Microsoft pays for enthusiasts Apple gets for free

Microsoft is hawking partner wares through Windows Team Blog posts. My inclination is to praise -- and I will -- but I can't resist a little a little jab, too. A decade ago there were just a handful of Apple blogs or fan sites, like MacCentral and ThinkSecret, now there are bazillions covering every scrap of Apple news or rumor. Where are the Microsoft enthusiasts? Must they be employee bloggers selling new Windows PCs?

This morning, not one, but two, Windows Team Blog posts caught my attention -- it's more when counting duplicates, but let's not go there (both posted yesterday). The first: "From Us With Love" by Ashley Brown and "Hands on with today's offer PC -- the Sony VAIO E Series" by Ben Randolph. Brown writes about three deals and Randolph what you can do with one of them. The emphasis in both is the same: "Our offers." Randolph's post reads like the kind of first-hand, enthusiast account that might pop up on an independent blog or in a comment or forum. The posts are part of a series highlighting Microsoft partner products. None of this is super new; I finally decided to blog it today.

On the one hand, I commend Microsoft for using company blogs as marketing tools and for doing some aggressive evangelism around Windows 7 products. Microsoft critics are quick to wave the monopoly flag -- arguing that Windows sales are automatic. Oh yeah? Then explain the Windows Vista fiasco in terms of monopoly might. The majority of Windows XP users stayed put. Now their PCs creak at the bones and it's time for some fresh Windows 7 blood. Given the large number of Windows XP users who should be easy Windows 7 upgrades -- at least according to the monopoly might theory -- Microsoft should be able to sit back and collect the license fees. Instead, Microsoft is marketing the hell out of Windows 7, which is evidence enough that monopoly has more limited benefits than critics admit.

Microsoft is Right to Crank Up the Volume

Good reasons for Microsoft to crank up evangelism and marketing:

1. Most products don't sell themselves. Companies advertise for a reason. People can forget a brand, particularly one like Windows that takes on the utility of a toaster or oven. How often do you replace your oven? Or your car? Marketing keeps the fire burning -- and so consumer awareness -- under the Windows brand.

2. Many consumers and IT managers feel that what they've got is good enough. The old "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" axiom comes to play. Monopoly is all the more reason to promote a new product, particularly when the market is saturated with earlier versions that compete with the newest one. In the personal computing market, next to software pirates, Microsoft's biggest competitor is Microsoft, not Apple.

3. Microsoft faces fierce competition from companies betting on computing relevance shifting from PC applications and software to mobile device applications and the cloud. For starters, the three monopolies I identified last week: Apple, Facebook and Google. Windows anchors Microsoft's PC operating system-productivity suite-server software applications stack.

4. Partners need and deserve help. There are simply too many Windows products out there for consumers or IT managers to choose from. Microsoft is right to support partners like Dell, HP or Sony through Windows 7 marketing and evangelism. Highlighting good deals -- "our offers" -- is good start. By the way, I'm a huge fan of Microsoft finally playing favorites. For years, the company seemingly treated all partners the same. But they're not. Some make better products or offer better deals.

5. Enthusiasts are the best evangelists. Microsoft should engage Windows enthusiasts. However, there is too much enthusiasm coming from Microsoft and not enough effort nurturing organic enthusiasm.

There's No Apple Team Blog

On the other hand, Apple doesn't pay anyone for this kind of evangelism. There's no Apple Team Blog or other dedicated to iPad, iPhone or Macintosh. Apple spends hundreds of millions on advertising, as does Microsoft, but doesn't aggressively evangelize enthusiasts. (Before any Macheads comment, I'll acknowledge that while working for Apple, Guy Kawasaki practically pioneered product evangelism for Macintosh. His Machead death squads targeted journalists who wrote one negative word about Apple. Ah, that's not the kind of evangelism or customer enthusiasm I'm referring to here.)

There are plenty of Apple enthusiasts out there, and the number of Apple product or rumor posts is simply mind-boggling. Then there are the bazillion comments or other reactions to the large number of Apple product or rumor posts. Apple's brand is hot right now. A decade and two ago, Microsoft commanded the news and newsgroup buzz, and the company offered plenty of incentives to Windows user groups, like free software. Microsoft had great enthusiast outreach. Apple has little to none.

Apple has a strange way of rewarding loyal enthusiasts. Too much enthusiasm can lead to lawyers demanding that such-such photo or blog post be taken off the Web now, or to cops breaking down the door and confiscating computers and gadgets. Then there are Apple's rewards for loyal developers, who must agree to strict terms (like, no Adobe Flash, baby) and can never be sure their hot new application won't be rejected by App Store.

At least Microsoft lets employees blog about its products and encourages social sharing and commentary, which are today's best tools for engaging enthusiasts. Apple does not. Last month's "Thoughts on Flash," penned  by CEO Steve Jobs, appeared on an Apple PR Website. No comments allowed. Apple's YouTube channel promotes iPad, but commenting is turned off. Apple's messaging and outreach is one-directional. The company restricts any public dialog on its sites to support forums. By the way, Kawasaki's Apple evangelism was one way, too, seeking to build a core of enthusiasts promoting the Apple Way by, in part, harassing any journalist who got in the way. His success is as much credit to users' passions for Apple products.

But that was decades ago. Today, Microsoft engages enthusiasts from its Websites and by using social networking and sharing tools. The approach is good, but larger Microsoft brand and product problems hamper the work. Enthusiasts are any company's best evangelists. Microsoft's number has dwindled over the years, while Apple's numbers increased -- at least as measured by the volume hype. Noise about Apple is so much louder than for Microsoft.

Who are you? Are you a Microsoft enthusiast? It's OK, confess. Are you perhaps an Apple enthusiast? Or maybe your digital lifestyle aligns with another company or product. Please answer in comments and explain why you're an enthusiast, or not.

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