Microsoft's Fake Office - ZOHO's fake office and Google's high road!!!


Earlier last week Ron Markezich, corporate VP of Microsoft Online called ZOHO , Google , Zimbra and the likes - Fake office.

"we're not seeing any inclination that Zoho or Google or Zimbra or any other of those offering fake Office capabilities can replace [Microsoft Office]," he said.

As expected the CEO of ZOHO Corp, Sridhar Vembu "took offense" or sensed a "marketing opportunity" (hopefully the latter) and wrote this blog on why Microsoft was wrong and why they should label Bing the fake search.

So far so good or was it ?

ZOHO created and launched site that had Ron's statement as its central banner message which backed by its video, testimonials, tweets and viral marketing, soon attracted visitors(I am sure the site attracted at least a few hundred thousands).

Wow , what a brilliant marketing idea - you think , but was it ?

Sure the site attracted a few hundred thousand visitors, perhaps a hundred thousand even became ZOHO customers but was this way to go, even if it was, did ZOHO cross the limits. Here is my take .........

i) It was Ron Markezich, one of MSFT's several VP's , not Steve Ballmer, but still ZOHO made such a noise around the statement, making me wonder if ZOHO is so desperate for attention that a random comment by someone is considered worthy enough to be used as a marketing tool by them.

ii) I am sure ZOHO felt comfortable to make all this fuss because it was someone from MSFT (Thanks to all the anti-MSFT crowd out there) who made the statement, wonder how they would have reacted if Eric Schimdt or someone important from Google had made that comment ......

iii) Its ironic that within hours of ZOHO making merry (cruelly if I might add) at the expense of Ron's poor choice of words, ZOHO's Rodrigo Vaca (Director of Marketing) felt it comfortable to call MSFT a "800-lbs gorilla" in the industry in his blog post here

"The question is, what do you do when the 800-lbs gorilla in the industry calls you a fake?"

What more he also adds

" Wow - Thanks! We are overwhelmed by the support everyone showed us on Twitter and else where after Microsoft called us "fake"......Tim O'Reilly also twitted about it:"

I am glad someone from ZOHO (even though by mistake) realized that Tim wasn't supporting them but "Twitting" them.

Overall, While it definitely is a big step forward for ZOHO that people in MSFT are noticing them and are worried about them(I am sure ZOHO knew this ages before Ron made the statement) , while the videos on the site display good creativity among the ZOHO folks, while Sridhar's asking "if ZOHO is fake office is Bing fake search... "is funny (and hence deserves the attention it got from people like Tim O'Reilly) .... It is sad that the great startup that ZOHO once was is displaying signs of becoming evil and may be even becoming arrogant.

For a few thousand users, they have IMHO taken the wrong road, displayed immaturity and forever attracted the attention of users and media who will have a field day when someone from ZOHO has a slip the way Ron did.

Compare this to the great wisdom/maturity that Eric Schmidt showed in his interview on Fox News in which he said "I’ve learned not to respond to quotes by Steve Ballmer." He irked Ballmer with his quote for sure, got the applause of several users and Google watchers and more importantly he "did no evil". Now thats what is called the High Road.

Hmm.. Perhaps ZOHO's actions are justified if one goes by the adage "All is fair in love and war" (or is it ?)


P.S: One thing beats me, why did they register instead of ?

P.P.S: Trash talks are good , they actually help in marketing. But the trashtalk must be subtle and funny (like Sridhar's Bing comment) and should stop there. What should you do next then ?.....

The safest route to take is to talk about your competitors as a group, keep the direct attacks to a minimum, and keep your focus on how you can better serve the prospect.(Source)

Disclosure: I started my software career at ZOHO Corp and still am in love with the company, I admire its progress and the brilliant software the team creates. The above post is made out of pain that I felt when ZOHO decided to make hay(cruelly) out of someone's slip.
Publish Post

Update: Its been 7 hrs since I made the post now and so far 3 people have written to me(about their take on my blog and while doing so also) saying they started trying ZOHO after they read my blog post. Wow , any publicity does seem to be good publicity. (will write a blog post on this later)


VJ said...

