Category: Marketing

If you’ve seen the Laptop Hunters ads from Microsoft recently, you know that every single one of them features an Apple computer at some point during the “Hunter’s” shopping adventure. But why? Microsoft has TEN TIMES the software market share Apple has, and is the de-facto standard in personal and business computing markets. So why is Microsoft dumping incredible amounts of time, money, and emotion into this ad campaign against a flea on their back? Because they’re scared. Microsoft isn’t just scared, in fact, they’re terrified.

While on one hand you might look at Apple’s paltry 9% market share and balk at the infinitesimal nature of it, you might also contrast it with the 2.41% market share Apple held only 4 years ago. Apple is hitting the consumer/business sweet-spot hard, and Microsoft has nowhere to go but down.

Case in point: Microsoft’s Internet Explorer. Once hailed as the titan of web browsers with a >95% user base, IE today seems to be in a virtual market-share free-fall, nearing the 50% install base for all browsers worldwide. Just a few very short years ago Microsoft had a clear market advantage, while competitors had little hope of breaking in on the exclusive browser party. Yet, despite all the haughtiness of IE (maybe even because of it), other browsers such as Firefox and Safari have been able to chip away steadily at IE’s grip.

But most frightening to Microsoft must be the fact that while they’ve employed over 1,000 full-time developers at one time on IE, Mozilla employs only 175 full time employees. How did this small, lean, hodge-podge group of hackers manage to take the rug out from under Microsoft? While there are probably many factors (which I certainly won’t address here), it’s likely in part due to the fact that the Firefox developers were focused, determined, and eager to address a serious problem that was crippling the web space.

I can only see the competition having a royal fit behind closed doors in response to the current “browser war” climate. When all you have is everything, how can you survive if someone starts taking it away, little by little? In the last two years we’ve seen Microsoft pledge renewed support to web standards, CSS3/XHTML support, and even :gasp: transparent PNG’s. For those of you who don’t know how big of a deal this is, just ask your IT guy.

And don’t forget the smartphone market. I recall a couple of years back watching Steve Ballmer (chair-throwing CEO of Microsoft) scoffing violently at the idea that the iPhone posed a threat to their smartphone market dominance. His smarmy “Well, let’s wait and see, hahaha” attitude is nothing short of epic by way of fail. Not only has Microsoft lost half of their Windows Mobile presence seemingly overnight, they’ve lost nearly all of it to one, single phone: the teeny-weeny iPhone. Yes, that fledgling little phone has snuck in and stolen the proverbial wind right out of Microsoft’s smartphone sails.

And so the Déjà vu begins for Microsoft. Apple has gone from just over 2% desktop market share in ’05 to nearly 10% today. If Apple were to continue at this rate, they could theoretically own the entire OS market within the next ten years. Unlikely, but a frightening prospect for a company that has just witnessed how deafening the sound of a little trickle can become once it turns into an unstoppable landslide. Even with Microsoft’s sudden “conversion” to open web standards for their browser lineup, they’ve been able to do little to stop the inevitable slide down the slippery slope. Losing their grip on the web through IE is bad enough in a world where desktop apps are dwindling. But to lose additional OS install base to Apple, well that would be downright disastrous. Microsoft had a pretty good lock on consumer’s buying decisions because of IE. But with that strangle hold now loosened, people are beginning to peel back the scales from their eyes, and are curious to learn what else there is to see. Of course, there’s Apple. And oh, what a sight for sore eyes it is.

Then there’s the matter of money and power. Apple may be half the size of Microsoft, but as others have shown, Microsoft isn’t impenetrable. And Apple’s half-as-big size isn’t a bug that can be stepped on, it’s a smaller army with shorter swords but sharper tactics. Apple pulls in a healthy $33 Billion (that’s B) per year, and has over $15 Billion in cash on hand (probably closer to $18 bil by now). This from a company that Michael Dell (Founder of Dell Computers) stated that, if deciding what to do with Apple were up to him, he would “shut it down and give the money back to the shareholders”. Oh, and that was before Apple kicked Dell to the curb, surpassing Dells market cap in 2006. Yikes!

Also, let’s not overlook the irony of Microsoft paying their “hunters” to buy a computer with Windows on it, giving the deeper impression that the only value that comes from a PC comes by way of free, not cheap, when cheap is probably the biggest selling point of the commercial. I mean, even I would be thrilled for at least one day if someone outright bought me a Kia. Still, that wouldn’t stop the realization from hitting the very next day that I wanted to sell it.

