Microsoft reported earlier this week that it had sold 60 million Windows 8 licenses since its newest operating system went on sale on October 26 last year. That’s a boatload of units, though it roughly kept pace with number of PCs shipped during the fourth quarter (just under 90 million). So the idea that its sales kinda fell off the back of a truck isn’t that far off. Industry analysts weren’t overjoyed with holiday sales, with IDC suggesting Microsoft heavily advertised the touch capabilities of its OS while the machines on store shelves didn’t always offer it.
Really? Consumers turned out in droves for that cool new Windows touch functionality?
I predicted that nobody would care about Microsoft’s new OS products because the company would produce brilliantly generic marketing. They’ve lived down to my expectations, doing their best to tell us that Windows 8 devices work like iPads. The TV spots have been endearing little snippets of digital lifestyles that could have been sponsored by any tech brand. Even a budget north of $1 billion hasn’t changed the fact that they have expertly told us nothing compelling about what they’re selling.
I hate the fact that I was mostly right, wishful arguments of “it takes time” and the stark fact of 60 million unit sales aside…because Microsoft deserves so much more. Yup. I said it: not just more, but better.
Windows 8 is a revelation, at least to those of us who haven’t been initiated into the ranks of all-knowing Digerati (i.e. consumers). It is a total rethinking of device interface that seems on par with the way Apple gave us icons and apps instead of a Start Menu…or maybe the very GUI on which all Macs and PCs are based. It changes the way we envision our gizmos, seeing them less as collections in our hands of things that run on our command, and more as live connectors to communities/content around us.
It’s a big deal, only you wouldn’t know it from the company’s marketing. So here are three ways Microsoft could change its marketing, and perhaps change the world:
Stress differences, not similarities. The idea behind Windows 8 is that it’s a next generation operating system that gets out of the way between people and what they want to do (or something like that). Talk about it in big, bold terms, focusing on what it does differently and demonstrating how that’s better, not just more fun. It’s a new way of interacting with devices that, once experienced, changes your approach forever after; it’s the design bar for others, including Apple, to strive toward. In other words, talk like an industry leader, not a committee.
I would shelve all the feel-good ads and come out with really blunt, Big Picture spots about the NextGen OS (or the Last OS?). Call it “invisible” or something — maybe the punchline is that Microsoft has blown up the OS on which it was built — and give us tangible things it does (and other operating systems don’t). I’d scrap all the pretty imagery on the company’s home page and replace it with a fully-functioning Windows 8 simulator so people could see and play with how their PCs would be different. And touch? Zzzzz. Nice to have, but it’s a cost-of-entry function at this point.
Enable new device engagement. If the tiles interface is as cool as I think it is, Microsoft should offer unique services (or access to them in unique ways) that accentuate the benefits of the interface. Offering just another way to click through to Facebook isn’t such a big deal; what does Windows 8 do differently? Why aren’t there proprietary tiles that aggregate functions and/or create new tools (and if there are, why the hell doesn’t anybody know about them)? Spend marketing dollars on this stuff instead of pretty ads.
Here are a few thought-starters: Instead of giving kids access to the cloud, which is kinda like inviting them to walk the streets of a major city unaccompanied by an adult, create a protected kid cloud for the exclusive use of Windows 8 families. Host a massive developer contest for new tile functions or services. Create online communities and actively manage conversations on really timely stuff, like gun control, and thereby elevate the identity and status of product users to something more than just the non-Apple crowd.
Invent the industry’s next pricing structure. Microsoft’s pricing strategy is cutting-edge circa 1950 or so, and it gets rather Byzantine when it comes to different versions for different users (a matrix has often been invoked, which is a kiss of death for any self-respecting communicator). Scrap the traditional pricing nonsense and figure out how Windows 8 buyers could be subscribers to the OS. This would redefine how they think of it (and the brand), and it would be in keeping with the live, interactive nature of the interface.
Once the company figured out the basic pricing structure, it could come up with a way to incentivize usage and ownership over time…so that when Windows 9 comes around, people will have all but already bought it/into it. This new product should be a chance to lock folks into a lifestyle that they won’t want to leave because it works so wonderfully and is priced so fairly.
There’s so much Microsoft could do to truly change the world, and $1 billion could finance a lot of much. 60 million units sold might be on track with past Windows launches, but the company should be shooting for a far more successful future. Their goal should be to inspire people to flock to stores looking for the OS.
No, it should be to change the world.