Category: The New Paradigm

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.

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.