If you've had a phone call recently from an earnest market researcher, asking questions on behalf of Microsoft, you're not the only one. The software giant is worried about its image, so it is carrying out a study to find out just how its customers perceive it.
As a Microsoft staffer recently remarked in conversation, your perception of a company comes from two sources - your personal experience and what you hear from others. Of the two, personal experience is the more influential, so Microsoft can run all the ad campaigns and road-shows it likes, but if its users keep having to patch their systems, that's what matters to them.
Add to that the fact the that positive perception is tough to build, but it's very easy to get negative perception - it can be as simple as the CEO's home PC having a complete Windows melt-down!
So all over Europe - and elsewhere too - people are being asked to answer a whole string of questions about why they use Microsoft software tools (and yes, you're probably not alone if you answered "Because my bosses force me to"), what they think about them, and how they see Microsoft, both as a supplier and as a company in general.
There's a number of things that worry me about this, and make me think the company is not going to get a true picture despite the undoubtedly high cost of the project.
First off, instead of keeping the survey lean and effective, its marketeers keep adding questions to it. The result is, like MS Office, bloatware - and while we might spare 10 to 15 minutes, how many of us are willing to answer questions for 30 minutes or more?
How significant is the opinion of someone who can spare that long for a phone call, too? Shouldn't Microsoft be trying to reach the people who do the actual work - but therefore have less time to spare?
Then there's the answers that don't fit the marketeers' expectations. Who else is wondering if the form has a tick-box on it for "Because my bosses force me to"?
Lastly, normal people don't have the same terms of reference as marketeers. A marketeer knows what he or she means by "Do you think Microsoft is an ethical company?" but you and I are more likely to reply "Huh?" - or at least, "Um, what do you mean by 'ethical'?"