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3 Lessons Microsoft Taught Us About Branding

For years now, Apple with its “I’m a Mac. I’m a PC.” campaign hasessentially established Microsoft’s marketing position in the minds ofconsumers. In actual fact, Apple has “positioned” the entire PC world,but Microsoft, being synonymous with PCs, has become the greatestvictim in that campaign’s wake. Most everyone seems to enjoy Apple’s ads. The casting is brilliant, theads are entertaining and the messages hit any sore points about Windowsfrom Vista to tech support, and Indeed, these ads have becomeculturally iconic. The Wrong Thing To Do

For years now, Apple with its “I’m a Mac. I’m a PC.” campaign hasessentially established Microsoft’s marketing position in the minds ofconsumers. In actual fact, Apple has “positioned” the entire PC world,but Microsoft, being synonymous with PCs, has become the greatestvictim in that campaign’s wake.

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Most everyone seems to enjoy Apple’s ads. The casting is brilliant, theads are entertaining and the messages hit any sore points about Windowsfrom Vista to tech support, and Indeed, these ads have becomeculturally iconic.

The Wrong Thing To Do

So what has Microsoft done over the years? From a branding standpoint, pretty much nothing.

Theyrecently hired the super-hot agency Crispin Porter for a reputed $300million+ ad campaign. The first ad used Jerry Seinfeld with Bill Gatesin what appeared to be an attempt at humanizing Mr. Gates andMicrosoft. Ad critics grimaced. This ad was launched with the tag line,”Life Without Walls” which became a punch line for Mac enthusiasts andbeyond. Mac-loyalist blogs commented, “In a life without walls, whoneeds Windows?” Ouch.

The Wronger Thing To Do

Then, Microsoft delivered aseries of ads where the position they were trying to dislodge made upabout 90% of its commercial copy lines. The “I’m a PC.” campaign wascreated with very loose, amateur-styled video techniques, again tohumanize. The obvious goal was “How do we become cool and relevant?”Only problem is that it directly played into Apple’s campaign. It’simpossible to see one of those ads and not think of Apple. I couldunderstand their thinking, but they were bringing nothing new to the table. It was all defense, with no strategic offense.

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Even now, the Microsoft stores are being compared to the Apple stores.

What Have We Learned?

So, if thedeep-pocketed Microsoft machine can make these missteps, is thereanything we can learn from this so we can spend (waste) less marketingdollars in the marketplace to promote our brands and our own businesses?

Yes. In 3 simple steps.

The 3 Branding Lessons Microsoft Taught the Technology World:

1. Don’t try to be something you’re not. Pick yoursweet spot and embrace it. Don’t try to simply follow the lead ofothers because (even if you’re Microsoft) if you’re following, you’renot leading. Just look at Zune (and its lackluster market share) as acase study.

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What to do: Don’t fake it. Elaine on Seinfeld oncetold Jerry that she’d “faked it”. Totally shocked, Jerry asked, howmany times? Her response was, “every time.” Jerry compared Elaine toMeryl Streep for her incredible acting skills. When it comes yourbrand, be real. Don’t try to fake it. Find something you can getpassionate about and something your brand can do remarkably well.

2. To do nothing is branding death. Saying anddoing nothing or too little leaves your customers to seek elsewhere toget the facts (or any ideas if facts don’t exist). They’ll takewhatever information there is unless better, smarter, morethought-provoking information comes along to supplant it.

If youdon’t like your fate being dictated at random, you had better speak up.Then improve what you say. Then increase how many people hear it. Asthe business guru Peter Drucker said, “You can’t shrink your way togreatness.”

What to do: Something. Anything. Provide a regularstream of information that’s informative, educational, interesting,engaging, and preferably, new.

3. If your branding is defensive, you’re promoting the war, not your personal brand.Branding has often been compared to war on the battlefield. I like thisanalogy better: A brand is like a person. A person can engage someoneor bore them. So can your brand. You can be genuinely interesting oryou can try to be interesting (just like a brand). You can bepassionate or monotonous. Inventive or ho-hum. In each case, your brandcan embody those qualities as well.

Here’s a good acid test: Ifyour brand were a person, would you want to go out and hang out with onyour time off? If the answer is no, then the odds are others will havea similar response, leaving your brand as something one buys when it’sneeded versus being something that is passionately sought out.

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Learn from Microsoft’s Mistakes

WithMicrosoft’s deep pockets, we can learn one thing: It’s not the size ofthe pocket but what you do with it that counts. Until next time.

About the author

Brand identity expert, veteran designer, author, speaker and Fast Company expert blogger. He’s been written about in Forbes.com, INC and Fortune Small Business.

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