January was an exciting month for techies, with Apple's announcement of the iPhone at Macworld on January 9 and the release of the long awaited Windows Vista operating system. The strategies of the two companies could not be more different, particularly when it comes to their product launch strategies. While it may seem like a stretch to compare the announcement of the upcoming release of a smart phone to the actual release of a new version of an operating system, there are important lessons for marketers in how to communicate to differing target audiences.
Hitwise search data can give an indication of the level of consumer interest in a new product. Based on a massive surge in searches, the iPhone will be a hit. The week that Steve Jobs demonstrated the iPhone at Macworld, the volume of searches for 'iphone' soared to rank as the 55th highest volume search term overall for the week ending January 13, 2007. Engadget, the tech blog that live-blogged Steve Jobs' keynote, received a lift in market share of visits of 127 percent on January 9, 2007 versus the previous day. All Apple had to do was show its product at a conference, and let the consumers do the evangelizing.
Windows Vista was launched on January 30, 2007 with a huge marketing campaign with the tagline, "The Wow Starts Now." Searches for 'windows vista' ranked at 322 among all U.S. internet searches that week, increasing by 63 percent for the week ending February 3, 2007 versus the previous week. Microsoft had to tell us that we would be 'wowed' by its new operating system, while consumers fretted over whether or not they would need to purchase the new software or wait to buy a new PC with the OS pre-installed.
Examination of the age range of visitors to each company's website explains why they each have such different messaging and marketing strategies. According to Hitwise demographics, the majority of traffic to the Apple website came from users under 45, while the majority of traffic to the Microsoft website came from users over 35, with a full 22 percent of its traffic coming from those in the 55+ age bracket. Accordingly, the spokesman on the Windows Vista promotional site is Tom Skerrit, a 73 year-old actor. Even Apple's advertising team picked up on this difference, casting an older geek as a PC and a young hip guy as a Mac in its television commercials.
Computer users who did not grow up using computers are typically slower to adopt new technologies, and may even be fearful of the difficulties that might ensue upon upgrading an operating system or even purchasing a new cell phone. Younger users, on the other hand, have less hesitation about buying a new product, confident that they can quickly learn how to use it, as they have been figuring out how to use computers and cell phones since a young age.
Microsoft's launch strategy is a smart one: The company knows it needs to convince older users that there is a reason to make the upgrade, and it recently hired an established industry analyst as a blogger evangelist to promote Vista. Young PC users will probably upgrade regardless of any marketing or advertising they might see, unless they happen to defect to Apple. Companies will slowly upgrade as IT managers learn about the new OS and gain confidence in its security features.
In contrast, Apple understands that its customers are its best marketers. Its younger customer base spreads news virally through blogs, text messages and MySpace, and thus it does not need to rely as heavily on offline marketing, except to convince older users to switch from a PC.
Both companies understand their audience and their challenges. Apple inspires a cult-like following, while Microsoft gets little love, despite its OS market dominance. The gulf between the appropriate tactics to reach these different audiences is ever widening, and thus reinforces the importance of understanding who your customers are and how they seek out and consume information.
LeeAnn Prescott is senior research analyst, Hitwise. .