Microsoft needs Windows Wizards, not Mac Attacks

Microsoft's planned "Mac Attack" this holiday season is a misguided sales strategy which might even backfire. What they really need is "Windows Wizards".
Written by Jason Perlow, Senior Contributing Writer

Microsoft's current planned marketing strategy for Windows 7 includes a grass roots retail effort by Best Buy sales staff  which will attempt to persuade potential systems buyers to purchase new PCs preloaded with the new Microsoft OS instead of Macs. But what it really needs is to deploy an army of "Windows Wizards" to demonstrate the new OS at its best, not to slam the competition with "Mac Attacks".

My colleagues Mary Jo Foley and Adrian Kingsley-Hughes wrote today about the plans that Microsoft has in place to train retail sales staff at Best Buy how to position PCs with Windows 7 for prospective systems buyers against Apple's Macintosh systems and of all things, Linux.

This sort of grassroots negative campaigning against the Mac and Linux is really not the way Microsoft should address buyers in the upcoming year and holiday season. Just like negative political campaign advertising and grassroots door to door stomping, it often leaves a bad taste in everyone's mouth and comes off as completely without class. Worst case, it has even been known to even backfire as a campaign technique. From the perspective of effective sales and marketing tactics, at best I would classify this as bottom feeding.

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There is very little evidence to support that some Best Buy sales weenie armed with a PowerPoint deck is going to sway anyone in one platform direction or another. The bottom line is that when consumers are coming in to buy a computer in a retail store, they usually have a pretty good idea of what they are going to buy in the first place, at least platform wise.

Microsoft is not going to be successful in swaying people who have already made their minds up to buy a Mac. They've either become totally dissatisfied with the Windows experience and have decided to jump ship, or have already bought into the Mac universe long ago and are looking to replace their existing system with another Mac. Conversely, PC people who are happy using Windows are not going to be magically lured into buying a Mac, and most certainly they have no idea what the hell "Linux" is, they probably just want to buy a $250 netbook and could care less what is loaded on it.

People who buy Macs don't care what systems cost -- they like Macs and are willing to pay a premium for them. I'm not going to get any deeper into the psychological makeup of a typical Mac user because they factor very little into how Microsoft is going to perform with consumer PC purchases the next few quarters, or ever. And potential Linux users who buy retail? Give me a break. They shouldn't even be on Microsoft's radar.

People who buy PCs in retail big box stores like Best Buy are examining systems from a bottom line "what do I get for my money" perspective -- they're looking at screen sizes, hard drive capacity, and possibly even processor technology or discrete graphics if they have more than a basic understanding of the technology. They already know Macs are too expensive for their tastes and that Windows is a known quantity that they've been dealing with for years.

And let's face it, pretty much every PC in a particular price range in retail has a very similar set of features, there is very little that differentiates them other than brand identity. When I'm shopping at Best Buy or any other big box retail store that carries PCs or laptops I inevitably find myself surrounded as the "go to guy" by prospective customers unsure of what system to get, because I obviously look like the dude who should either be working the aisles at Best Buy or clearly I am a superior geek life form than the staff they usually have working there. Maybe I secrete pheremones which give away my maxi-zoom-dweebie-ness, I dunno.

My answer to a typical consumer is usually "Buy whatever model is cheaper, because more likely than not you'll want to dispose of it in three or four years and get a new one. Pretty much everything here is Taiwanese or Chinese with identical system components and are manufactured with the same quality control. With all the major specs and the warranty being equal between any particular set of models, get the one with the screen you like and the keyboard which you feel comfortable using. It doesn't make a huge difference at the end of the day."

Microsoft is not fighting Mac in retail. It never did, it never will. What it will be fighting, however, is whether or not people want to buy a new PC with Windows 7 in the first place.

The enemy is the economy and an individual consumer's resistance to part with the green leafy stuff in his or her wallet, not Macs. So I would suggest that Microsoft and Best Buy take a page from Apple in how they interact with customers at their retail stores -- enlist some "Geniuses" of their own, who can demonstrate all of the new features of Windows 7 and the PCs in stock that can exploit it, along with the latest and greatest Microsoft and 3rd-party applications for test drive, who can answer any questions about the latest OS release and hand out easy to understand pamphlets that feature several models of systems from various OEMs Best Buy wants to sell. Yes, the good old fashioned straightforward "Here is the product and look what it can do" approach. I know that sounds quaint, but bear with me for a second.

The pamphlet that these "Geniuses" should be giving out should have listings of three or four flavors each of different laptops, desktops, netbooks and multimedia PCs, all with prices and a comparison chart that is easy for a retail consumer to understand.

But instead of "Geniuses" I'd call them "Windows Wizards". Heck, dress them up in flowing robes, make them wear fake white beards and pointy hats with the Windows 7 logo on it, and put them in front of a kiosk with a huge 50 inch HDTV monitor, a sweet sound system and a couple of nice PCs from participating OEMs that want their systems shown off.

If that doesn't get the attention of customers in a retail store -- even the Mac freaks -- then I don't know what will. But at least it will be entertaining and Microsoft will have a captive audience which will either be impressed with the new OS and buy a new PC, or will at least walk out the door considering a future purchase down the road with a positive feeling, not having experienced a "Mac Attack".

Is Microsoft asking for trouble with their "Mac Attack" strategy? Or do they need Windows Wizards instead? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

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