Google was once a humble startup with a big dream—to be the David that takes down Microsoft’s Goliath. Google has become a tech force to be reckoned with, challenging Microsoft in almost every area including Web search, browsers, email, operating systems, productivity software and mobile platforms. Over time, it has chipped away at Microsoft’s market share.
Microsoft is great at many things, but over the years marketing has not been one of its strengths. Microsoft has also been a victim of hubris, ignoring threats to its products because it believes its dominance is untouchable. Lately, though, Microsoft has been campaigning more aggressively against Google to protect its market share.
Microsoft’s marketing playbook
At times, saying nothing or saying too little, too late has done more damage for Microsoft than a poor marketing campaign. Windows Vista had its issues out of the gate, but overall it was a solid operating system with unique benefits. However, Microsoft let its rivals—primarily Apple—control the messaging. The narrative that brainwashed the general population is that Vista was a failure, and Windows PCs aren’t cool.
Microsoft has launched a number of confusing or outright awkward marketing campaigns. The recent Surface RT and Surface Pro commercials focus on random strangers breaking out into a dancing flash mob with colorful, snapping keyboard covers, or even breakdancing in the board room about the digitizer pen. The ads are entertaining and sort of catchy, but fail to convey anything useful about the product that would make anyone want to buy one. Still, these Surface ads are a significant improvement over the awkward 2008 commercials where Bill Gates and Jerry Seinfeld bump into each other at the mall.
Taking on Google Docs
In some areas—notably, Web search and mobile platforms—Google is the clear leader and Microsoft the underdog. But when it comes to productivity software, Microsoft Office is the de facto standard while Google Docs is the challenger. If you need evidence to support the fact that Microsoft holds the dominant position, consider that Google Docs and other alternative productivity suites like Libre Office are only useful if they’re compatible with Microsoft Office file formats.
The reality is, they’re not, at least not fully. They’re compatible enough for most people and can get the job done. However, Google Docs and other competing productivity tools often scramble formatting when converting to and from Microsoft Office formats. They’re also incapable of working with some of the more advanced features unique to Microsoft Office.
Microsoft is going on the offensive with ads (like the commercial above) emphasizing that Google Docs isn’t worth the gamble, while Microsoft Office is a “team player.” In a blog post, Microsoft stresses that Google’s lack of functionality is not limited to advanced features. “Many basic features are missing from Google Docs like grammar check, support for columns, custom date formats, slide numbers, and mail merge.”
The aggressive nature of the ads is a welcome departure from Microsoft’s standard playbook. This effective campaign helps to preemptively drive home that Microsoft Office is the gold standard, rather than silently letting Google claw away market share and playing defense from the sidelines.
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Tony is principal analyst with the Bradley Strategy Group, providing analysis and insight on tech trends. He is a prolific writer on a range of technology topics, has authored a number of books, and is a frequent speaker at industry events.