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The battle for digital media player dominance has raged on for many years. Two companies show their prowess as they compete for similar markets. Only one company can be the market leader. And yet, both companies—Apple and Microsoft—have developed a cult-like following. Competitor brand loyalty is a difficult obstacle to overcome. Apple and Microsoft use two different marketing strategies to attract a similar audience.

As with any new technology, the first generation will quickly test the market for price and feature acceptance. The Apple iPod, introduced in 2001, was targeted to the older college crowd and young professionals. The first Apple iPod commercial was developed around the message strategy of style and portability. While the first generation iPod was several times larger and thicker than the stylish designs of today, they were much smaller than their predecessor—Sony’s Walkman and Discman.

The Sony Walkman, introduced in 1979, weighed 14 ounces and priced just under $500 (McCracken, 2009). The Sony Discman weighed slightly less, but had a tendency to skip. Apple’s first generation iPod boasted a storage capacity of one thousand songs, weighed less than half of the Sony Discman, and did not skip while playing your favorite songs.

Five years after the inception of the Apple iPod, Microsoft introduced their version of a portable digital music player—the Zune. In November 2006, the Microsoft Zune was hyped as an alternative to the iPod. The audience targeted by Microsoft in their first wave of advertising overlapped the demographic beleaguered by Apple. While the target audience was the same, the approach by each company was quite different. Apple used a live actor in a real-life situation to showcase the ability to transfer music from their computer to the iPod. Microsoft, however, was not introducing a new technology during the launch of the Zune. Their approach used graphics and animation to show different music genres all the while techno background music provided a pulse.

It is apparent that Apple’s task was more difficult as they concentrated their message strategy on sparking motivation within the market. At first glance, it seemed that the Apple iPod was positioned to satisfy a hybrid utilitarian-hedonic need. It is certainly better to take your music wherever you go rather than only having access to your favorite tunes on your computer, therefore resolving a utilitarian need. On the other hand, the excitement associated with adopting new technology satisfies a hedonic need (Solomon, 2009).

Microsoft had the advantage of monitoring the results from Apple’s early marketing efforts before entering the market. Catering to a digital media player savvy audience, Microsoft positioned the Zune as an independent device—not tethered to Apple iTunes for content—and compatible with the Microsoft operating systems. Having the largest market share of computer operating systems, Microsoft assumed a natural following. So much, in fact, that they failed to re-enforce the idea of solving music portability issues.

By the time that Microsoft zoomed in on their target audience, Apple had saturated the market. The Apple iPod quickly became the music player of choice for children between the ages 6 and 12 (Bulik, 2008). The addition of video capabilities in the later generation iPods created new market opportunities for Apple. Corporations are leveraging iPods for employee training. BCC News first reported the use of iPods for workplace training in 2006 (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/4859302.stm).

Both, the iPod and Zune, have enjoyed many years of success. Each device has evolved and embraced new technology as it becomes available. These devices have more storage, quicker retrieval, better screen resolution, and longer battery life. The latest version of each device boasts a touch screen. While the functionality of the iPod and Zune are comparable, Apple and Microsoft currently each concentrates their marketing efforts on different segments of the population. For Apple, the focus has shifted more towards the aesthetics of their device in anticipation of a self-image congruence purchasing decision (Solomon, 2009).

Microsoft is targeting a niche audience with the Zune poised for gaming, and at the same time creating a cult product. The Zune’s narrow-focus marketing strategy places it higher on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Gaming is a hobby, and in many cases a lifestyle.  The Microsoft Zune satisfies the upper-level need of self-actualization (Solomon, 2009). Apple and Microsoft dominate the market with their innovative products and services. Their digital music players originally competed for consumers in the same market. However, each company has migrated toward their respective strengths resulting in a respectable following.


BBC News (2006). Hospitals train staff with iPods. Retrieved September 13, 2010, from http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/4859302.stm

Bulik, B. (2008). Little ears are big bucks for music players. [Electronic version] Advertising Age. Retrieved September 13, 2010, from http://adage.com/article?article_id=123205

McCracken, H. (2009). The original Walkman vs. the iPod Touch. Retrieved September 13, 2010, from http://technologizer.com/2009/06/29/walkman-vs-ipod-touch/

Solomon, M. (2009). Consumer behavior buying, having, and being (8th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.