Last week’s big news was that Apple pushed up its Snow Leopard release by a month to provide a 60-day buffer between it and Microsoft’s biggest launch of the decade. Apple can’t match either Microsoft’s resources or price, but the feat of snagging an unchallenged 60 days during the back-to-school and early holiday shopping season points to Apple’s greatest advantage: Its marketing leader is also its CEO. Microsoft is fielding its best marketing team ever for the Windows 7 launch, led by Kathleen Hall, who was hired out of a leading advertising agency — but she isn’t the CEO.
This pits what is arguably a part of the most powerful technology company in the world against the most marketing-driven — thanks to Steve Jobs — company in the world, which coincidentally is the most profitable hardware-centric company in the world as well. Apple is the standing example of how important it is to properly staff and fund marketing. Right now, Apple is winning this fight.
I’ll close with my product of the week: an InterView monitor that is unique in the market because it has two screens — one for you and one for the person sitting across from you.
This is like looking at a boxing match between two champions. Steve Jobs, who is clearly the sitting title holder, is the first CEO I’ve ever followed who fundamentally understands that perception is actually more important than reality, and he uses this understanding more for marketing than to do illicit things. His other — and as yet unmatched — advantage is that he drives development. “Product managers” at Apple know that they only carry the title; Steve Jobs actually owns the products.
The challenger is Kathleen Hall, general manager of Windows 7 marketing. Hall comes out of one of the leading advertising agencies with an impressive history of major successful campaigns — though not in technology — and is considered one of the top players. In terms of raw skill, she is Jobs’ match. In terms of education and job experience, she has a deeper bag of tricks, and Microsoft is vastly more powerful than Apple.
Still, Kathleen isn’t the CEO of Microsoft, and that limits her agility, available funding, and ability to execute sharply. Jobs can use all of Apple, while Hall has just a part of Windows at her disposal. Since Microsoft is an engineering-driven company, it isn’t very big part.
Apple PCs (and, yes, Macs are “PCs”; look up the term and consider the fact that Apple got you to think Macs weren’t PCs — that’s marketing) have gained a lot of market share recently, largely from two things: the perception that Vista sucks; and Apple’s ability to manipulate the perceptions of both Microsoft’s and its own offerings. However, Windows 7 is getting a lot of good buzz. In fact, among the influencers I follow, many who had gone to Leopard have now moved back to Windows 7 since getting access to the Windows 7 RC (release candidate) or RTM (release to manufacturers). On top of that, Jobs and Apple know, thanks to seeing Microsoft’s current advertising campaign, that Microsoft is capable of executing at Apple’s level now. The launch has more Apple-targeted products — all-in-ones and premium notebooks — than have ever existed in the market.
To Apple, this likely looks like a tsunami threatening not only its anticipated growth but also its ability to hold onto recently acquired customers who haven’t been aboard long enough — and are likely struggling with the initial incompatibilities — to stay, in the face of what could be an impressive wave.
As good as Hall and her team are, they don’t run Microsoft, and they don’t even run Windows. And Microsoft, as a company, doesn’t really understand marketing.
To give you an idea of how this is ingrained in Microsoft: At an analyst event last week, a story was told of a recent meeting with Bill Gates where he was asked about the Mac vs. PC Apple ads and went off on how they were based on a pack of lies and exaggerations. Engineers are like that; they don’t get that ads aren’t based on reality — they are designed to change the perception of something.
Look back at Apple’s original “1984” ad, which is widely considered one of the best ads ever created. At the time, IBM was the most respected and loved company in the world. With one amazing ad, Apple repositioned it as a despotic, evil, excessively controlling firm — without even saying its name. Five years later, IBM took a nosedive, and that ad was a surprisingly big contributor to its downfall (I wrote one of the post mortems back then).
Apple’s Reality-Distortion Field
Snow Leopard, if you think about it, is what Microsoft would call a “service pack” (no major changes, just minor tweaks) and at Microsoft, service packs are free.
In addition, Apple is not a software company — it is a vertically integrated hardware company. It could give its OS away for free — as IBM used to do — without much trouble, because it lives off hardware revenue. (What does an iPhone or iPod OS cost, for instance?)
Apple is effectively charging US$29 for something Microsoft typically gives away for free — and it does give away for free on other products — in a way that makes Microsoft look like the one overcharging.
Apple’s Legendary Head Fake
Microsoft made a critical mistake, for while it actually had its product ready before Apple did, Microsoft delayed its release until late October — two months later than the ideal launch date for a perfect holiday season.
What Apple has pulled off will likely go down in history as one of the greatest head fakes in history (I’m borrowing a term that Michael Gartenberg used to describe this). Apple initially signaled a launch that would precede Microsoft’s by 30 days, knowing that Microsoft would move aggressively to roll out its own campaign early to offset Apple’s timing advantage. Then, last week, Apple announced it would launch on Friday, catching Microsoft unprepared and with insufficient time to move media buys and shift the campaign yet again.
Wrapping Up: Judo Marketing
Apple is doing some of the best work it has ever done — this new ad is classic; even the use of a “Seinfeld” actor Patrick Warburton is top art — and that’s saying a lot. Microsoft has fielded the best marketing team, product, and vendor-coordinated launch it has had since Brad Silverberg and Brad Chase launched Windows 95 and nearly snuffed out Apple. But Apple didn’t have Steve Jobs back then.
Jobs is turning Microsoft’s size and engineering focus against it, and by so doing, it’s unraveling much of Windows marketing team’s work. This is a “come to Jesus” for Microsoft in that it has to decide if it really wants to fight at Apple’s level or, as is often the case with big firms, start working on the list of ways it can say “Apple doesn’t fight fairly” to explain why it bled shares like a stuck pig.
Product of the Week: EVGA’s Two-Way Monitor
I love geeky gadgets, and EVGA’s InterView 1700 two-way monitor falls solidly into that class.
It has two 17″ screens so you can spread your desktop, but the cool part is you can flip one of the screens over and share what you are working on with someone sitting across from you. EVGA calls this an “interview display” because both of you see the same image — the included software flips it right side up when you flip the screen — while sitting across from each other.
For most of us, this is likely a “so what?” but for those of us that often work with others and find it annoying to have someone stand over our shoulders and sneeze in our ears — not that this ever happens to me, mind you — this thing could be a godsend.
It is also very handy for small conference rooms, because the speaker can share the screen with a small table more easily than a typical projector works. Finally, so often products like this are kind of butt ugly. This thing is actually close to an Apple-level design, in that it assembles easily and looks sharp once it is finished.
The cost is $649, which isn’t bad for a twin-screen solution of this quality and capability, so the EVGA InterView 1700 monitor is my product of the week.
Rob Enderle is a TechNewsWorld columnist and the principal analyst for the Enderle Group, a consultancy that focuses on personal technology products and trends.