Perhaps the wisest words I’ve ever read about branding strategy are attributed to the late, great Jerry Garcia, who once said: “The idea isn’t to make people think you’re the best at what you do; it’s to make them think you’re the only one who does what you do.”
If there’s one company on the planet that’s in sync with Mr. Garcia, it’s Apple. (Interestingly, the only other one that comes immediately to mind is Pixar, another company largely shaped by the DNA of Steve Jobs.) And if there’s a company that doesn’t groove on Mr. Garcia’s vibe, it’s Microsoft. In fact, Microsoft doesn’t even try to make you think they’re the best at what they do; rather, they’re trying to make you think they’re just like Apple.
But Microsoft will never be like Apple, any more than Bill Gates will ever be like Steve Jobs. Let’s face it: Jobs is cool; Gates is geeky. Apple is cool; Microsoft is–well, it might not be geeky, but it certainly isn’t cool. And that’s okay!
Sadly, as an article in the Chicago Tribune indicates, the new Microsoft stores are embarrassingly similar to Apple stores. The problem isn’t that the stores aren’t nice; it’s that they aren’t original. Since everyone knows that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Microsoft is simultaneously reinforcing that Apple is worthy of emulation while making itself look like a plagiarizer.
Microsoft needs to get over its genius-envy and embrace the things that make it unique. For example, it could position itself as “everyman” (in subtle contrast to Apple’s “snob”) by emphasizing:
- The affordability of Windows-based products
- Its support of the very popular Flash media format
- The dramatically larger number of products and programs that use its operating system
When Toyota was at its peak, it didn’t try to make you think it was like Mercedes Benz, nor did Budweiser in its best days try to make you think it was like Heineken. They took pride in who they were–and, oh, by the way, they were the market leaders.
Microsoft is also a market leader, yet its actions reflect insecurity rather than pride. Apple and Microsoft are as different as apples and oranges. It’s time Microsoft embraced that fact.
After all, oranges are more popular than apples.