In a recent column in Forbes http://bit.ly/gFv9af, Elizabeth Woyke asks that particular question “Is Microsoft suddenly cool?”. Her argument is that Microsoft is increasingly developing succesful products such as Windows Phone 7, Bing, Windows 7 and Kinect – all new and solid products that can challenge Apple products. In addition she argues that Apple’s iOS operating system (4.1) incorporates features that Microsoft has had for awhile (didn’t it use to be the other way around?)
Woyke’s argument for a new found coolness is in other words primarily based on the rate of innovation of the two tech giants – a debate, which I will leave to more qualified minds. However, the question is equally interesting when viewed from a branding and marketing perspective. For a long long time Apple has had a solid and succesful branding position as a challenger brand representing the anti-establishment – always in opposition to the giants of the industry. Who doesn’t remember the classic 1984 Macintosh commercial where it is basically spelled out, or the recent Apple vs. PC adverts. This position made Apple a coveted brand among the young, the tech geeks and the visually creative, who could identify themselves with the anti-establishment (coolness-factor)
But as the whole world is rapidly becoming Apple’fied it is becoming increasingly difficult for Apple to uphold this image. Apple products and the brand itself has become highly mainstream – and mainstream (in the long run) does simply not equal cool. The behavior of Apple management in recent years also indicates a shift in the values and personality of the brand. For example, Apple’s slightly embarrasing harsh reaction following Ellen Degeneres satirical poke at the Iphone http://engt.co/9wkeBQ, would never have happened 10 years ago. Furthermore, Apple is increasingly engaging in behavior often more likely to be associated with a market leader. F.ex. by taking advantage of their monopoly on certain products in ways that some might deem distortive to competition. Makes you think of…. well, Microsoft.
The question, however, remains whether Apple’s success and market leader-like behavior provides an opportunity for Microsoft in terms of coolness? Apple’s image might have entered a new path, but the overexposed hype and immense publicity associated with every single Apple product release, shows that it has yet to result in any significant coolness-loss.
Still, there is no doubt in my mind that Apple’s new image path – if continued -could become its nemesis. As Apple’s image starts resembling the Orwellian world they once stood in opposition to, a new “blue ocean” appears for a potential challenger in the industry. Whether, Microsoft can shift course, transform and obtain that position is highly questionable, due to the long history of the brand. Yet the aggresive and massive publicity of Apple, leaves room for Microsoft to maneuver under the radar, so who knows.
When it comes to coolness, it is difficult to reach the top, but it is even more difficult to stay on top.