Marketing for Thought

If you can’t beat them, join them

We’ve spent a lot of time in class discussing the customer’s growing power in today’s marketplace, but what companies actually commit to change and create environments and dialogues that are more valuable to the customer?

And then I walked into one of the new Microsoft retail stores.

I was wandering through the Mall of America (for the first time), adoring the variety of stores and the enormous amusement park, when I stumbled across what I thought was an Apple store.  The storefront was completely glass.  Inside was white and clean-cut, very simplistic, with light-colored wood flooring.  Long tables with were set up in rows across the store-each a different station for trying different products.

Almost everyone has been to an Apple store or has seen an Apple store. Doesn’t this sound like one?

Well, that’s what I thought…until I glanced to my right and noticed the actual Apple store. What I described above was actually a Microsoft store.

Microsoft retail stores are sprouting up across the nation

Microsoft retail stores are sprouting up across the nation

Apple and Microsoft’s Rivalry

Almost anyone can recall the “Get a Mac” campaign, and nothing exemplifies the rivalry between Apple and Microsoft more than these commercials.

To recap, a younger man and an older man personify each computer system, a Mac and PC respectively. Each add described different characteristics, but overall describes Macs as reliable, compatible with other technology, easier to use, and “cooler.” PC’s are described as slow, older models, not compatible, less secure, and “less hip.”

As a Mac user, I completely agree with this stereotype.  In my own experience, my PC was slow, Windows had lots of defects, and I always got viruses on my computer. Meanwhile, my Mac is easy, fast, and I have never gotten a virus. It’s reliable. And I always have onsite assistance at the Apple store if i need help with software or have questions.

I know many others have had similar experiences with PCs and now prefer Macs, especially students. But how did Microsoft initially react to this campaign? Through this lame attempt-the commercial below, of course.

What Microsoft has learned from Apple

Create retail locations.

The creation of retail locations has allowed Microsoft to develop relationships with their customers.  Coming to a tangible location to ask questions and get a feel for the products is less intimidating than calling Microsoft’s customer service line or ordering offline.

“Microsoft retail stores – both brick-and-mortar locations and seasonal holiday stores – have become a vital way for the company to develop closer relationships with consumers, and conversely, to put consumers directly in touch with Microsoft technology,” said Jonathan Adashek, general manager of Communications Strategy.

They are also set up similarly to Apple stores- each are simplistic, with long wooden tables that display gadgets, a wall of accessories, and a station for tech support.

inside a Microsoft retail location

inside a Microsoft retail location, via

Place importance on customer service.

Apple’s employee training program places emphasis on one major concept: it is more important to help the customer solve their problem than push merchandise. The Wall Street Journal interviewed employee’s about their training experiences and compared their observations of the employee’s responses to therapists. The confidential training manual actually reads “Listen and limit your responses to simple reassurances that you are doing so. ‘Uh-huh,’ ‘I understand,’ etc.”

This is where Apple succeeds.  They create an atmosphere where the customer is in control.  What the customer needs, wants, and feels dominates the conversation. Employees are attentive, perceptive, and reassuring.

Not only this, but Apple provides in-store classes to learn the Mac software and a Genius bar for on-staff technology assistance.

Microsoft has taken the hint. Ryan Scott, a Microsoft store manager, describes Microsoft’s mission as customer satisfaction and service oriented.“From the second they walk in the store, whether they buy anything or not, I want them to have a world-class experience and walk out with that wow factor so when they think about Microsoft they think about incredible service, the best technology in the world, and they then want to share that with their friends and family,” he says.

Physical locations have given Microsoft the opportunity to open conversations with customers about their products and get a better feel for the brand.

How Microsoft is going above and beyond

Incentives for attending store openings.

Every store opening features a special performance from popular musicians.  Past performances have included Maroon 5, Kelly Clarkson, Enrique Iglesias, and Black Keys.

Community giving at every store opening.

Microsoft views store openings as a way for them to connect with the community.  It allows them to introduce their products, company, brand, and store while supporting important groups in local communities.

In every community where Microsoft opens a store, they give software grants to organizations within that community. For example, at the Corte Madera store opening, Microsoft gave a $250,000 technology grant to the the Children’s Creativity Museum and the non-profit organization Girls Inc. They also gave a $1 million grant to Junior Achievement of Northern California.

New job title: community development specialist.

Microsoft created a position at every store that specializes in organizing in-store events and activities to raise awareness of causes in the community while providing opportunities to learn new technology.

Each store has theatre space.

Theatre space is provided to give space to community organizations to use for free.

Are you still a Mac user?