Mate I think YOU are over reacting .. there is no harm in getting some mktg mileage out of Ron's (mis)quote. This by no means symbolizes arrogance.

I am sure this gimmick gave them the 'burst' of attention (not that they weren't getting any in the first place!), surge in traffic, registrations, fan-following - that they needed without too much effort and spending, which is great considering the way ZOHO operates. They weaved a great story which consumers/users loved, and this.. is a small victory in itself.

Having said that, you and I both know that ZOHO as a company is not going to rest on the laurels that came out of this furore. They are not dumb! They have capable and dedicated engineering strength to prove their mettle with the quality, breadth and depth in their services, which is ultimately going to speak for itself. And if you have any doubts on what ZOHO's perspective is, you should probably read this -

Mate, this is competition here .. if MS wants to show their butt and say kick me, I say so be it! Nothing wrong in taking a dig. Knowing Microsoft, I don't think Ron would have quoted anything they had not planned to quote (slip in your words), and it doesn't matter if it is Steve or Bill or John Doe. So there is no question of being evil. Let's see if MS stops shooting their mouth after this .. but I am sure ZOHO would want more of it :-)

And how Eric Schmidt wants to play his cards is his prerogative. He can use his sarcasm to irk Ballmer if he wants, but the fight is still the same. It's a fair fight with every opportunity being grabbed, and ultimately the customers will be benefited and be the winners! ZOHO may have trash-talked (like you say), but they sure aren't going to lose focus on what they do! If they were trash-talking about some upcoming start-up who is challenging them, I would be worried .. not in this case!

Also, it is not like the media or the users will FOREVER remember this. It is until the next interesting episode comes out in the open and who comes out on top in that one. As with Al Pacino's famous half-time speech in the movie Any Given Sunday - "... the inches we need are everywhere around us, and on this team we fight for that inch... cos we know when we add up ALL those inches, that is going to make the diff between winning and losing..."

Btw, any reasons why you have to have these open-ended "is it", "was it" kinda questions in your post if in "your humble opinion" this was a mistake?


Full Disclosure: I am a former ZOHO Corp. employee too and I am proud of it as much as you are, if not more. I totally welcome this Guerilla marketing warfare, with sound knowledge that ZOHO believes great engineering, great value addition and affordable pricing can take market share in this space!

Badrinath.V.S said...

Comments on facebook

Badrinath V Srinath
"Btw, any reasons why you have to have these open-ended "is it", "was it" kinda questions in your post if in "your humble opinion" this was a mistake?"

Have been out of marketing, ZOHO for quite some time now, so even though to me(in my opinion) something doesnt add up well, something just doesnt feel right, I am not totally convinced if its a ... Read Moremistake or if its just the new way of doing things(I have no clue what ZOHO was thinking when they did what they did, and its been such a long time out of ZOHO that I am not even able to guess what they were thinking).Hence the open-ends

I dint say they are getting arrogant, I said may be they are , when you think its ok to do anything for "a burst", when you think its ok to kick someones ass , cos they were stupid enough to bend over perhaps you arent thinking right. But that said when you make it sound like capturing inches that will add up to winning or losing it kinda looks correct(thats the reason why I have these open ends in my statements)

Badrinath V Srinath
"Also, it is not like the media or the users will FOREVER remember this." very recently I had a long chat with the CEO of a somewhat famous startup and one of the things he mentioned about ZOHO in the chat was what ZOHO did to SugarCRM and how it was unfair. My point is even though things get assigned a lesser priority they arent forgotten. When ... Read Moreyou are down and/or having a bad time all the old stuff that you thought would not linger forever suddenly come back to haunt you. (wisdom gained through experience mate :-) )

Badrinath.V.S said...

VJ Karthik
Your opinion seems to be without much reasoning behind it.. way too much speculation and uncertainty with your words (" not totally convinced if its a mistake or if its..., I have no clue what .., I am not even able to guess..,may be even becoming," and many more such)... confused?

