Microsoft Surface a true threat to the iPad

A funny thing has happened of late. The Microsoft Surface has re-emerged as a serious threat to Apple’s iPad.

I realize this is all blasphemous on my end. With me being an Apple stockholder and top tier fanboy. I am maniacal about the Apple brand. I still have my first Apple 2E safely stored away at my house. In a protective case, mind you. I also store my first iPhone in the dash board of my car. I don’t even use it, but I have comfort knowing it’s there.

So, for me to even ponder this idea is crazy enough.

Microsoft Surface
The Microsoft Surface is only in need of a brand to beat Apple.

Just consider what Microsoft Surface has on the docket. The first of which is the Surface Studio — a cinema display that can be transformed into a desktop studio (this has to be an art director’s dream). Microsoft also sports a Surface Book and Surface Pro 4.

All told, the Microsoft Surface products look as exquisitely designed as Apple’s, but with a greater dexterity (they are all both a computer and physical creative surface). What’s even greater than that is Microsoft’s decision to brand its devices to the creative professional. That, my friends, is how to steal market share.

Microsoft Surface just needs a brand.

This hasn’t always been the case. In fact, several years back I wrote about the Surface 2 and how its launch highlighted the unemotional. Back then, the Microsoft brand stood for over complexity (just the opposite of Apple). It was all about the gizmo, not the customer.

A year or so ago, I had brushed upon the idea that the Microsoft Surface was a wiser business choice over the iPad because it had greater functionality. But I still wasn’t committed to the idea, because even then, Microsoft hadn’t found it’s voice.

That isn’t the case any longer.

With the banality that surrounded the latest Apple event (where the reimagined MacBook was unveiled with the vigor of Eeyore), there is opportunity for the competition to make some noise. Apple still holds the throne because of its brand. But if Microsoft can take off its cloak of complexity and grab an emotional stance, it’s got the hardware to back it up.

Galaxy Note 7 fire hazard disaster

Galaxy Note 7 fire hazardThe Samsung Galaxy Note 7 recall because of the Galaxy Note 7 fire hazard has me thinking. What if any long term effect could this Galaxy Note 7 fire hazard have on the BRAND of Samsung?

Sure an exploding or smoldering smart phone is not a product feature in even the most optimistic consumer’s mind. But could this product recall seriously and permanently damage this mega-brand consumer products company?

In a word. Maybe.

Brands have meaning to consumers and great brands have great emotional meaning to customers. They associate with that brand meaning and, because that association should be about the customer and not the product, it becomes personal.

Galaxy Note 7 fire hazardNike has a premier consumer product position, not because it makes the best athletic shoes, but because Nike means the wearer feels like a winner. It’s the Nike promise that you should just do it. Forget the distractions. Keep focused because YOU are a winner for choosing Nike (read about the NIKE brand here). That is the power of BRAND.

I am trying to think about Samsung. What does the brand MEAN? Does the Galaxy Note 7 fire hazard in any way damage that association? I think it does and here is why.

Samsung is the largest electronics company in South Korea. It makes quality products and has infiltrated almost every category of consumer electronics. But it has a very poorly defined brand promise.

Galaxy Note 7 fire hazardLacking that emotional connection, it has allowed the consumer to position it as a value brand. That means Samsung is lower priced than the competition but are generally well made and dependable.

It might not be fair to dis Samsung as lacking in innovation but I think the market does not view it as being an innovator in any way. It is a fast follower, often copying the market leader’s products with a slightly cheaper (value) positioning.

This model has allowed them to steal the thunder from many storied brands. Take Son (Read about the Sony brands here) for instance. Its Trinitron TV brand reinvented the category.

Sony even led the way in flat screen innovation. But Samsung copied those products and dared to make side by side comparisons of product features — all with a value twist. The result? Growth in market share.

Galaxy Note 7 fire hazard has reshaped the smart phone pecking order

Same is true with the smart phone. Everyone knows the category was invented by Apple. Even the courts backed up that statement. Samsung entered the category with a cheaper reproduction and an nearly all-open sourced operating system. Side-by-side comparisons with the iPhone showed similar capabilities at about 50% of the cost.

Galaxy Note 7 fire hazardBut the Galaxy Note 7 fire hazard has undone much of that value cache. The great enemy of value brands is an underlying and almost universal human belief that, at the end of the day, you ALWAYS get what you pay for.

Customers who invest their emotional soul to value brands sit around waiting for the shoe to drop and hoping it does not. Want proof? Ask Value Jet.(Read about the fire that burned up an airline here: ValueJet). A failure by a low cost provider can be fatal to the brand.

Galaxy Note 7 fire hazardI worry that all the problems and bad press over the Galaxy Note 7 fire hazard feels like the shoe has dropped. (You are reminded of it every time you fly on a US passenger airline because they warn you before boarding that, having a Samsung Galaxy Note 7 turned on or charging, is forbidden because of the recall.)

To survive, Samsung might have to double down on its value proposition and make the risk worth the reward by gutting its profit margins.

Or it could call us and we could help them create a REAL brand that incorporates brand repair with a new juggernaut of meaning. Samsung won’t call however. It thinks brand is a logo and name. But there is no need to change either. There is a need to change the meaning.

Google products are interesting but not different

Let me be the first to admit that Google’s new line of technology looks pretty sweet. My interest is piqued when new devices arrive, regardless if I trust the company’s motivations or generally suffer from a fickle relationship with the outfit.

