can be done. I’m pretty sure that if I wanted to appear top of Google’s search for “Chiswick High Street” I could do so within about 3 months with some focused blogging. It’s a reasonably popular search on Google and has low competition for keywords. I setup my CHS store directory, blog about the place, generate some decent traffic and then sell some links to Foxtons, Barnard Marcus, Lom Bok and off we go…hmmm
You will find your voice: the Fasthost research showed people were put off by what to say and how to say it. I was when I started blogging but your friends and customers will soon help you shape that as they did for me. There are tonnes of places to get advice on this anyway and I’ve listed some below. Frankly, that’s just a crap excuse.

Handy Resources

Suw Charman/MSN’s How to Blog for Business – A Guide to Corporate Blogging
ProBlogger’s 31 Days to Building a Better Blog
Beginner’s Guide to Business Blogging – Originally a limited release, now available for free
The Rise and Fall Of The Hit by Chris Anderson
The Corporate Weblog Manifesto by Robert Scoble
Naked Conversations
The HughTrain
The Stormhoek Guide To Wine Blogging

English Cut is a great case study on how a business can promote its services through blogging!
However, are there other small business blogger success stories? Contact me please, I’d love to interview you!