So, back to the Laptop Hunters. For Microsoft, this isn’t a campaign to be cool. This isn’t even a campaign to sell the brand or the product. This is a campaign to survive. I’ll repeat myself, because this is really the point of it all: THIS IS A CAMPAIGN TO SURVIVE. This campaign is an attempt at a controlled blast to try to stop the Apple avalanche. Because Microsoft knows if things keep going as they have been for the last 5 years, they’re Applesauce. Maybe a more apt name for Microsoft’s Laptop Hunters campaign would be Apple Sniping. Clearly, the last thing Microsoft is hunting here is laptops.

*EDIT: As of Aug. 3rd, Apple apparently has just about $25 billion in total cash.

Apple share:, IE Reference:, Mozilla reference:

Seth Godin commenting on the life and times of Walter Cronkite:

At every turn, he acted as if he had a responsibility to his audience. He didn’t do the right thing because he thought it would help him get ahead and then one day he’d get his share. Instead, he always did the right thing because that’s who he was.

Transparency works if it’s authentic.

I’ll go a step further. Not only does authentic transparency work, but any business found without it over the next ten years is going to see some pretty rough times. Transparency will happen, whether you like it or not.

With Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, and all the other social networking (ahem: voyeur-in-training) sites out there, it’s just a matter of time before the new media exposes your company as one people can trust, or one that more quickly meets it’s doom due to heightened customer awareness, and subsequent brand-abandonment.

Apparently, the latest Microsoft ad was shot on the super sexy RED One digital video camera. Shame. The piece borders on painful, and is a cheap reproduction of a cheap reproduction of something that shouldn’t have cost what I’m sure it did in the end. Funny that it could only be created using a Mac. Not funny that RED’s name got a little dirt on it today.

Ads that have ranged from childish plastic-dinosaur-headed pc using morons to lame action adventure wannabes compels me to ask over and over and over again: “Microsoft—WHAT ARE YOU THINKING? Does your demographic find this funny? Glad I’m not your demographic.

microsoft dinosaur head campaign

Trying to be cool. Trying to be funny. Trying to be smart. Trying, and failing. Why don’t you try just being yourself. Be honest. Be open. Be clear. What in sam hill does telling me that I’m going extinct by using last year’s “latest and greatest” Microsoft product have to do with building brand loyalty? How does showing me a lame commercial starring recently deceased MS Word character clippy make me want to trust you more than I trust a crocodile in heat?

I want to know that YOU know that you suck. That you have sucked. For the last 20 years. Then I want to hear you promise that you are changing. I want to hear that you are committed to making life better for everybody, not just your paying constituents. I want to hear you will begin supporting standards, openness, and honesty, and that this is your new mantra starting today. And five years from now when I check back in on you I want to see that this commitment has only grown stronger. Because frankly, at this point I don’t believe you any more than I believe Kim Jong-il when he says he only wants uranium so he can “…power the fizzle fountain at the National Children’s Friendly Forest Flower Exhibit, and not because I want to make nuclear warheads to blow those idiotic Americans all to hell.”

Here’s the original MS ad shot on the RED:
UPDATE: That file has been closed off to non-paying subscribers. Here’s the video on Youtube. It still sucks:

Cyborgs are coolCyborgs can do way more than humans. They can turn themselves into molten metal, they can make their eyes glow red, and most of all they can use Cyborg Interfaces. Human interfaces, or User interfaces are slow, clunky, and passé, at best. You see, when a human has to interface with a system, they need pretty icons, practical and familiar layouts/design, and structure. Cyborgs need none of these. Linus Torvalds is a lower-case “c” cyborg. He doesn’t need a Human interface any more than a meteor needs wings.

Mr. Torvalds, and Cyborgs, are both technically superior to us. They can process data at incredible speeds. They can also type really, really fast, so using interfaces such as the command line is easy for them. But for us mere humans, we need a little help. It’s not that our minds are weak. They’re just too busy monitoring our bodies as they replicate skin (Cyborgs don’t have this problem), or keeping the ol’ ticker going (don’t confuse Cyborgs with the Tin Man – they will probably kill you for it as they are and always will be heartless).

