Microsoft's 'Have it Your Way' confronts Apple's 'Have it Our Way'

Burger King has long used marketing slogan "Have it Your Way." I saw something different during my first trip to New York City 30 years ago inside the Times Square Burger King. There was an express line with sign: "Have it Our Way." Which line was longer? The one where people could choose how their burgers were fixed.

Today, Microsoft officially launched Windows 7 in New York, emphasizing choice and customer participation. Choice is a longstanding Microsoft marketing and product principle. Participation is a longstanding approach to Microsoft product development. With Windows 7, Microsoft is bringing the two together for the product marketing. Have it your way. "Excuse me, sir. Is that Windows 7 for here or to go?"

The approach is simply brilliant and it is timely with social networking trends. Microsoft is positioning Windows 7 as your operating system, which you can fix any way want. The first TV commercial asserts that Windows 7 was crowdsourced, with people asking for what they wanted and getting it. Catch phrase: "I'm a PC, and Windows 7 was my idea."

Microsoft's strategy starkly contrasts with Apple, which is much less about choice than customers being chosen for. For example:

  • Apple product development is secretive, rather than encouraging customer feedback and participation.
  • Product choice is limited to the few computers that Apple releases, such as the same aluminum construction and design for iMac or MacBook Pro.
  • Mac OS X is deliberately designed to discourage customization. There is one look for all Mac desktops.
  • Apple sells only one computer -- the entry-level Mac mini -- for less than $999. Buyers must choose to spend $999 or more.

Apple's product and marketing approach is very much "Have it Our Way." Microsoft wants you to "Have it Your Way":

  • You help Microsoft improve Windows to meet your needs.
  • You choose the PC that looks and functions your way.
  • You customize the desktop any old way you want it.
  • You choose how much you want to spend on a computer.

Microsoft long has advocated this kind of choice and participation. The difference now: Microsoft is using these attributes to really sell Windows, in ways the company hasn't done for years and in other ways like it never has. Perhaps it's no coincidence that Burger King and Microsoft share the same advertising agency: Crispin, Porter + Bogusky. Some examples of Microsoft's Windows 7 participation marketing:

  • The aforementioned TV commercials asserting that "Windows 7 was my idea."
  • Windows 7 House Party, where real people celebrate the launch and share pics and videos online.
  • Social Website that collects "What people are really saying about Windows 7" from blogs, feeds and social networks, such a Facebook, Flickr, Twitter and YouTube.
  • Microsoft home page, which today rotates Windows 7 reviews and comments from real people -- mostly via Twitter -- rather than from bloggers or journalists.

The most successful products sell a lifestyle -- they provide a community where people feel they belong. Apple already had a fervent Mac community before the opening of the first Apple retail store in May 2001. Since, and with products like iPhone, iPod and iTunes, Apple has successfully extended the Mac community to the mass market.

Microsoft started rebuilding Windows community and belonging with the "I'm a PC" marketing campaign, which debuted in late 2008. Microsoft essentially told customers that they didn't have to feel bad before the cool Mac kids. PC users are just as cool but in different ways, and there are more of them, too. Microsoft also touted a value lifestyle.

The Windows 7 marketing campaign goes much further, by asserting that everyday people contributed to Windows 7's development -- that Microsoft listened to their input, that their opinions mattered. Who does Apple listen to other than CEO Steve Jobs?

Everything about Windows 7 marketing is anti-Apple and anti-Mac -- all unstated. Microsoft doesn't need to attack Apple directly, nor should it. The better marketing approach is to attract customers rather than to drive them away from something else. Besides, the bigger market of users run Windows, not Macs. Microsoft is competing against itself. It's Windows 7 against Windows XP (and some Vista).

That's where the other part of the marketing messaging is so important. The tagline: "Your PC, simplified." Simple is usually better. Among my six principles of good product design, two are more important: Good products should emphasize simplicity and they should hide complexity. Windows 7 unquestionably fulfills both in comparison to Windows Vista or XP.

In the first Windows 7 TV commercial above, the featured users first ask for a "Whole lotta less" and later for "simpler." The simpler message continues in the two other videos. Microsoft can't countermarket -- or shouldn't -- Windows XP . The marketing does better by enticing people to a better, simpler Windows 7.

Good marketing is about selling aspiration, about showing people how their lives will be better for buying products X, Y or Z. Microsoft's choice and participation marketing is excellent; joining a community or participating in a lifestyle are aspirational qualities. Better still: Asking for what you want and getting it. Have it your way, baby.

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