Memo to Steve Ballmer: It’s time for Microsoft to rethink its Windows Vista marketing plan. Sure, Vista has sold 20 million licenses. But everyone from Wall Street to Main Street U.S.A. knows Vista isn’t living up to its hype. Here are 10 logical steps Microsoft should take to jump-start the Vista sales engine:
1. Keep It Simple: Microsoft currently offers too many versions of Vista: Ultimate, Home Premium, Home Basic, Business, Enterprise. You’ve stalled the decision process by forcing customers to think about which Vista they need. Stop the nonsense. Apple offers one simple version of Mac OS X Tiger. Microsoft should follow suit. Stop artificially segmenting the market in a lame attempt to charge more for high-end Vista versions. Offer one reasonably priced Vista for all of us.
2. Raise Your Hardware Requirements: There’s nothing worse than using Vista on an underpowered PC. Admit that Vista has hefty hardware requirements and celebrate its performance on high-end PCs. Don’t allow Vista to be installed or sold on PCs with less than one gigabyte of RAM.
3. Reconnect With Security Software Makers: During the Vista development process, Microsoft alienated Symantec, McAfee and other security vendors. Yes, Microsoft should attempt to safeguard Vista. But Vista should also play nice with third-party security software. That way, your partners actually work with you to promote Vista.
4. Find Three Applications To Promote: Microsoft currently promotes three Vista features — security, desktop search and the 3D user interface. That’s like an auto dealer foolishly promoting the door locks and nifty dashboard on a car. Although the 3D interface is slick, the rest of your promotional messages are a yawn. Reach out to your three best software partners and give them co-marketing dollars to promote three killer applications for Vista.
5. Protect Your Retail Brand: Microsoft relies too heavily on retailers like CompUSA to promote its software. Few retail employees can describe Vista’s power and benefits. Meanwhile, Apple Stores are filled with smart evangelists who know every detail about Apple hardware and software. Rethink your retail relationships, Microsoft. Stick with retail partners that understand quality (Best Buy) rather than retailers that specialize in store closings and layoffs. So, where can you find experts to promote Vista in retail stores? The answer presents itself in my suggestion number 6.
6. Engage Your Evangelists: Train regional Windows User Group members to promote Vista. Give all User Group presidents discounted notebooks and PCs running Vista, so that they can describe the operating system’s merits to friends, neighbors and local businesses.
7. Go Back to College: Reach out to Dell, HP and other PC makers now. Plan simple, high-profile Vista promotions for college kids who plan to buy PCs before heading back to school this coming fall. Again, keep things simple: Apple’s notebook line includes the MacBook and the MacBook Pro. Inspire your mobile partners to offer only a few, clearly positioned Vista models.
8. Don’t Forget K-12 Schools: Rally PC makers in the K-12 market. Get kids using Vista, and they’ll ask their parents for Vista PCs at home.
9. Polish Your Server Pitch: Tell CIOs and corporate customers how Vista will connect to Windows Server, SQL Server, Exchange Server and your other enterprise applications. And actually find ways to integrate Vista with Linux servers. Don’t try to “lock” businesses into an all-Windows world. Those days are gone.
10. Don’t Attack Apple: You’ll be tempted to attack Apple in the months ahead. Do not directly respond to Apple’s hip TV ads. Instead, describe Vista’s merits and killer applications.
With any luck, these steps will get Vista sales going long before the holiday upgrade season.
That’s all for now, Mr. Ballmer. It’s time for The VAR Guy to sign off. His MacBook Pro needs a recharge.