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Microsoft vs Apple: Who is the top dog?

When looking at the brand rivalry of Microsoft vs Apple, I go back in my personal history to the time I first met Bill Gates at a conference in 1978 called Wescon. It was a chance meeting, and I learned about the basic programming language interpreter that he had written for the Altair computer. A brief discussion that opened my mind. I was just a child of 13 at the time and my father had “snuck” me in to the conference. I had just started learning about computers with one of the first TRS-80 computers from Radio Shack, and I was absorbed by the scene. In this discussion, Gates talked about the computer one day becoming something that not only could run a business, but that could be used at home to control lights, thermostats, and even play games. I remember the car ride home- when I was raving about the possibilities, Dad asked if I was too lazy to get up and change the thermostat or turn off the lights my self – why would I need a computer for that? For him, the computer he had bought me was for word processing and probably some simple games – a step up from Pong.

In that moment I learned that Microsoft would one day focus on the ubiquity of computing, controlling things, processes, etc. Apple on the other hand was different. I had the opportunity in the late 70s and early 80s to work with the Apple II computer. The focus was clearly more on visual actions than programming. More games, fewer business utilities. As I entered the business world in the Graphics Communications industry, specifically digital printing, that difference was never more apparent. Up until very recently, if you spoke with a graphics designer, media person or Agency, and you weren’t on a Mac, you would be scoffed at. Meanwhile, when I had to outfit my national team of production printing analysts with laptops, and I insisted on Macs, the company IT infrastructure pushed back hard, always insisting on PCs. I won that battle but it speaks volumes to the paths that these two giants took in their messaging – Corporate vs Artistic, Right Brain vs Left Brain, Numbers vs Number of colors.

In the famous 1984 Olympic Hammer Throwing ad for Apple, we saw this dystopian, artistic yet cold call to action – breaking free of the rigid business thinking into new and great heights of individuality. Microsoft, however, focused on creating the best possible business productivity software which was not unique, but served as an important evolutionary point in the development of corporate communications and governance.

Now in the last 14 years, since the iPhone was released, we began to see convergence in messaging. Suddenly, business apps could be run on your smartphone, and cloud based software could eliminate the need for big corporate PCs at a desk,

So in this battle, who was he Dog, who was the Underdog. I submit each was both, depending on the industry and use case for each. Brand messaging played squarely to their bases, like political candidates. Apple embraced the artsy, graphics, design communities, Microsoft the corporate IT world. Interestingly though, they both attacked the schools. Both had significant brand presence, having both given away hundreds of millions of dollars of equipment and software to early education, in hopes of snaring brand loyalty at the most impressionable age. This battle continues to this day.

For our purposes, I will focus on Apple as the underdog in the corporate IT space.In order to perform better in this space Apple must convince the IT CIO world that Apple MacOS X is a more secure platform than Windows. In fact, most breaches of security happen due to Microsoft failures. This should be an easy case for Apple to prove out, but they will need to think differently. At the core, Mac OS X operating system is built on Unix, considered the most secure computing operating system ever. Developed by Bell Labs, until recently, it drove most industrial equipment because of its bulletproof nature and secure structure. Apple however, was so focused on creating a new experience on top of Unix, that they never took advantage of their natural benefit. So my 3 suggestions for Apple:

  1. A public Hack-a-Thon event where hackers of all types are invited to hack into a secure Mac based datacenter and a Windows based datacenter. Just the mere bravado will get attention
  2. Actively market to CIOs the concept of convergence from Windows to Mac in the datacenter, while allowing Microsoft operating systems to operate on Mac servers. Replacing the hardware without significant change to infrastructure. It’s only natural that the OS comes next
  3. Micro-influencer targeting – find those who are respected in the industry and work with them to change their mind – not by paid interaction but by genuinely responding to their belief in Microsoft superiority, and then documenting their transition to liking Apple products more. Earned Media is key here.

Why do Microsoft users prefer them as a brand? Simple, this goes back to the old IBM axiom that if you buy Big Blue, you’ll never be fired. In other words, andIBM mainframe (and later PC) purchase was always safe since it was a known quantity. Such is the case with the risk averse IT world. However, when flayed open for the world to see, IT professionals should see that my preference, Apple and the Mac hardware/OS platform, provides a historically longer track record of security and stability, while, yes, being the trendier and prettier of the two as well!

Under Armour and Over Weight

In 2014, Under Armour chose to take a bite out of a market segment that they previously had weak performance with. The women’s athletics marketplace had been a disaster when Adidas attempted to market to it, and they were the number two athletic-weat brand in the world. So why then, would Under Armour go after it just one year later. Simple, Kevin Plank, Under Armour’s founder, thought he could do better….and he did.

When Under Armour launched the multi-channel campaign, he threw more at it than any other marketing effort. He wanted to saturate the market with messages of non-traiditional athletes succeeding in very athletic ways. He was telling a story that a ballerina, or a boxing beauty queen, was as much of a tough, strong athlete, as the football players that made up the core of the Under Armour customer base.

The contraposition of beauty and brawn made the campaign a success. Under Armour grew their women’s clothing revenues to 30% of their total revenues. People got behind the message, and soon expansion into even more products and market segments followed.

Do what can we take away from this story….

  1. Just because someone else tried, doesn’t mean that the market segment you are wanting to attack won’t respond
  2. Shifts in market segments require creating discomfort in the mind of the consumer, forcing them to think about your product in a way they hadn’t yet. Think of it as Cher in Moonstruck slapping you across the face and yelling “Snap Out of It!”
  3. Moving into a new market segment requires shifting mindsets from the inert set to the evoked set. Inert meaning that no one thinks about you in the segment, but they don’t have anything against you. Evoked means that when they think about the segment, they think about you.
  4. It’s not necessary to use influencers, as much as it is to use aspirational examples, to bolster the story that drives the emotion to think of your product. It just so happens that influencers tend to be the best of what they do. They tend to be the aspirational source, but not always. Sometimes we are inspired to do better when a kid in a wheelchair offers a fuzzy blanket in exchange for a donation. So your segment your targeting may or may not need “Influencers”, but perhaps just micro-influencers.

SO what market do I think can be marketed to, as a new segment? Well, according to the CDC over 40% of all Americans are obese… not overweight…obese. So I’m not targeting a diet food, or an exercise program. I would target the personal professional and casual clothing industry. Big people have the need to look good at work or out on the town, but anyone overweight, much less obese, has to battle the looks of disdain and even fear when a skinny rail of a millennial sees you walking towards their department, knowing they have nothing that will fit you. This a huge market potential that currently is served really by only one retailer, DXL. Previously, Rochester Big and Tall also existed and targeted high end clientele. However, they suffered from poor word of mouth and no social media environment to whom to market, and they were ultimately purchased by DXL. A company that could develop a multi-channel, inspirational campaign that lifted (no pun intended), the obese man and woman up, with products that were of very good quality materials, built well with wearability in mind, and priced like similar products in the 99% of other stores, would certainly corner the market. And yes, I would be one of those customers!