Well, it definitely is not ok to do ANYTHING for a burst or whatever for that matter. If ZOHO did anything sleazeball-ish like throwing mud on MS or showing their products in poor light in return, then I would agree. This campaign however shows how so wrong MS is in assuming ZOHO has fake Office capabilities and that users can see and decide for themselves as to what ZOHO has to offer.. check if you want to know what I mean .. This again centers around the users and their benefits, and not mud-slinging.

I am sure ZOHO didn't do this at the spur of the moment. They must have allocated careful thought and seized the opportunity to "gain that extra inch" if I may call it that .. and they executed pretty fast. So all credit to them. And believe me, I for one know that ZOHO CEO has great respect for MS, holds them in high regard. He sure didn't take offense to what Ron of MS had to say, he LOVED it .. it sure looked like "blonde-on-a-red-ferrari-for-free" ... he tactfully seized the opportunity .. plain and simple! :-)... Read More

Well in a tough business the margin for error is obviously less mate, and you have to capitalize on any mistake competition makes, .. especially a giant one like MS. So the thinking is indeed right with respect to driving marketing mileage out of it. Even if it backfires in some way whenever, I personally would still back ZOHO for this idea, cos I believe their line of execution in engineering is sound, something they will never lose focus on.

About your chat with the CEO of the startup, I think it is a matter of perspective. There are many others who think it served Sugar right for the price they were charging ($600/user/year currently for enterprise), and ZOHO (or vTiger actually?) gave the competitive edge which customers love by leveraging their open-source offering .. basically calling their bluff. Btw, was this CEO a CRM user or just had an opinion.. maybe you should see what real users say?

With all due respects, maybe this company you talk about, will only remain where they are (ie being a "somewhat famous startup") if they prefer to remain conservative and not take calculated, aggressive risks and of course not execute well... that is the difference between being a "somewhat famous startup" and a "very famous startup" !


Badrinath.V.S said...

Sripathy Ramesh
Did you notice that Sridhar says "we certainly don't think Bing is by any means fake". Here is the extract:

"We just have a polite suggestion to Microsoft: to be perfectly consistent, Microsoft should also label their Bing "Fake Search" - fair is fair, right? For the record, we actually think Bing brings a welcome dose of competition and we ... Read Morecertainly don't think Bing is by any means fake, but with Microsoft marketing terming the entire competitive landscape to their number 1 cash cow "fake", we have to wonder if that would apply to their own effort at competing with the other dominant vendor."

Badrinath.V.S said...

VJ Karthik
@Sripathy: Good point. If MS make their own rules, they should also learn to play by the same rules!

Badrinath V Srinath
@ Ramesh ya i did,thats why i said

"while Sridhar's asking "if ZOHO is fake office is Bing fake search... "is funny" and "But the trashtalk must be subtle and funny (like Sridhar's Bing comment) and should stop there" I am not against the post by Sridhar or his comment, I am against, the video and the possibility that ZOHO just might not stop this here

Badrinath V Srinath
@VJ I said something dint feel right when I saw the reaction, I felt uncomfortable. Since when do feelings need reason.

VJ said...

VJ Karthik said:
@Badri: Agreed. Feelings are fine. Opinions I would think need reasons. I politely suggest not to use the word "opinion", "IMHO" etc. then. :-) :-)

Badrinath V Srinath said:
@VJ: "For a few thousand users, they have IMHO taken the wrong road, displayed immaturity and forever attracted the attention of users and media who will have a field day when someone from ZOHO has a slip the way Ron did." That was my opinion

Time will tel whether i was right or wrongl, I am sure not going to make a post on my reasoning right now, but I think it would suffice to say - perspective, I think hitting someone who is down even if he was bad is cruel , you think otherwise thats your perspective

VJ Karthik said:
@Badri: Hitting someone who is down even if he was bad maybe cruel otherwise, but not when you want to retrieve the purse he snatched from the beautiful young lady who you may have the chance to court!

I am sure you get the drift. But anyway, spot on mate! Perspective indeed ..