We, as humans, interact with many different types of systems on a daily basis, such as computers, automobiles, and even simple things such as milk cartons. We understand these systems best when there is an interface in place to facilitate that interaction. In the examples above, these interface elements might be:

– A mouse, a keyboard, and a screen
– Steering wheel, keys, pedals, and dials
– A handle, a cap, and a translucent bottle

How might you respond if you were asked to drive a car using a keyboard and a monitor? Would translucency benefit your computing experience as much as it does pouring a glass of milk?

We (well, most of us) mortals have certain expectations when interacting with any system, and if these expectations are not reasonably met, we become frustrated. The net effect: we leave, we stop using it, we throw it away, or we make fun of it. A good interface is always simple, clear, and rarely noticed by the average human. A good interface is not defined by a certain color palette, a set of icons, or a font. A good interface is not a set of buttons or graphics that take you through the steps. Sure, interfaces use these and other elements, but a true Human Interface is built around the Human for whom the system was originally intended. If they struggle to use it properly, they aren’t doing something wrong. The interface (and possibly the system for which it is built) is flawed.

Another defining characteristic of a great interface – if not always, then often – is the lack of extensive documentation detailing how to use it. This is not to say that you can just throw away your documentation and win the award. You need to carefully craft your product so that the number and order of the steps to complete a task or objective are sequential and obvious. An example of this is the Apple iMac. The iMac’s original manual was entered into the Guinness Book of World Records for being the world’s smallest manual, containing only 32 words — something revolutionary in a world where PCs were sold alongside their voluminous manuals outlining how to get the complicated machines up and running. The manual wasn’t short for brevity’s sake, but rather a reflection of the fact that the machine was simple to set up and use.

A good user interface requires little instruction, because the interface is designed in the first place to satisfy the needs AND instincts of the end user. They will feel that using the interface is instinctual, natural, and even familiar. Keep these points in mind when designing your product. It will save you a great deal of time and money in the long run, not to mention the frustration you’ll save your customers as they try out your product or service. This can only lead to increased customer satisfaction which will in turn produce better brand evangelists for your business, a great reward for caring about your customer’s experience.

Tim Wasson has given a very good explanation of why iPhone 3g users are being whiny driveling babies who need to check their entitlement at the door. Below are the comments I left at the article link:

I have to agree with this article. Although, of course, I wanted to hear that there were many more features in the “S”, and a much lower price for recent 3g buyers, I felt from day 1 (once all the whining started) of the announcement that it was quite a foolish platform from which the new iPhone-pricing-haters were standing on. I’m not saying I love AT&T, or that I think an iPhone is really worth $800 new/unsubsidized. But for such a large group of people to act so entitled was a little unsettling for me, especially when I belonged to that group, generally speaking. Nobody owes you the new iPhone 3GS, and nobody owes you a price break on it. If you want it now, pay for it. If you don’t want to pay, then finish your contract as you originally agreed.

I will say, however, that AT&T is partly to blame for their issues today. They gave their first iPhone buyers a big pile-drive to the face, and seemed to be wielding quite a lot of their muscle when they wanted us to pay the unsubsidized price for the original iPhone, but then asked us to wait 2 years before we were eligible for a subsidized price of the 3g.

Of course we all know they quickly made an about face soon after the original announcement of 2g-3g upgrade pricing. Yet, by trying to milk their new Apple customers, many of whom had just left another, better carrier for one sole reason (which was the iPhone) – this was a blunder on AT&T’s part that would come back to bite them. And it has. In spades.

So my advice to both sides –

AT&T: Stop sucking so bad and don’t be so greedy.

iPhone lusters (me included): Grow up, be reasonable, and realize that just because you can’t afford the full price of the new gadgetry doesn’t mean someone else should pay your way. Not even the sub-standard service provider, AT&T.

The MoonHave you noticed that the moon, when settled near the horizon, is an extraordinarily large, clear, and gorgeous astral sphere? If so, then you’ve no doubt been amazed at the detail that’s present, and the immense beauty that seems to be lost when the moon is high in the sky. On the horizon, the moon is incredibly full, bright, dripping with clarity, and – probably most amazingly – it’s not any larger than when it is directly overhead. Your eyes are merely being tricked by what’s referred to as the “Moon Illusion”.

That’s right, in reality the moon is closest (and measures largest from our Earthly perspective) when it’s high in the heavens, and not when it’s “down to Earth” on the horizon.