Microsoft employees excited and enthusiastic at the opening of a store location in the UK, via

Microsoft employees excited and enthusiastic at the opening of a store location in the UK, via

It’s clear that Microsoft  is making strides at improving their company and brand image, but many have argued that the similarities between Apple and PC stores are a huge turn-off. But who can blame Microsoft for following suit? The Wall Street Journal reported that “more people now visit Apple’s 326 stores in a single quarter than the 60 million who visited Walt Disney Co.’s four biggest theme parks last year.”

Customers demanded better customer service, more answers, more help, and easier technology. They want to be understood and heard. The retail store was the best answer.

Their first store opened in Scottsdale, Arizona, in 2009, and currently operates 43 stores. And every store is strategically located in proximity to Apple stores. Why? To reassert them as a competitor- and a darn good one to say no too.

Not only this, but they are playing Mac’s game even better than Mac. Microsoft has not only set priority on providing the best customer service (so good that one report says that an employee offered a customer a Diet Coke while browsing the store!), but they have made it their mission to connect and help the community. Their technology grants, theatre, and in-store activities allow the communities to engage with the brand and develop new brand perceptions.

They may be copying Mac’s retail look and customer service agenda, but who’s to say they aren’t spitting better game?

This post is a part of a series of posts for Integrated Marketing Communications class that explores strategies of integrated marketing communications and recognizes strong and weak branding strategies today.


4 thoughts on “If you can’t beat them, join them

  1. This is a great post, Victoria! I too am an avid Mac user and have no plans to ever revert back to a PC. I’ve had a similar experience in terms of going from a slow, unreliable computer to a fast and problem-free Mac.

    I had never thought about the fact that Apple had brick and mortar stores and Windows really didn’t. Obviously there are PCs being sold in Best Buy, Walmart, Target, etc. but the people staffing those stores are by no means PC experts! If I had a PC, I would much prefer a store (like the Apple store), where there are people specifically trained to help me with my PC.

    What grinds my gears a bit, however, is how closely Windows followed Apple’s example. I mean–really? Windows store mimic Apple stores in every single way. I know they say that imitation is the highest form of flattery, but I think it’s pretty pathetic. High customer service and involvement is Apple’s brand promise, not Windows’. I’d like to see Windows really find their own heartbeat so that they can deliver on their OWN brand promise!

  2. Hey Vicoria, you provide a lot of great information in this post and I agree with a lot of it. However, that being said I’m going to play devil’s advocate for a second. No one will disagree with your point that Apple has done a better job branding their products, but Windows has a 78% market share in the computer industry when it comes to operating systems. The truth is, the world (especially the business world) still runs on Windows and therefore Microsoft. This essentially comes down to the business models. Microsoft focuses more on software (Windows OS, The Office Suite, etc), preferring the devices to be made by other companies (Acer, Dell, Lenovo, etc) Apple on the other hand focuses on the devices (Yes they have their own operating system but that is pretty much the extent of software strategy).

    You call Microsoft’s ad lame, but I would argue it conveys my main point above – the world still runs on PCs. Something clearly needed to be done by Microsoft after the success of the Get a Mac campaign and I think the response was appropriate. I absolutely can see where you are coming from though. Microsoft is an inherently boring company and Apple did a great job of pointing that out. Although you can still be boring and successful!

    As far as Microsoft copying the concept of Apple Store, yeah it is kinda lame, but like Blair pointed out imitation is the highest form of flattery. The model clearly works so why not use it? All grocery stores look relatively the same, so maybe all tech stores are moving towards the Apple model? Verizon’s stores that I’ve been in are similar to Apple stores relatively speaking and while I’ve never been in AT&T or TMobile store I assume they are laid out similarly.

    Like i said, great post! I just thought I’d lend a different perspective (from the dark side of PC users)


  3. Katie P says:

    Hey Victoria I really enjoyed your post. I found it very interesting to see everything that Microsoft is doing to compete with Mac. I myself am a very “blinded” Mac user and do not stray far from Apple products. I have an iPhone, iPod, and a MacBook. It was actually shocking to me when I read your post to see all of the steps Microsoft has taken that I had absolutely no idea about. I feel like now that I have so many Apple products there is no going back. They are easy to use, reliable, and come with an overall experience that I think can’t be beat.

    That being said, I was very impressed by the steps Microsoft has taken in being more of a competitor with Mac. In order for them to even have a change I think they really needed to hit the ground running and it looks like that is what they have done. While I agree with Blair on the fact that they just copied the stores, I think it was probably smart on their part. They are trying to create what they know that customers already love and are just trying to get themselves back on the board. I am very interested to see what will happen with this into the future. It could be something to watch out for, one brand can’t be on top forever! Or can it?

  4. Victoria – I need to step into your closet more. Very interesting stuff. Until recently, I thought Microsoft was slacking and had been decling steadily since we have gone to college. I feel college students have this view because of how many Macs there are around campus. But as your post and this article prove, Microsoft is thriving – They are the number 2 brand right after Apple. It will be interesting to see what occurs in the future between these rivals.

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