It has been said in the past that Microsoft is one of the best marketed companies in the world. When it comes to hype, raising awareness and carefully planned campaigns, Microsoft is right up there with Coca-Cola when it comes to marketing machines.
Therefore, you can imagine that along with the launch of its latest operating system, the marketing heavens are going to open.
Microsoft is particularly keen this time around to espouse the virtues of its improved stability and integration. It will also be focusing heavily on the better "user experience" XP is delivering and the business benefits it delivers small business.
You can be sure the message will be strong and clear that here is a genuine reason to make the hardware and software upgrade - especially seeing it is arriving at a time when the whole industry needs a genuine leg-up to coax apathetic buyers out of hibernation.
According to Mark Linton, Microsoft's product marketing manager, small business divisions, somewhere around $10 million is to be spent on promoting the Windows XP launch. This figure is derived from totalling "the sum of all parts" including Microsoft's spend along with that of its distributors and other launch partners.
The theory is that it will only be people who are without access to a TV, radio or newspaper who will be unaware of Windows XP in the month or so following its October 25 launch.
Awareness and excitement
Ten million dollars is a lot of marketing money. So how exactly is Microsoft going to help the channel turn that awareness and excitement into sales and happy customers for the channel?
"This is the biggest launch we have had since Windows 95," Linton says. "We are placing a high priority in our marketing on broad awareness of Windows XP.
"We are focusing heavily on high-impact advertising. Television through late October and most of November, outdoor super sites, bus shelters, you name it. Everywhere you look there will be Windows XP.
"We really want to get to all levels of the mainstream media and create some hype and then transfer that hype into store traffic for our resellers," Linton adds.
A huge range of display point-of-sale material is available to reinforce the mainstream marketing messages while in-store experiences of the product are being encouraged with auto demo CDs. Concurrently, roadshows will form a large part of the marketing spend around the launch.
The regular Microsoft Insight tour in November will be dominated by XP. Every capital city sees the expo offering opportunities to shore up Microsoft partnerships and stock up on the extensive sales and marketing tools being generated.
"They are free events and we give out all the marketing and technical resources we have as well as doing demonstrations and talking about selling the different versions of XP," Linton says.
For the little guy
Microsoft has always been cosy with its managed retail partners, which include "about 260 prime outlets" around Australia. This support cranks up around big launches but Linton says there is a plethora of ways non-managed partners can also get in on the act.
"It does depend on what type of reseller business they run," he says. "There are a lot of small stores and the best way for them to take advantage of the hype would be to firstly make sure they are joined up with our affiliate partner program.
"Getting along to the events we have organised and training up on the product is also highly recommended."
Linton said stocking up on the point-of-sale material will allow resellers to leverage the television and print campaigns by having the store dressed up with the launch's look and feel, which will be consistent throughout all of Microsoft's XP marketing.
In addition to dressing up stores, Linton says the other major preparation that all channels need is getting staff trained on the selling features and technical aspects of Windows XP.
"We have been doing lots of hard work in getting the reseller channel trained up on how to sell and demonstrate [XP] and making sure they understand the key features," Linton says. "The theory is that we will create the hype that gets the people into stores and then it is up to our partners to make sure that demand is fulfilled.
"We have done quite a lot of work with the retail team so that the point-of-sale materials reflect the advertising we are doing on TV and in print," he says. "Hopefully it is a matter of the customer walking in and saying, Oh yeah, I've seen that, they've got it, I might go and check it out.'"It will prompt customers to ask questions and the reseller will hopefully be able to answer if they have been to their training."
These marketing materials are also made available through distributors, so partners not signed up to the affiliate program can talk to their account manager or customer service representative at Express Data, Ingram Micro, Synnex or Tech Pacific.
Be proactive with customers
Proactivity will also reap benefits, according to Linton. He believes one of the best ways for channels to leverage the XP awareness is to utilise the knowledge acquired about existing customer bases.
"Resellers understand their customers very well," he says. "Say for example you know that a particular customer hates downtime on their PCs or is having virus issues or isn't sure about security, well then Windows XP would be a great fit for them.
"A reseller could take the relevant features and do a little campaigning to see if they can get the customer's desktops upgraded."
Linton says the kits being given out are designed to ensure resellers have the right materials at hand to make the job of generating customised marketing campaigns for specific niches very easy.
Microsoft and its software and hardware launch partners are embarking on a logo program that will clearly identify products that are designed for Windows XP.
Linton says that the interest generated by various marketing promotions around the launch will ensure people are looking for suitable add-ons to take advantage of the power of XP.
"Stocking items that are authorised for use with XP is a good idea for resellers and dealers," he says. "We want to encourage them to start to look for the Designed for Windows XP' logo because that will mean the devices they are selling are certified for use with XP. It will make it a better experience for the customer because they literally just plug and play."
Tools, kits and testers
Microsoft has generated a raft of sales and marketing tools that can be used by its channel partners to help steer customers through to a successful close.
"We are coming out with an applications and hardware compatibility tester that will be ready for launch," Linton says. "It will be available both online and in CD form. It basically simulates whether a device would install and work without problems if you upgraded to Windows XP.
"It can tell you before you upgrade a system what is going to happen after you load the hardware."
There will also be CDs for the retail stores to give to their customers to test their existing hardware, while auto demonstration CDs will allow retailers to let customers see for themselves performance improvements and new features.
There are videos and printed case studies for every type of customer, from the home user and small business through to a 40,000-employee corporate environment. Linto also urges partners to use the online support it has developed.
"The Windows XP site on Microsoft.com is a great place to start to get technical advice," he says. "It is really quite comprehensive in terms of the white papers, deployment guides and things they need to know when installing into a small business or corporate environment."
The bottom line for the channel, according to Linton, is training. Only trained people will be able to genuinely demonstrate the potential of XP, he says.
"We would love to see people come along to the training sessions because virtually every reseller out there will sell a copy of Windows XP at some stage."