Google
The new products from Google just mimic everyone else.

In case you missed it, Google’s “Made by Google” site is alive and well. Yesterday, the business introduced its response to the iPhone with Pixel, a virtual reality headset called the Daydream View, an updated version of its Chromecast streaming device, and a voice activated speaker called Google Home (think Amazon’s Echo). All of the aforementioned products are solely produced by the company, a change from past practices.

Google really had me with the debut of its new gadgets — possibly because they looked a lot like Apple products. Yet, unfortunately, I speedily lost when it chose to poke fun at Apple, the very company it is mimicking. That doesn’t get anyone to switch and it’s wasted energy.

The only way to steal market share is to be truly different and better than the competition, especially the market leader. A jibe is okay, but it looks empty and petty when your products are no different.

Are the products from Google any different than anyone else?

Here’s exactly what I mean. Google said, “3.5mm headphone jack satisfyingly not new,” which was followed by a cough in jest. That jest was a slight at Apple for not including a headphone jack on the iPhone 7.

What Google missed by that jab was that Apple was thinking differently, which falls in line with its brand. Google has its own powerful brand, but it plays into Apple’s hands when its products do not think different. That means Apple is positioned against them.

While you must position yourself against the market leader to steal share, it’s difficult to do when your own products mimic the market leaders, no matter the industry.

Remembering the great Steve Jobs

Today marks the fifth anniversary of Steve Jobs’ death. If you are like me, it is amazing that it has been that long. And yet it feels like a long winding and dark road since I last saw him live at an Apple event.

Steve Jobs
The late, great Steve Jobs

This date is a seminal moment in the modern world of technologies and innovation. Steve heralded in the development of most of the gadgets and appliances on which we all rely. My MacBook is my rock. Without Steve Jobs and his insistence on simplicity, the OSX operating system would be a pipe dream. Even Windows would not be what it is without the relentless pressure of this innovator.

Certainly his vision for a computer for the rest of us, at a time when they were only for nerds and programmers, has come to fruition.

My iPhone has become the staple of my connectivity. We are no longer dependent on the clumsy Blackberry or complicated Palm Pilot to manage our calendar, phone and email, thanks to Steve and the wizards at Apple. I no longer own an iPod because all of my music resides nicely on one device. I even migrated to Bluetooth headphones last year.

We use the products that Steve Jobs created every day.

I am writing this blog while sitting in the United Club at O’Hare Airport. I am writing it on an iPad Pro. Meanwhile, my granddaughter is home watching a Pixar movie and I will FaceTime her from my hotel tonight.

It is easy to lament Apple’s lack of innovations since Steve Jobs left us. It is, after all, an incredibly high bar. But I must tell you my new iPhone and new iPad are head and shoulders above the first generations. My new Mac is smaller, faster and the battery lasts longer.

So I want to publicly thank Steve Jobs on this moment of reflection for a lifetime achievement that makes me feel incredibly humble in its wake. It’s much like looking at The Beatles and realizing you would have been immensely pleased to have penned even one of their tunes.

I still love Apple. I even like Tim Cook, who has tamed the beast and transformed it into a formidable business model.

I want to cheer again for blinding innovation and I am hopeful at every Apple event that the notoriously secretive company of geniuses is about to transform my life. Again.

Arnold Palmer, a pioneer and a dealer in hope

It doesn’t take a brand strategist to figure out the appeal of Arnold Palmer. He was one of us.

Arnold Palmer
Arnold Palmer, the King of the people.

Before Palmer, golf was a sport for the elites, like polo. It was birthed in 15th-century Scotland by kings and stayed that way until after World War II.

That’s when Palmer showed up. His personality, born from less than elite status in Latrobe, Penn., was outgoing and inclusive. He adopted the game following his dad, who wasn’t a member of the local country club, but the greenskeeper.

Arnold Palmer’s personality was so welcoming that he attracted fans to the game who had previously ignored it. They became known as Arnie’s Army, a version of a rebellion in the sport of golf. If you were part of that army, you identified yourself as a new wave of golfers and fans. That is, the rest of us.

His passion sparked a game that was not polite, a go-for-broke style that worked against the demure, chip-away-at-things style his forbearers played. That led to 62 PGA Tour wins and seven major victories.

He was a true pioneer and he will be missed.

Arnold Palmer embodied a brand of the people.

He was also the perfect embodiment of a brand. Many mistakenly believe brand is about what the company/product offers. “We do this,” “We do that” become the mantras of brands that find themselves in perpetual stagnation.

But brand that’s practiced to be persuasive is about the aspirational self-reflection we (fans, consumers) see in the brand. When we buy an Apple product, we “think different.” When we buy a Nike shoe, we “just do it.”

For fans of Arnold Palmer, the self-reflection was, in its own way, fighting the power: The common man taking over a sport that was previously hidden. Palmer’s down to earth personality played into that, but also the fierce way he played. As Napoleon said, “A leader is a dealer in hope.” That was Arnold Palmer.

Even the drink he invented, the Arnold Palmer, was a common man kind of drink. Who would have thought that iced tea and lemonade, the drinks you sip while sitting on the porch, would work so well together?

Yes, Arnold Palmer was great. He was a true pioneer. And he was one of us.