Apples New Marketing Mojo

Apple's "Real People" campaign sounds the theme of Windows-to-Mac conversion.

While Apple has a way of proving me wrong at the most inopportune moments, Im beginning to suspect that the Mac makers recent torrent of product announcements may have slowed for the month.

I must confess I was becoming a little jaded after a dizzying stretch of weekly rollouts that included (in chronological order) the eMac, a G4 version of Apples long-rumored 17-inch iMac; the official coming-out party for Jaguar, the next major release of Mac OS X; and the Xserve, Apples first entry into the world of rack-mounted servers after nearly a decade of user speculation.

Factor in some ancillary tweaks, such as a faster iBook and enhanced PowerBook G4, and it started to look like Apples hardware and software teams had achieved a sort of perpetual motion that might at any moment propel the Cupertino, Calif., campus into orbit—if not beyond a 5 percent share of the PC market.

Now that the pace of Apple product announcements has apparently flagged until Julys Macworld Expo/New York, Apple is using the weeks before the big Mac show to work on that latter formula: how to translate its recent product advances into tangible wins for marketing and sales, and perhaps move its market share out of the single digits.

Judging from the latest news out of Cupertino, that task includes boosting its advertising presence and tuning up its operations in key markets new and old.

The splashiest of the recent moves—and probably the one nearest to Jobs heart—was this weeks introduction of a new advertising campaign that sounds the theme of Windows-to-Mac conversion.

The "Real People" campaign, which Jobs told the Wall Street Journal is the companys priciest since the "Think Different" spots with which he re-launched his Apple career, features slickly filmed testimonials by erstwhile Windows users whove embraced the minority platform.

To underscore its new focus on chipping away at Microsofts desktop OS hegemony, Apple simultaneously launched an informational area on its Web site explicitly aimed at easing the exodus of Windows users to the Mac. ("Whats a few points of market share among friends?" Jobs rhetorically asked the Journal as he sought to downplay any suggestion of discord with Microsoft, which remains the largest third-party developer of Mac software.)

The brassy new tone marks something of a departure from Apples earlier mass-marketing efforts, which focused on the companys successes winning neophyte computer users over to its consumer products. These ads, by contrast, cast the spotlight on professional users steeped in Windows; they should make far more interesting viewing for those of us with a psychological or financial stake in the Macs continuing viability as a professional platform.

Vertically Challenged

While it strengthens its mass-market hand, Apple is also making some adjustments in the ways its wooing some of its most important vertical markets.

For instance, on Monday I broke the story that Apple has unified its education sales and marketing teams under John Couch, the former head of Apples proto-Macintosh Lisa project who left the company just about 20 years ago. (Tales of Couchs and Jobs intra-Apple conflicts dot the pages of several popular Apple histories, including Michael S. Malones Infinite Loop, suggesting that even Jobs legendary temper has a statute of limitations, albeit a lengthy one.)

By shaking up sales and marketing to K-12—and by simultaneously moving Cheryl Vedoe, the rather successful head of education marketing, to the top spot of Apples PowerSchool operation for Web-based tracking of student performance—Apple is apparently trying to add depth and stability to a market where it lost ground to Dell and other PC contenders after Apples precipitous move to direct sales in spring 2000.

Until and unless Apple makes major inroads into the enterprise, education remains the companys primary institutional stronghold, and its the place where products such as the Xserve will get their first industrial-strength tryouts. Heres hoping that Couch will help Apple keep its seat at the education table.

Meanwhile (and perhaps closer to the concerns of most grown-up Mac veterans), my observers in the channel inform me that Apple is planning some new sales offensives to back up the Xserve in professional markets, including teaming up with server dealers whove worked with Unix warhorses such as Sun Microsystems and Hewlett-Packard.

If Apples new "Real People" ads play a bit of chicken with Microsoft, at least the Redmond giant has its own lucrative Mac investment and the DoJs accusations of predatory monopoly to contend with, not to mention an overwhelming share of the desktop market.

Sun, for one, may not be nearly as forgiving as Microsoft if Apple refutes its own protestations that the immediate target market for the Xserve is the installed Mac base—and especially if Apple uses Suns traditional channels to accomplish that turnaround.

What do you think of Apples new moves? Are a few points of market share about to move between friends? Drop me a line and give me your opinion.

Mac veteran Matthew Rothenberg is online editor for Ziff Davis Medias Baseline and CIO Insight magazines.