The reaction to Microsoft's plan to open retail stores from bloggers and pundits has been mostly negative. It's likely to fail, they say. Why? Because Microsoft doesn't offer an "experience" or a "lifestyle" or that special, personality-defining, everything's gonna be OK allure that Apple stores offer.
Yet the "PC lifestyle" does exist, it just hasn't been defined for the public. And no one's going to define it if Microsoft doesn't. Millions of people use Windows-based PCs at home and work everyday. If you're using a PC from any of the Microsoft OEMs and Vista and Windows Mobile and any of the Windows Live features, then congratulations, you're living the PC lifestyle! Are you excited? Did you even know you were doing it? Probably not. And that's the problem.
For its retail stores to survive, Microsoft has to define and market the PC lifestyle. It needs to give customers an "experience" where they learn how their software, hardware and services all connect in their homes (and how that can carry over into work) and thus feel better about themselves. The stores will fail if they are just a place to hawk Xboxes, Zunes and Office 2007.
In Microsoft's defense, it is taking baby steps to show and explain the PC lifestyle through advertising. The much-belated "I'm a PC" TV spots were uplifting, but too broad. They offered no specifics about PC use.
The latest chapter in the "Windows: Life without Walls" ad campaign called "The Rookies" gets specific. The spots, running regularly on network TV, show kids using Windows Live Photo Gallery to download, enhance and share photos. There have been three spots: 4 ½ year old Kylie, 7-year-old Alexa and 8-year-old Adam. Kylie, cute as a button, downloads and brightens a photo of her fish and e-mails it to her parents. By the time we get to Adam, he's setting his photo slideshow on his PC to music and then "screening this puppy for ya" on a flat-screen TV.
The tagline for the ads: It's That Easy. Yep, so easy a kid can do it. The spots will make middle-aged technophobes feel stupid; however they do successfully market ease of use and interoperability, two areas Microsoft would be wise to hammer home with in-person demos in its retail stores.
Microsoft is all-too aware of the PC lifestyle conundrum based on some minute-long promotional videos on Microsoft's site called "The Possibilities."