A few weeks back I had a chance to meet with the new marketing team for Windows 7 and it is the most competent, in terms of learned and natural marketing skills, that the company has ever fielded.
Kathleen Hall, the new Marketing GM, was hired from an advertising agency and has a grasp of marketing that is the equal of anyone at Apple, including Steve Jobs (though Steve has other assets we’ll get to later).Her first real project was the currently running Windows campaign, which has had a strong positive impact on Microsoft’s image and the sales of Windows Vista. But her real challenge will be the Windows 7 launch.
In the other corner is Steve Jobs who is a legend in marketing and has the added advantage of controlling his entire company and getting whatever funding he needs for any project he wants to undertake.He now appears to be back in the job. And while much of his time is now spent husbanding the iPad to market it’s clear he is playing this competitive operating system launch event like a master would play chess.
This could be the closest thing to a real battle royal we’ve had between the two companies since the 80s – and may be the last one that Steve Jobs personally leads.
Let’s look at the likely battle plans and outcomes.
The Field of Battle
This is an ugly battlefield this year. The economy in most of the world really stinks and here in the US corporations have all but stopped making new technology purchases.
Users the US in large numbers have lost their jobs and a lot of their spendable income was just siphoned off into a massive program designed to eliminate a massive inventory or aging new cars to help save (but possibly only defer the death of) the auto companies.
While the economy appears to have bottomed, people are still saving at an unprecedented rate, which removes much of the money that would otherwise go to new PCs from the segment.The PC OEMs are sweating bullets that they may have overbuilt for the 4th quarter. There are several other big product announcements that could reduce the available funds.
The biggest is an anticipated new device, ironically enough, from Apple believed to be called the iPad. It’s a Jumbo iPod designed to compete partially with Windows-based Netbooks and broaden Apple’s revenue base in this troubled holiday season.
Windows 7 is the primary weapon in Microsoft’s arsenal targeted at this fight. It couldn’t come at a better time in Microsoft’s history.
Windows Vista wasn’t well liked, even though by this time it is acceptable to most of those currently using it.Windows 7 promises a number of advantages over both Windows Vista and Windows XP, including security and performance improvements, a cleaner user interface, major advances in computing power and graphics, and a simpler licensing scheme.
Microsoft’s “secondary weapons” are the biggest same-time hardware refresh in the history of the PC industry since Y2K.From very small notebooks to luxury and performance products peppered with a massive increase in all-in-one offerings, the sheer number of products that will show up at the end of October when Windows 7 launches will be both impressive and daunting.
Longer battery life, longer lasting batteries, slimmer designs, much more in the way of discrete graphics, and a focus on design and complete lines that hasn’t ever existed in the market.In addition there will be a number of high performance utilities, applications, and gaming products that will arrive in support of the launch.
Apple has Snow Leopard, which is the most Windows compatible product they’ve ever brought to market. And with Microsoft’s own agreement to put Outlook on the Mac, Apple suddenly has a product that is better connected (includes Active Directory support) than is Microsoft’s own Windows Premium (which doesn’t have Active Directory support).
Apple has already refreshed its notebooks but they are expected to refresh some of their desktops shortly in support of this new operating system. They have quietly improved security by adding a malware scanner to their basic load and have one OS update (Snow Leopard) that is priced at an incredibly aggressive level to create the impression that Microsoft is overcharging and to obfuscate Apple’s historically high system cost.
Apple will also be launching their iPod updates (possibly including their new iPad) during the Snow Leopard launch window which should be able to bring more people to the Apple PC branded products and substantially increase traffic in Apple stores.
If the two products launched at the same time, the Windows PC extreme cost advantages in what is a very tight market would still likely give Microsoft a significant edge. Windows 7 is an easier upgrade from any Windows operating system than Snow Leopard can hope to be.
However they aren’t launching together and Apple will have nearly 2 months to pound on Microsoft before they can respond with product.I would expect a significant market share move unless Microsoft can shift promptly to the attack.
Apple’s Game Plan
Apple will come out hard starting on Friday and hit Microsoft aggressively on Vista problems and Snow Leopard improvements.They’ll likely position Windows 7 as Vista SP3, the product that no one will ever like. They may even compare their upgrade price to Microsoft’s to offset Microsoft’s running campaign pointing out that the Mac is significantly more expensive.
Apple will make public the number of people switching from Windows to the Mac as soon as reliable numbers can be reported. And they will be working with the numbers houses (like IDC and NPD) to showcase what will likely be strong market share gains over the period.
They are also likely to run creative bundles with iPod offerings and PCs to drive people into stores and get sales up so they can appear unbeatable going into the 4th quarter.
Microsoft’s hands are somewhat tied in that they can’t roll out their big guns, the new hardware that is coming early, because they don’t own it.
But they can ramp up their own focus on Apple products being too expensive, roll in credible testimonials on how great Windows 7 is, and bring forward additional pre-order programs. In addition they could ramp their demand generation plan early. Although Apple hasn’t given them much lead time to make these changes and their budget likely does not allow for this kind of massive adverse budget variance.
It is possible, given Apple’s sharp acceleration of the release of the product that it isn’t done yet, that Steve is being Steve and ignoring the risks. This would mean lots of initial breakage and some of the new hardware may not yet be ready.
If accurate, this would give Microsoft some breathing room but this move by Apple likely caught Microsoft by surprise. And Microsoft, like a lot of large companies, isn’t the most agile.
Microsoft Marketing and the 300 Spartans
This reminds me of the movie “300” where the 300 Spartans had to hold off the Persians until Greece could be mobilize. Microsoft Windows Marketing is the 300 that has to hold off Apple until Microsoft’s much larger engine can be mobilized.
As I initially said this is the best marketing team Microsoft has ever fielded but they are going up against the best marketing company in tech, Apple, and the entire company is coordinated, making this a task (in terms of difficulty) not too unlike the Spartans in the movie.It is at moments like this history is made and it will be made for Microsoft – or be still another part of Steve Jobs’ impressive legend.
The next few weeks should be very interesting to watch.