As the end of the year nears its time to look back at the firms that set positive examples of how to do things right in the technology market. Each of these companies stood out for excellence either in marketing, products, or services. These arent in any particular order.
Apple in 2010 and for much of last decade defined itself with a blend of mostly strong complete products with good marketing and support. Their iPhone 4 even with some initial hiccups and tied at the hip to AT&T, one of the least liked carriers still ranked consistently at the top of its class, which is like someone winning a Marathon while pulling a truck. No other company has been so consistently good over such a long period of time. While they at times are a bit overly controversial, no other firm hit so strongly on all three vectors last year.
One of my personal big hot buttons is customer care and customer loyalty. EMC is the only company that takes this aggressively up to the CEO level, and it continued to push the envelope this year. With some of the other companies in EMCs enterprise segment seem to take customer satisfaction and loyalty for granted, this focus enables EMC to stand out as an example of what we want our companies to do care about us, and take our own feelings about their products and services very seriously.
2010 was Microsofts year. While most of the decade it executed well with enterprise products (with the clear exception of Windows Vista), they did substandard marketing until last year. In 2010 they stepped up to working on their image with a vengeance and have done stunning work with Windows 7, the most successful operating system in terms of volume in the history of the planet, and with Windows Phone 7.
In this last, only Hyundai is doing better TV work with commercials tied to product use in the shows the ads are connected to. Xbox Kinect, Ford Sync II, IE9 beta, and Office 2010 were all sharply improved and generally lead their class in terms of innovation or execution. Microsoft heads my short list of most improved companies in 2010.
HP stands out because its board of handpicked members stood up in front of an entitled CEO and said the rules apply to him as well as all other HP employees. We seem to live in a time where CEOs feel strongly that rules shouldnt apply to them. While HPs CEO was flying private jets and receiving massive bonuses, HP employees were shoehorned into coach and had benefits, profit sharing and even their jobs stripped from them.
The HP board finally said enough and booted his sorry butt out of the company. And if more boards would make a similar effort to do their jobs we probably wouldnt have had as many problems with firms misacting in a number of segments over the last two years.
Lenovo brought on board David Roman, who came up with the most creative PC marketing campaign of the last decade for HP. What made this campaign unique is that it utilized HPs philanthropic budget to get free celebrity support, providing huge interest for a fraction of the money.
Technology companies are often defined by poorly funded and executed marketing largely because they use too many untrained practitioners. Lenovo chased down one of the best in the business. This was a best practice and bodes well for them next year. As an aside, in a breakdown of what PC analysts actually use as their carry laptops, the Lenovo ThinkPad remains No. 1 with a significant lead, followed by Dell and Apple.
The company that led the large scale hardware and services market for decades realized that the emphasis on the cloud and Oracles acquisition of Sun required a major change in strategy, and put Steve Mills in as the number 2 executive at the firm.
Companies that reach IBMs scale are often defined by an inability to change and react to major market moves and IBM has historically shared this problem under earlier executives. Sam Palmisano has stepped out and broken with tradition by putting software in the lead position and better positioning IBM for its likely future. In a year often defined by firms with misbehaving CEOs, Palmisano stands out as a true asset to his company and Steve Mills is right behind him.