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Old 06-03-2008, 04:00 AM
Adam Krebs
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Default How to "Save" the Zune or: Why Marketers are Idiots


Last100.com recently featured an article on "how to save the Zune" written by the Creative Director of a design firm "that specializes in youth market and interactive media." At first glance, it would appear that the author, Michael Pinto, would have the requisite experience and ideas needed to boost Zune sales, or at least create an interesting read. But as the article progressed, it was clear that Pinto has no concept of the Zune (he's never owned one) or what its marketing team has tried to accomplish (most of his ideas about "the youth" and MP3 players come from an anecdotal trip to K-Mart.)

I don't think it's worth the effort to rebut each of his half-baked ideas (though some of them aren't bad) since anyone with half an brain and a cursory knowledge of the Zune will know this guy is full of it. Instead, I'd like to focus more on the big picture, though I may slip up and name-call a little bit.

Pinto suggests Microsoft become the Pepsi to Apple's Coke, and I think the comparison is reasonable. Much in the same way Pepsi targeted a "niche" audience and expanded their demographic by ostensibly targeting the cool people ("the choice of a new generation!", Microsoft is aiming for a hipper, younger audience that most people aspire to to become part of. By promoting artists (both musical and visual) that may be lesser-known but popular in their respective areas the consumer will latch on, because after all, no one wants to look dumb. Apple has had success with its iPod largely because the all-white devices don't carry many assumptions about their users. They don't come pre-loaded with the latest indie rock, they don't offer laser-engraved art on the back (beyond a few lines of text), and don't do the whole "low cost" thing. This creates a brand that is largely impressionable and luxurious, while also young and hip. The difficulty with staying hip, of course, is that it's hard to do and and even harder to do without over-doing. Just look at the backlash Apple's been getting recently about its "I'm a Mac and I'm a PC" commercials and its brand in general.

Microsoft needs to take a cue from the Pepsi playbook and hound Apple doggedly. When Coca Cola introduced "New Coke", Pepsi was right there with a massive P.R. campaign about how much it sucked. Maybe Microsoft should've been ready when Apple launched the ugly "fatty" 3rd Generation iPod Nanos. With both the Gen3 Nano and New Coke, news of the product launch leaked early, giving the competition time for a counter attack. The difference between Microsoft and Pepsi's strategies is that Pepsi actually responded, and New Coke ultimately flopped. Pinto also argues that Microsoft should undercut Apple on its pricing, selling a $25 version of a Shuffle-like player that is more fashion accessory than technical wonder. This is an interesting point. Even though I disagree with the $25 price-point (too close to the cost of a CD, makes the brand look cheap), I do think Microsoft needs to avoid competing directly with Apple. If they're truly serious about differentiating themselves, they should offer storage amounts that Apple doesn't, at price points Apple isn't.

The rest of the article just gets worse. Pinto suggests the players come pre-loaded with music (they do), come in limited editions (they do), and be associated with musicians (they do--just not awful mainstream icons like Gwen Stefani and Hello Kitty [no offense to their respective fans]). Microsoft has proven that it wants to be less "Miguzi" and more "Toonami"; a more hardcore and indie-based archetype than the mainstream-friendly Kids W.B. shows. Hello Kitty is cute, popular, and everything the Zune branding isn't, and I'm a bit surprised "the publisher of Anime.com and Fanboy.com" didn't pick a lesser-known and better suited anime character to argue his case. Plus, Hello Kitty's already got her own MP3 player. Pinto ponders a case in which Zune fans "collect" limited edition players. Perhaps he's spent too much time around Pokémon cards, but beyond the super-rich or the super-interested, I don't see many people "collecting" MP3 players. As a device that fits somewhere between fashion accessory and functional utility, they're priced too high for people to collect. Most people want reduced clutter in their lives (hence the move to portable music players from CDs and tapes), and beyond special circumstances only need one or a few players.

So I'm going to end this [overlong and needlessly complicated] rant by saying that the Zune, while far from perfect, doesn't need to deviate from its strategy that much. The only thing they really have to do is get the word out more--and that means more ads that actually feature the device.

Adam Krebs digs the Zune.
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