Part of Microsoft's problem over the past decade has been one of image and marketing.
Long time CMO Mitch Mathews is stepping down this summer to be replaced by Chris Capossela, who will then report to Kevin Turner, Microsoft's COO.
Microsoft's corporate image has certainly been in need of refocusing for some time now, with the roll of CMO at Redmond historically being so weak it is almost inconsequential.
Still, Capossela has been put in a position to fix this oversight, which could bode well for the company.
Microsoft vs. Apple
Apple leads in a number of areas, but one of Cupertino's most critical advantages is its ability to drive an idea through the market and make it "The Standard."
Apple successfully did that with the iPod, the iPhone, and most recently with the iPad. In addition, particularly against Microsoft, the firm was able to take its gloves off for the Mac vs. PC campaign, which Microsoft was incapable of responding effectively to.
Part of the reason why Apple is so effective is that marketing flows out from Steve's authority and carries a tremendous amount of weight in Cupertino.
Unlike most tech companies, including Microsoft, marketing is baked into the design of the product, allowing a level of consistency in Apple's lineup that is currently unmatched by anyone.
This suggests the competitive problem between the firms may be one of organizational structure, meaning, the marketing team at Microsoft simply doesn't have the same emphasis or weight and, as an afterthought, can't step up to the challenge.
Marketing CMO Power
Capossela is assuming his new CMO position after working in a number of (Microsoft) technical and field jobs, throughout the U.S. and EMEA. He was even Bill Gate's speech assistant at one time, and is quite well connected throughout the company.
As a 20 year veteran, Capossela personally experienced the marketing highs of Windows 95, and the subsequent marketing lows of Windows Vista. He most recently owned marketing for Microsoft Office - which remains dominant in its segment and is still preferred even over Apple products.
On paper, Capossela certainly appears to have more influence inside the company than Mitch Mathews had, and likely shares the frustration of many Microsoft employees over the Redmond's inability to fight back effectively against either Google or Apple, at least in terms of image.
The combination of influence and passion to fix a problem should make a significant positive change in how this position is resourced and the focus placed on it.
The organizational changes wrapped around this job change put a substantial amount of centralized control over Microsoft's marketing efforts - allowing Capossela to aggregate and focus budgets.
Plus, it should give him the authority he needs to push back on incomplete or poorly thought through products that can't be successfully marketed.
The Consumers Channels group includes most of Microsoft's retail marketing, meaning Capossela will gain full control of the corporate budget when Mathews retires this summer.
While I'd typically like to see the CMO report to the CEO, Steve Ballmer already has enough on his plate.
Meanwhile, Kevin Turner - thanks to his Walmart background - appears to understand the importance of marketing better than Steve, and the COO position in Microsoft is certainly very powerful. The power and backing that will bring should enhance the CMO position substantially.
Capossela is a well-connected individual with substantially enhanced power. He is also passionate about fixing the decades old marketing and execution problems plaguing Microsoft. This combination suggests a potentially positive outcome.
As such, we should see initial marketing improvements before the end of 2011. However, the big change will occur when Windows 8 ships next year. If successful, the company's image and valuation should, over the next 18 months, improve dramatically thanks to this staffing change.
Rob Enderle is one of the last Inquiry Analysts. Inquiry Analysts are paid to stay up to date on current events and identify trends and either explain the trends or make suggestions, tactical and strategic, on how to best take advantage of them. Currently, he provides his services to most of the major technology and media companies. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the writer.