Just before the official launch of Windows 8 on Thursday, October 25, we had a chance to speak with Greg Barber, Vice President of the Consumer Channels Group, with Microsoft Canada. He filled in some background regarding Microsoft's marketing strategy around the launch.
"I'm 21 years at Microsoft," said Barber. "I've been through a lot of launches. This one is very different. In many ways, we're doing it right. The Canadian marketing plan is absolutely vast and comprehensive."
TV ads began a few days before the official launch, and will "run all year." There will also be social media, print and channel programs, plus "deep investments in retail," including a "comprehensive training program."
"Our telco partners are also part of the launch, which is new," Barber points out. He mentioned that in Canada, Microsoft has been working particularly closely with Rogers.
One thing we specifically asked about was the absence of a big Canadian launch event, as with Windows 7. This is a marked contrast to the earlier days of Rolling Stones videos and banners on the CN tower. Barber explained that nowadays Microsoft is "not doing a lot of communicating" in that sense.
He noted that "stunts on the CN tower" was the old approach. Today, "disclosure guides action," with less general talk about the product, and more emphasis on simply telling people to go buy it. "We only make the disclosure when there's a call to action."
"Windows 8 is more revolutionary," said Barber. "We want to tell that story in a way that's more culturally relevant."
The approach is also more global now. "There will be a number of PR events happening around the world," said Barber. These were "timezone-based," and phased over a period of some weeks. For example, a launch event and "massive device showcase" were held in Shanghai, China on October 23. A developer event took place in Bangalore, India, September 21-22.
Also, a lot of the activity is focused less on the software than on the variety of new Windows devices, and how they need to be presented.
"For your readers," said Barber, "the focus should be about the devices. The modern software that is Windows 8 was made for modern hardware. The focus and the energy will be all about the devices.
"It's not a software launch," Barber emphasized. "It's a hardware launch."
Behind the scenes, Microsoft has strong programs aimed at getting retailers up to speed. "Training has really focused on PC sales reps at retail," said Barber. "Never have we made this level of investment." This program is expected to reach thousands of reps, either through one-to-one or one-to-many events.
Kits will be available through distribution that include retailer tools. For example, retailers will need to know how to activate a demo PC. "Just like with a Windows phone, the first thing it asks you is who you are," said Barber. For a demo, this needs to be set up so that social media and other online assets are populated, ready to show off.
"We don't want ‘dead' machines," said Barber. "We want ‘live' machines for demonstrations."
Microsoft has also created various online resources. Its Partner Network lets resellers connect with each other. And the new ExpertZone is another online tool for retailers, offering "training and insider information" relating to Windows, Windows Phone, Microsoft Office, Xbox and Microsoft hardware.
One potential area of confusion is Microsoft's own retail venture. This comes concurrently with its venture into the PC and tablet hardware business, with its own new Surface products. These will be sold direct, either online or through the new Microsoft Stores.
"Windows 8 is a very integrated launch," explained Barber. "The Microsoft store is part of that Windows story. This is where we get to tell our story, our way."
He noted that Canada is actually "the first international market" to get its own Microsoft store, at Toronto's Yorkdale Mall. That will be supplemented by kiosks at four other locations: two in Vancouver (Burnaby Metropolis, Oakridge Centre), one in Edmonton (West Edmonton Mall) and one in Toronto (Eaton Centre.) These ‘pop-up' stores will close after the holidays, said Barber.
In the U.S., there will be 59 stores in total, of which 30 are ‘pop-up' holiday stores. According to Barber, 32 Microsoft Stores are now open or announced worldwide, not counting the ‘pop-ups.' A store finder is available online.
Microsoft's software and hardware will also be available online. Canadian customers will be able to pick up the Surface RT ($519 for the 32GB model), or the Windows 8 upgrade (special introductory price of $39.99).
Nonetheless, Barber emphasizes that Microsoft's retail strategy is "very partner-led." The purpose of the Microsoft Store is "to showcase the Microsoft story" in a more focused way. It's fair to describe these locations as a sort of ‘reference design,' which can serve to guide other retail partners.
Devices and Services
It's all part of an overall strategy shift at Microsoft. "We are becoming a devices and services company," says Barber, quoting Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. The new Surface fits into that model, for example. "There will be times when we build specific devices for specific purposes."
It's certainly a brave new world that Microsoft opened up on October 25. All the plans are at last in place, and the Windows 8 products are starting to ship. But consumers and retailers both will clearly need time to catch up with it all.