Mac Musings

Marketing the Mac: The Lonely Mac Support Guy

Dan Knight - 2004.04.30 - Tip Jar

Camera dollies through door into spacious computer room. Lots of servers, even a mini or two, miles of wire, hubs galore, and lots of cubicles around the edges of the room. Clock on the wall reads 9:50 a.m., and you can hear a lot of voices talking about computer problems coming from the various cubicles.

Viewer enters cubicle in far corner of room. We see a huge Cinema Display or two, a Power Mac G5, a 15" PowerBook, a steaming cup of coffee, and iTunes playing music on the tech's 'Book. Support guy leaning back in chair, feet up on desk, wearing a telephone headset.

"Jane, how's the big guy like his new laptop?"

"Oh, he loves it, especially that wireless networking. He takes that computer everywhere."

"He's not having any problems, is he? Maybe some questions about network configuration or using his old Word files or...."

"Sorry, Bob, but I think you're working yourself out of a job."

Bottom of screen: Statistic on Macintosh loyalty. Mac users love their computers. Do you love yours?

Raised voices, muttering, cursing from nearby cubicles as other techs deal with viruses, damaged registries, look for licenses so they can reinstall Windows for a user. "Hey, Dave. Bob in Tech Support. How's that two-year old iMac holding up for you."

Dave (in front of 17" iMac): "Just fine Bob. The new version of OS Ten really perked it up. I have no complaints."

"You're sure there's nothing I can do? Maybe install some updates...."

"Sorry, Bob, but the computer did that first thing Monday - automatically.

"By the way, have you heard about the new virus? My brother got it on his home computer last week, infected his laptop, and managed to get it on most of the PCs at his office."

"Yeah, Dave, I heard about it. I guess the Windows support guys get all the excitement."

Bottom of the screen: There are over 70,000 viruses for that other operating system, but none yet for Mac OS X.

More excitement in background. Voices raised. People running around looking for installer CDs, software licenses, utility disks.

"Front desk. Julie speaking."

"Hi Julie. Bob in Tech. How's that ancient Bondi blue iMac holding up? Are you ready for a replacement yet?"

"Bob, I know you're bored down there, but after the memory upgrade and that new OS you put in it, this computer is working better than ever."

"Well, if you hear of anyone with Mac problems, let me know. I feel like the Maytag repairman down here."

Julie laughs. "Well, I suppose you could learn to troubleshoot Windows. The rest of the IT staff seems to keep busy enough."

"No thanks. I'll stick with what works."

Click.

Bottom of screen: Macs typically remain in productive use twice as long as Windows PCs. (Or whatever statistic Apple can document.)

It should slowly dawn on viewers that the Mac support guy isn't getting phone calls. He's trying to find anything to do to justify his presence on the payroll.

Macs - They Just Work

Apple is in a rut. They've been selling about three millions Macs a year since the "beleaguered" era. While the broader PC market grows, Apple's unit sales are stagnant, and their market share is dropping.

This week we're looking at ways to grow the Mac market, which isn't a simple task. There are a lot of myths and misperceptions that keep people from even considering the Mac.

On Monday we looked at the fact that Macs are simply different than Windows PCs, a difference that most Windows users see as a negative thing. On Tuesday we looked at how the limited expansion of all but the top-end G5 keeps "experts" (the people asked for advice when buying a computer) from recommending the Mac - and we proposed a smaller Power Mac G4 with plenty of expansion options to address their concerns.

On Wednesday we saw how Apple could sell a machine that "computer experts" might recommend and even buy for their own use - and how Apple could profit by selling hardware upgrades up front and service packages on the back end. And yesterday we looked at some ways to make Macs and Windows PCs work better together.

Today we're looking at how Apple can communicate some of the Mac advantages to the broader market.

The Maytag Repairman

Although Mac OS X isn't perfect (my wife has been having real printing and classic mode problems for over a week now) and Apple hardware is sometimes flawed (the recently expanded iBook logic board replacement program also demonstrating that Apple generally bends overboard once they determine that the problem is repeatable, widespread, and that they have a way to fix it), for the most part Macs just keep on working and working and working.

Whether Maytag is more reliable than other brands, the decades-old image of the lonely Maytag repairman has equated Maytag and reliability, just as other ad campaigns make us think Volvo = safety and Verizon means broad, reliable wireless coverage.

Apple needs to choose a theme that will help differentiate themselves from the pack in the popular mind. Think Different sent the wrong message, as did the "the computers for the rest of us" campaign, which many people saw as elitist.

By suggesting a lonely Mac support guy, I'm proposing that Apple market the Mac as reliable hardware, the Mac OS as rock solid and better than earlier versions, the fact that Mac users tend to really love their computers, and the fact that you just don't need a lot of hand-holding with a Mac.

And we don't have viruses, Trojans, and other malware messing up our computers, at least not yet.

Apple Innovation

Apple likes to push themselves as an innovator - just look at the way they play up that angle in the closing paragraph of every news release. The problem is that they've rarely been successful at letting the world know about their innovations.

