Microsoft Should Not Try to be Like Apple

The St. Louis Galleria now has a Microsoft store just down the way from the Apple store. It’s always empty, even during this busy holiday season. The Apple store is always buzzing. The first time I saw the Microsoft store, all I could think was, “Why are they trying to be Apple?” Claim your own position in the category. You have the budget to do it. Apparently you don’t have the marketing savvy though.

I like the take on this from Forbes’ contributor, Dave Their:

Microsoft Stores are Very Sad Places

For those of you who haven’t been to a Microsoft store, it isn’t hard to imagine. Picture an Apple store. Now picture a poorly designed Apple store. That’s pretty much it. I walked into a Microsoft store for the first time recently. It was, for lack of a better word, pathetic. It caused me to feel real pathos for Microsoft, a company that seems to have no sense of what it is.

Everything in the Microsoft store is a cheap knockoff of Apple. There are big glass doors, long tables with Microsoft products people can try out, helpful store employees with bright T-shirts and lanyards, walls of accessories and scattered software. There’s a dedicated area for children. At the front of the store is an “answer counter” that looked suspiciously similar to the Genius Bar. There are differences, but the differences only serve to hurt it. The natural wood colors can’t match the sleek white that defines an Apple store. There’s no stylistic unity from product to product, sacrificing the sci-fi quality that comes with a store that looks like a set. There are columns in the store, for God’s sake. Apple would never suffer columns.

It makes you wonder what the meeting looked like: an energetic if uncreative communications executive making the impassioned pitch about how they can fight and win against Apple on their own turf, the executives slowly nodding as they began to believe it was possible.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Microsoft is a real company. They make real products that real people use, and there are many reasons why somebody might buy a Microsoft product over an Apple product. But Microsoft doesn’t seem to be able to make people realize that. When it comes to marketing, they’re still the nerdy kid that hangs out behind Apple. Apple makes fun of them, but they still wear a backwards hat because that’s what Apple does.

Remember the “I’m a Mac, I’m a PC” ads? They hit Microsoft right where it hurt: mocking the company’s squareness in the face of Apple’s monumental coolification of personal electronics. They were also hilarious, something the uncool can have a hard time with. And so Microsoft came out with a series of rebuttal ads called “I’m a PC,” showing a bunch of people trying to look like Justin Long and pretend they were using Microsoft products by choice. It was a bit hard to watch.

Here’s what they should have done: show a useless hipster taking filtered pictures with his iPhone and tweeting on a MacBook. Then show someone running a business using a PC. Same stereotypes: suit vs. t-shirt, just reversed. It could have been an effective message: Macs are shiny toys, PCs are valuable tools.

But like McDonald’s trying to pretend it’s an upscale coffee shop, Microsoft is trying to emulate another big business while losing sight of what made their own company successful in the first place. It’s not going to work: their brand will never be as trendy as Apple’s, and trying to pretend it can be only points out how far it has to go. But confidence comes from all kinds of places, and if Microsoft wants to be a leader again it will have to develop a style that is all its own. So long as it commits itself to following, it ensures that it will remain in second.

On the flip side following is a nice take on why the Apple stores do work from blog, The Story of Telling:

The Apple Store, Belonging And Love

What’s the one thing you never find at an Apple store? That thing you probably found in your hotel room when you checked in. The poorly expressed intention to customers, that guarantees they will never come back. Oh, and it’s most likely laminated and taped up in several places.

Ah yes.…. a list of rules.

I found that list pasted four times around our ‘holiday getaway’ recently. Every poorly considered word told us what we couldn’t do in the outdoor spa and what we must do. Every time we saw that note we knew that we weren’t trusted and didn’t belong.

apple-store-new-yorkThe Apple Store is a place without rules. No glass cases. (Although the building itself in NYC is a glass case.) No velvet ropes between the product and the customer. Everybody’s welcome. That’s part of the reason it’s the busiest store in your city. Every single contact point invites you to experience and start getting intimate. To explore, to touch, to play, to linger and belong. There are no barriers to intimacy. And that’s exactly what your customers want from you. Your customers want to know they belong.

Before they can allow your designs, copy, books and products to belong in their lives, they need to sense your intention. They want to trust you and feel that you trust them too.

Your clients want to be welcomed like a friend and wooed live a lover. They can feel your intention at every point of contact. It’s your job to communicate that with all your heart and soul. Doesn’t matter if you sell shoes, coffee, design, copy or connection. Making rules is lazy. Building trust and expressing intentions isn’t easy, but it’s worth it.

Have you found ways to create intimacy with your clients either online or offline? Tell me more about the businesses and brands that you love and how they do that?