You no doubt won’t believe me. That’s ok. Test for yourself and you’ll see that the moon is smaller on the horizon than at it’s zenith (this is because the moon is actually around 4,000 miles farther away from you when sitting on the horizon than when it’s right above you).

So why does it look so much bigger on the horizon? It’s simple: Relatability. If you can’t relate to something, chances are your mind will misperceive it.

Ebbinghaus IllusionTake, for example, warm water on freezing feet after you’ve had them in the snow or cold for an extended period of time. Your mind knows the water is an appropriate temperature. You’ve even tested it with your hand. However, your feet aren’t used to being so frigid when they feel warm water, and therefore your nerves tell your mind the water is scalding hot. Same goes for optical illusions, like the one with two circles surrounded by other circles of either larger or smaller size. Your mind is used to judging size based on what’s nearby. That’s why the lower center circle in this image looks larger than the upper center circle. What a mouthful!

These principles of perception apply to most everyone. We know that people OFTEN make decisions based on their own level of comprehension. We also know that one’s perception is ALWAYS (and only) based on past experiences and those things which are familiar. If your business is seen like that moon surrounded by a body of blackness and a mist of sparkling specks, then your charm will likely be lost on a great portion of your market. To put it another way, we recognize the moon as a prodigious body when it’s laying next to the mountains, and trees, and buildings because we – Earth-bound humans – can relate to mountains, and trees, and buildings. The moon is no more mighty on the horizon then it is in the night sky, but since we’ve seen plenty of these earthly objects from a variety of perspectives, we now have something, quite simply, to relate it to.

Who cares?

The moon can afford to rarely stand out – nobody is trying to put the moon out of business. You, on the other hand, are not so untouchable. Failing to show your absolute best side – in a way that’s easily relatable to your target market – can make or break your chance of success. The moon is unfathomably awesome. I doubt there are many people on the planet who wouldn’t jump at the opportunity to venture to the moon just for the chance to stand on it’s surface. Yet, somehow, the moon is a little too distant, and a bit too drowned out by the vast night sky for most humans to give it much thought. Likewise, if your corporate demeanor is aloof, forbidding, or formal, your days are now numbered. Trying to create a barrier between the inner workings of your company and your customer merely creates confusion and questions. Microsoft, Wal-Mart, Sallie Mae, and AT&T, among others, have operated on the premise that you need only hand them your money, and they’ll do the rest. This attitude of “what we do is too big to understand, son – take your lunch, say thank you, and move along” was the chime of industry 10 short years ago. Now, it’s the death knell of these monoliths. Your customer is wanting to know the REAL you, not just your glossy exterior. If you won’t tell them who you are, what you believe, why you’re here, and what your driving passion is, then they’ll find someone who will.

Customers today are seeking a friend, someone to trust, and someone to champion. Don’t misunderstand, this is not an invitation from your customer to slack off and just talk. Unquestionably, you still have to rock their world if you want their attention. Nobody champions the mediocre – your extraordinary business must continue to be extraordinary. But this is the information age, and everything has changed, including the customer. They are ready to see you in a relatable environment, and just like the moon, the better you look in their familiar setting, the better chance you have to garner their interest.

Are you using today’s technologies and tools and help your customer put your awesomeness into perspective? Are you showing them not only that you’re great, but how great you are compared with what they’re familiar with? In other words, get them to see how great you are compared to their baseline, and your business will experience an explosion of both loyalty and growth.

If you’re not actively inviting customers to love you, you’re missing out on the chance to create brand evangelists, generate free chatter, and improve your bottom line. Most of all, you’re missing out on the chance to solidify a New Relationship™ with your customer, something which only a handful of companies will survive without over the next few years.

detergentOne last note: comparing yourself to your competitors used to make for great advertising. Remember all the detergent ads in the 90’s? Today, making your focus one of comparing yourself with a competitor is ineffective at best, and suicide at worst. What’s to say your customer relates to your competitor any better than you. Instead of leading your customer down an unknown path, figure out where their interests and your offerings intersect and laser beam your full focus on that. The customer no longer wants to know why you’re the better brand. They want to know why your the BEST brand FOR THEM. It’s not about you. It’s not about you compared to… It is all about your customer, and for the first time in history, they know it.

Do you?

Now, go be relatable.

Just read it. It’s hilarious. I laughed so hard I spit out a little food.