Who had the best graphical user interface and operating system at least until 1995? Apple.

Who had built-in stereo sound long before Sound Blasters became hot on PCs? Apple.

Who was the first to incorporate a CD-ROM drive in their computer line? Apple.

Who was the first to offer AV capabilities? Apple - but a year or two later it was Compaq who marketed it to the masses in TV ads.

The first consumer digital video editor that came with the computer? Apple's iMovie.

Still the easiest program to rip, mix, and burn your music? Apple's iTunes.

The first personal computers to included a DVD burner and the software that made it easy for end users to master and burn DVDs? Apple with iDVD.

About the only place where the PC world trumped Apple was in making CD burners a standard feature while Macs were instead shipping with DVD drives. Apple chose the wrong innovation from a marketing standpoint, but also made the Combo drive (watch DVDs and burn CDs) a standard feature on many models.

And then there's the iPod, which revolutionized the portable music player market not by having the first hard drive or the longest battery life or even some of the best looking players. No, Apple won that market by creating a unique, distinctive product that was simply easier to use - the same user interface advantage Macs had in 1984.

Apple is innovative, and they happily crow about their successes after the fact, but for the most part Apple has failed to promote their innovative new features, letting PC makers sound like the innovators.

Macs Are Affordable

Radio ad: "It has a sharp 17" display. The stereo speakers are built right into the computer. It lets you watch DVDs and burn your favorite tuned to a CD. It lets you edit your digital video. It works flawlessly with the iPod. And no unnecessary boxes.

"And it's only $799 - no mail-in rebates necessary. It's ready to use right from the box. Plug in a single power cord. Attach the mouse and keyboard. Connect the computer to your phone line or broadband modem. Power it on, surf the Web, read your email, and don't worry about viruses.

"This is Apple's eMac. It works with the Internet, with Office, and with your lifestyle.

"Macs. They just work."

That would get people's attention. No $499 or $599 "after rebate" deal. No cheap monitor you'll want to upgrade from. No stripped down "home edition" of the operating system. And the whole eMac is similar in size and shape to Dell's standard monitor.

In Print

For the print media, Apple should consider a head-to-head comparison of the eMac with entry-level Dell, Compaq, and eMachines models. Something like this:

Apple eMac

Dell Dimension 2400

$799

$599

to match eMac

17" 1280 x 960 0.25 pitch flat display

17" 1280 x 1024 0.27 pitch display (flat?)

Radeon 9200 Graphics

Intel 3D Extreme Graphics

built-in

256 MB RAM

128 MB RAM

add $70

40 GB hard drive

40 GB hard drive

CD-RW/DVD drive

CD-RW or DVD

add $89

Mac OS X

Windows XP Home

add $70

Works software included

Works not included

add $29

iTunes

Microsoft Plus recommended

add $20

free color printer after mail-in rebate

printer not included

add $89

internal speakers

external speakers

FireWire standard

FireWire optional

add $50

No viruses

70,000+ viruses

priceless

Up front cost for the eMac plus printer is $898 (less $99 mail-in rebate for printer). The Dell with a Combo drive, the same amount of RAM, Microsoft Works, Microsoft Plus, the full version of Windows XP, and a Dell printer is $1,016 (less $100 mail-in rebate on computer).

If you want to edit digital video, watch DVDs, and burn CDs, the eMac is the better value. And there's no separate monitor or speakers - or the cables that connect them to the computer.

On Television

Pretty much use the copy from the radio ad. Show a 17" CRT monitor, a minitower computer, a pair of speakers, a mouse, a keyboard, wires galore. Everything should be black in a black setting. Remove speakers and add iPod as they are mentioned. Remove the minitower computer when "no extra boxes" is mentioned.

Screen shows a black monitor, mouse, and keyboard. Screen fades to black, then slowly goes to a high-key view of an eMac with its white mouse and keyboard in a pristine white setting.

Hands plug in a cable or DSL modem. Hand reaches for mouse, clicks on Safari, shows eMac on the Web.

Then show someone sitting in that black room with the black PC trying to fill out all the paperwork, bar codes, etc. to get that $100 rebate.

Close with a split screen showing the eMac one one side, the PC system with all its components on the other. Tagline: "The choice should be as clear as night and day."

Black screen. White letters. "Macs - They Just Work."

Billboards

Simplify. Simplify. Simplify.

Under the first, a picture of a Mac mouse. Under the second, the iPod. Under the third, an eMac.

Go For It

The goal is to show the Mac as a real option. It's practical. It's affordable. It's reliable. It's easy to use. Its differences make it better - no viruses, no extra boxes, less wires.

Don't ask people to switch. Don't ask them to add a Mac. Don't send any kind of elitist message. Just let people know that Macs are a real alternative.

The only drawback is that the poor Mac support guy gets lonely.

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Dan Knight has been using Macs since 1986, sold Macs for several years, supported them for many more years, and has been publishing Low End Mac since April 1997. If you find Dan's articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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