by Shane O'Neill

Microsoft’s Life May Depend on Defining a PC Lifestyle

Feb 26, 20094 mins
Data Center

The reaction to Microsoft’s plan to open retail stores from bloggers and pundits has been mostly negative. It’s likely to fail, they say. Why? Because Microsoft doesn’t offer an “experience” or a “lifestyle” or that special, personality-defining, everything’s gonna be OK allure that Apple stores offer.

Yet the “PC lifestyle” does exist, it just hasn’t been defined for the public. And no one’s going to define it if Microsoft doesn’t. Millions of people use Windows-based PCs at home and work everyday. If you’re using a PC from any of the Microsoft OEMs and Vista and Windows Mobile and any of the Windows Live features, then congratulations, you’re living the PC lifestyle! Are you excited? Did you even know you were doing it? Probably not. And that’s the problem.

For its retail stores to survive, Microsoft has to define and market the PC lifestyle. It needs to give customers an “experience” where they learn how their software, hardware and services all connect in their homes (and how that can carry over into work) and thus feel better about themselves. The stores will fail if they are just a place to hawk Xboxes, Zunes and Office 2007.

In Microsoft’s defense, it is taking baby steps to show and explain the PC lifestyle through advertising. The much-belated “I’m a PC” TV spots were uplifting, but too broad. They offered no specifics about PC use.

Video – Windows: Life Beyond Your PC. Part of “The Possibilities” series.

The latest chapter in the “Windows: Life without Walls” ad campaign called “The Rookies” gets specific. The spots, running regularly on network TV, show kids using Windows Live Photo Gallery to download, enhance and share photos. There have been three spots: 4 ˝ year old Kylie, 7-year-old Alexa and 8-year-old Adam. Kylie, cute as a button, downloads and brightens a photo of her fish and e-mails it to her parents. By the time we get to Adam, he’s setting his photo slideshow on his PC to music and then “screening this puppy for ya” on a flat-screen TV.

The tagline for the ads: It’s That Easy. Yep, so easy a kid can do it. The spots will make middle-aged technophobes feel stupid; however they do successfully market ease of use and interoperability, two areas Microsoft would be wise to hammer home with in-person demos in its retail stores.

Microsoft is all-too aware of the PC lifestyle conundrum based on some minute-long promotional videos on Microsoft’s site called “The Possibilities.”

If Microsoft has been accused of being to vague in their advertising, these videos fix that. They directly address the PC lifestyle question by showing all walks of life using PCs, Vista, Windows Live and Windows Mobile to “bring together all the parts of your life.”

Here we have a father and son on their laptop laughing at photos; a busy mother multi-tasking in the kitchen with a Dell laptop in front of her; a mobile worker checking over an Excel spreadsheet on his Windows Mobile phone; a teenager on her PC IMing with Windows Live Messenger. Voice-over narration is included. You get the idea.

The message: that our complicated lives have extended beyond the PC and that Windows products have got you covered in all aspects of your life. There’s a video for Vista (they even say the word “Vista”), Windows

Live and Windows Mobile, and then one that covers them all (embedded in this post).

So I guess this is the PC lifestyle: It’s not hip and cool like Apple, but it’s pragmatic. It’s about kids and families and busy workers on the go. It’s about keeping a work/life balance.

I have not seen “The Possibilities” on TV and my contact at Microsoft said they are not part of any TV campaign. They do seem a bit “informercially” for mainstream TV.

Like most ads, “The Possibilites” videos do not reflect reality, just the reality Microsoft wants. People are not brand monkeys who live under the Windows umbrella, using all things Windows. In the real world, most people use Google’s gmail for personal e-mail and not Windows Live/hotmail/Windows Live Hotmail (still don’t know what to call it). They don’t use Windows Live Messenger, they use AIM; most businesses use BlackBerrys, not Windows Mobile phones; people organize their photos using Yahoo’s Flickr and Google’s Picasa much more than Windows Live Photo Gallery.

This is the integrated reality Microsoft is contending with as it defines the “PC lifestyle.” Yet it’s a marketing movement Microsoft has to cultivate. Without some sort of positive PC lifestyle on peoples’ minds, those retail stores are toast.

What are your thoughts on the “PC lifestyle” and Microsoft retail stores?