Lesson for Microsoft: Advertising works

Today, the Windows Blog has a post about Internet Explorer gaining a seemingly minuscule amount of usage share in July. Ryan Gavin cites Net Applications data showing IE gains for the second month in a row against Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox declines. Month-over-month, IE usage share rose to 60.74 percent from 60.34 percent; Chrome declined to 7.16 percent from 7.24 percent; Firefox declined to 22.91 percent from 23.81 percent. Apple's Safari gained share -- 4.85 percent to 5.09 percent. The share changes are statistically meaningful because of the large number of global users.

From a different perspective, however, the numbers aren't as competitively good as they seem, since in aggregate over many months they more significantly show Internet Explorer 8 taking share from IE 6 and IE 7. That said, two months of overall gains represent a significant turnabout for Microsoft's browser, which usage share had declined, in aggregate, since early 2005. The two-month gains closely align with Microsoft's Internet Explorer 8 advertising campaign, which starting airing the first week of June.

The TV commercials are simply brilliant. In them, Microsoft sets up a fake bank to show how easily people will give away their most confidential information and then connects that to everyday activity on the Web and how Internet Explorer 8 protects users.

Marketing works -- and TV advertising still has the most reach, as other recent advertising campaigns demonstrate. Bing search share gains correspond to Microsoft's marketing push. Quickly stated: Microsoft's search share rose from 8.4 percent in June 2009 -- the first full month Bing TV spots aired -- to 12.7 percent in June 2010, according to ComScore.

The "Windows 7 was my idea" commercials are creative and aspirational. The simple message: Microsoft listens to you, and because of you Windows 7 is much better than its predecessors.

As Microsoft prepares to launch Windows Phone 7 and Xbox Kinect, marketing should be top priority. The company should learn from its recent advertising successes and as creatively pitch the newer products as it does Bing, Internet Explorer and Windows 7.

Microsoft should also learn from its marketing failures, where the absence of advertising hurt products. Starting in 2003, I publicly marveled about how much iPod's early -- and later -- success had to do with marketing. For years, only Apple consistently aired TV ads for music players. Is it any wonder that the product succeeded and for many buyers came to be viewed as they only choice? Apple's music player was the only one they saw advertised. By comparison there was a vacuum of advertising for Windows Media MP3 players.

IE's usage share gains aren't about Microsoft making a better browser, but selling a browser better. Good marketing works, and Microsoft has followed the advertising successes of Bing and Windows 7 with another.

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