Microsoft Aims for the Head to Combat Apple’s Appeal to the Heart

by Jeff Wiener on August 19, 2014

It’s a tug-of-war that has defined many sectors of the technology industry for decades now, the ever-present fight between the heart and the head, emotions vs. rationality. While there’s something to be said for rational arguments, for presenting facts to the consumer and then letting them decide, there’s almost no debate that whipping that same consumer base into an emotional frenzy is exponentially more successful in generating revenue; as emotional manipulation inspires people to buy things, while facts often seem to only muddy the waters.

As evidence of this ongoing battle Microsoft recently launched a new series of ad campaigns pitting the company’s flagship products in a variety of technology markets (smartphones, tablets, laptops) against Apple’s similar offerings, providing consumers rational and factual arguments for why Microsoft’s products are superior (in every respect it would seem).

But you’ll have to forgive me if I’m a little surprised by Microsoft’s new mobile marketing strategy, for while I laud the Redmond-based software giant for taking on Apple’s products directly (the same strategy Samsung has successfully deployed these last few years) it seems the company has learned nothing about how to appeal to mobile consumers, as it is substantially more difficult to convince someone to buy your product with facts and figures than it is to show them how they simply can’t live without it.

When Samsung took on Apple in the mobile technology market the Korean firm knew it had only one chance to dethrone the world’s most popular smartphone, and it wasn’t by advertising competitive price points, better features, quicker product advancement, or any of that, it was making people laugh by poking fun at Apple’s foibles.

While Samsung’s mobile advertising didn’t quite have that same inspiring (and manipulative) edge that Apple’s advertising continually demonstrates, it proved that mockery and humour could generate the same emotional connection, drawing consumers in who were looking for an Apple alternative.

But while Microsoft acknowledges that is attempting a similar marketing tack to Samsung, the Redmond company has stated its going to take a distinctly different approach to appealing to consumers, growing its brand awareness through the presentation of facts regarding the superiority of its product…I can just feel the inspiration.

“We are a challenger brand in the mobile category,” said Kathleen Hall, general manager of global and brand marketing at Microsoft, and while she admits to taking a page from Samsung’s advertising campaign that continually challenged the iPhone, she noted,. “Samsung did it more on an emotional position…We’re going for more of a rational appeal.” [Italics mine]

But the danger with facts and rational appeal is that, quite simply, no one cares about them. As American author Robert Fulghum famously wrote, “I believe that imagination is stronger than knowledge – myth is more potent than history – dreams are more powerful than facts,” and he couldn’t be more right. People want to be moved by their technology, shown a world of potential where their dreams can become a reality, they don’t want to been shown a world where their core processor is simply the best.

As CNET’s Chris Matyszczyk concludes, “If Microsoft is to have a real chance at being a close challenger; rationality will only take it so far. I suspect, not nearly as far as it would like to go.”

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