The Apple & Microsoft Brand Strategies – What Do You Think?

Apple and Microsoft Branding Strategies

Yesterday, Apple’s market capitalization eclipsed that of Microsoft. Their rivalry has fascinated me since I was old enough to geek. Apple has always been about control of the experience. Microsoft in its hey-day about control of the industry. Things they are a changing. So what about their brand brand strategies?

Brand Positioning: Microsoft
The Microsoft brand position has always been that of Number One – The market leader. This is a brand position that works for pathetic reasons. People want buy safe so buying from #1 seems like the safe choice. But Microsoft never channeled this dominance into a concrete brand position. They drank too much of their own cool aid and believed their solutions were more competitive than they really were. Being big has led them to being a big mush of meaning, being so many types of software, hardware, services, and systems they have no brand focus. What we here at Distility refer to as “over-branding”. As their dominance has waned, their brand position has deflated to the pathetic “I’m a PC” campaign.

Yes, their are some exceptions like the X-Box, but I’d argue that they essentially created a Masterbrand with X-Box, with “Microsoft” being treated as a lesser endorser brand. There’s a future in that.

What lies ahead for Microsoft as they succumb to second place? I see the Microsoft brand moving to the background so more focused brands like Zune, X-Box, and Windows can be accurately positioned vis-a-vis the competition.

Brand Positioning: Apple
My first Apple was the Mac 512/800. It was the easiest computer I’d ever used. That’s what made it different back then. Every Apple product I’ve used since then has maintained that dramatic difference. Steve Jobs knows the integral role that design can lead in brand differentiation. While they couldn’t be market leaders like Microsoft, Apple became the thought leaders with ease of use their weapon of choice. The “I’m a PC/Mac” campaign was the ultimate expression of that brand position.

Positioning is all about being positioned relative to a competitor, so what happens as the competition gets easy to use? Can Apple  sustain this position indefinitely?

Brand Promise: Microsoft
There’s no doubt that in the early days DOS enabled Microsoft to make good on the promise of personal computing. But that isn’t the same as a brand promise – the combination of company passion with customer need.

With DOS, Microsoft had the business savvy to be in the right place at the right time and to strike the best deal. The success that poured out of that allowed them to try and be everything to everyone. But I never sensed that they had a promise to me the consumer.

As mentioned above, by retreating the Microsoft brand, the firm can put better brands, and brand promises forward. That’s what they have done by replacing MSN Search with Bing. Notice that Bing is not branded Microsoft and that seems to be working.

Brand Promise: Apple
When I started-up my first Apple program – MacPaint – the Apple promise was clear – creativity. They delivered on this promise by making a graphical user interface (in case any of you forgot) and enabling desktop, multimedia, and video production in the 80s, 90s, and 2Ks respectively. Their Think Different campaign expressed that promise perfectly.

As they branch into moreMouse Pointer and more lines of business, as they become the mainstream, how can they keep focused around a single meaningful promise? Is it being “magical” as they describe the iPad? Is it being “sensuous”, as I find using my new MacBook Pro’s smooth glass track-pad right this minute.

What is your Position?
What do you think is Apple’s unfolding promise and position? What about Microsoft? Let everyone know, there are no right or wrong answers.