A lot of changes are coming to Microsoft; MY colleague Susan Silver has kept a close eye on the brand as it readies to cease supporting its iconic Internet Explorer and bring out Microsoft Edge. Her observations and the changing landscape of tech prompted a lot of questions about Microsoft-the-brand, and perception in the marketplace, especially among tech-hungry Millennials.
We decided to hold a special episode of our Millennial Think Tank to get some answers.
On panel this week included:
- Albert Quian, a middle Millennial working in tech
- Joe Cardillo, an older Millennial working in digital
- Mary Ann Keeney, a young Millennial interior designer
- Zach Johnson, a young Millennial, recent film grad
- Dominick Finnetti, a young Millennial working in digital https://twitter.com/diggles
- Jillian Paige, a middle Millennial community manager
What were your first encounters with Microsoft?
Most of our panelists used Windows based products in their early years, many on a DOS OS. Over time, Microsoft became perceived as more of a dinosaur.
For enterprise business solutions, Microsoft is admired.
Our panel sees Microsoft as a presence in emerging technology, and really like Office365 and other cloud innovations.
Most of our panelists use Microsoft products because of price; some switched as they became older and could afford Apple products.
What is your perception compared to Apple, and why Microsoft?
Price was a primary reason many panelists chose Apple over Microsoft in early years. Many stuck with Microsoft because of functionality and user design, which has evolved. The perception is that even in design, MS is catching up.
Joe Cardillo uses Microsoft because he prefers the privacy protections and user experience and the functionality of the Windows platform. He doesn’t like Apple’s Closed Surface app development and sees Microsoft as smart about being open and communicating well with its developers.
He also appreciates that they share their research, do great work on privacy, facial recognition, machine learning etc., and they will openly talk about it. Apple employees aren’t encouraged to be open, where Microsoft supports the overall landscape and the market.
Mary uses a PC because she works in architecture and Apple is far behind on Autocad.
Jillian believes that if you are not a seriously heavy user of technology, you are just fine with Microsoft (JP)
Now that you can subscribe to software, switching between Mac and Windows is not such a big decision..
Dominik grew up on a PC, and didn’t use Macs until high school because he got into film. After becoming a music industry major and was required to get a MAC, had to buy a special bundle; that turned out to be an expensive mistake.
Zach is an Apple fan, but “doesn’t have enough money to express his love.”
He too works in film and requires a high level of functionality. He simply couldn’t afford the $4000 price tag that a suitable Apple would have cost, so he built his own computer for $1200 and takes great pride in it.
Joe described Microsoft as “like that smart kid in school that you like and respect because they like to do killer science projects, and Legos, but he or she doesn’t pick up on all of the social cues.”
After hearing from so many panelists Joe summed it up with:
“It sounds like Apple better build some more shit that no one else has.”
Simply put, Microsoft has done terribly in the phone market, and brand perception is terrible.
Windows phones got an all around thumbs down. Some panelists preferred Android phones to iPhones simply for customization, but all agreed that for functionality, iPhones were still slightly superior.
What makes you purchase?
There is no other way to describe my reaction to what came out of this segment of our hang out other than shocked; design was WAY down the list in regards to what makes our panelists purchase.
Tech products are now sold by WHAT they do, not what their features are. What we see is single solution evangelism, rather than product evangelism.
Our panel seems to have moved past design as a primary desire, with Joe joking “I have rounded edges – that makes me special.’
I had to ask: Is beautiful design over?
From our panelists’ perspective, Apple’s raging success, was NOT based on the amazing design of the iPhone, but rather, because of the functionality built into that beautiful product.
Unanimously, our panel about FUNCTION over everything else; does the product serve the purpose it was meant to serve?
A trip down memory lane
Interestingly, a few of our panelists waxed nostalgic about Microsoft Zune, and all but Zach preferred it to the iPod.
Price was one reason for preferring Zune, but pure music loves liked it’s functionality better. Zach was the lone holdout who preferred iPod, even though he owned a Zune.
There was no gray line here: the panel cheered when I mentioned Microsoft’s decision to stop supporting it.
A few panelists expressed concern about certain websites that could only be accessed via IE will be serious issues for some major companies that only allow entry via IE.
No one was remotely interested in, or excited by Microsoft Edge
Do Brand Ethics Matter?
I’ve long been fascinated by the worship of Steve Jobs by many Apple fans, and the fierce loyalty the brand enjoys. I wanted to see if our Millennial panel were Apple loyalists despite the fact that Apple’s manufacturing processes in Asia have been questioned.
I asked if the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s work had any impact on Millennials’ perception of Microsoft as well.
The overall sentiment from our panel was complex:
- There is disconnect from Bill & Melinda Gates, and the company he founded but no longer works at.
- Buying tech products perhaps once a year means that brand ethics aren’t as important; only one panelist had issues with Apple from a brand ethics perspective.
- Products made, however ethically, in Asia are the price of living in the West.
We were surprised to hear quite a bit of positive sentiment around the Microsoft brand, and it is clear that if the right products come out, Millennials will give them a chance.
We also learned that price and functionality trump design. It is clear that there is a tremendous amount of passion centering on technology, not pro or anti any brand; it speaks to how essential technology is in our lives.