Posts Tagged ‘Microsoft’

Microsoft Needs to Be a Good Orange, Not a Bad Apple

December 9th, 2010


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.

Windows Phone Commercial Fails to Complete the Call. Really.

November 9th, 2010

Exactly when did it become cool to ask, “Really?” to express one’s disappointment or anger?  I think I first started noticing it on Cougartown, one of my and my wife’s favorite TV shows.  Used properly, as it is in this  TV commercial for the Windows Phone, and it can be pretty amusing.  This commercial also effectively dramatizes in humorous fashion the ridiculous and even dangerous obsession many of us–present company included–have with our mobile phones.

But while this spot does a nice job of showing us the problem and entertaining us in the process, it does nothing to explain why the Windows Phone is the solution.  Presumably it’s somehow designed to make many tasks simpler and quicker to perform, but if that’s the case, show us how!  Rather than humoring us with repeated demonstrations of the problem, wow us with one or two demonstrations of the solution.

Apple ads–whether they be for the iPod, iPhone, iTouch, iMac or MacBook–have knocked our socks off again and again with simple but impressive demonstrations of their products’ amazing performance.  If the Windows Phone really is a significant improvement over the status quo, it should certainly lend itself to a very impressive presentation.  This commercial, however, leaves me thinking, “Either there’s nothing really special about this phone, or Microsoft has created one of the most underachieving commercials of all time.”

The commercial makes one other fatal mistake: it says the brand name only once, and doesn’t do so until the 55-second point.  This destines the commercial to join the seemingly endless list of relatively entertaining commercials that communicated virtually nothing to the target audience about who the advertiser is or what makes the product special.

It’s enough to make a guy want to call Steve Ballmer and say, “You supposedly have a truly superior mobile phone, and this is the way you advertise it?  Really?

Bing Needs to Search for Better Advertising

October 3rd, 2010

Over the years Microsoft has developed a well-earned reputation for being an exceptionally mediocre advertiser.  Even though its recent Windows 7 advertising represents an improvement over the company’s prior efforts (remember the embarrassing and mercifully short-lived effort starring Bill Gates and Jerry Seinfeld?), Microsoft advertising has generally exhibited microscopic amounts of creativity.

Microsoft’s Bing search engine appears to suffer from the same advertising affliction as its parent company.  Add this  TV commercial to the list of thousands of commercials you’ve seen repeatedly without knowing who the advertiser is or what the point of the ad is supposed to be.

I’m not exactly going out on a limb to say that an ad should reflect the character of the product or service being advertised.  One of the features that’s most important in a search engine is simplicity. So even if you’re smart and patient enough to decipher that this commercial is for a search engine, its convoluted and disconnected communications can only lead you to expect that you’d have anything but a user-friendly experience at www.bing.com. The truth is that Bing is actually a pretty good product–I use Bing Images all the time–but you’d never know it from its advertising.

Maybe it’s time for Microsoft to search for a new ad agency.  I’m sure they could find one using Google–or perhaps that other new search engine.  Oh, what’s its name again?  I think I just saw an ad for it…It’s right on the tip of my tongue…

Will Apple Admit That It Has a Worm?

July 15th, 2010

For the past several years, I’ve considered Apple to be the best marketing organization on the planet.  Their ability to anticipate–and, more impressively, create–consumer desires has been without parallel, as has their penchant for product design and advertising.  Now, however, we’ll get a chance to see how good they are at crisis management.

As this Wall Street Journal article shows, it seems clear that Apple’s vaunted product design team–including legendary co-founder and CEO Steve Jobs–dropped the ball in developing Apple’s new iPhone 4.  The otherwise well-reviewed device appears to have reception problems that result from a faulty antenna design that wasn’t subjected to adequate testing.

Surprisingly–and disappointingly–Apple’s initial reaction was to cavalierly suggest that the problem was the result of users holding the phone improperly.  They then copped to a software glitch, which they inexplicably tried to minimize by suggesting that it affects their earlier-generation iPhones as well.  And now both explanations are being challenged by Consumer Reports, which claims the problems are hardware-related.

Whatever the truth is–and all signs seem to support Consumer Reports’ side–Apple had better be completely forthcoming from this point forward or its credibility, and its brand equity, will take a serious hit.  Apple and Mr. Jobs have been on an infallibility streak for several years, so admitting they’ve screwed up will hurt.  But Apple’s fans–and prospective future consumers–will forgive imperfection much more readily than dishonesty or cowardice.

Apple has produced millions of sweet, crisp, juicy products that have thrilled millions of consumers–including me–and in the process created a company worth more than Microsoft or General Electric.  But if they don’t start displaying more candor, humility and urgency in confronting this rare misstep, they run a real risk of letting this one bad Apple spoil the bunch–not to mention a bunch of brand equity.