by: George Silverman

As I predicted, it happened. I won’t rehash the thousands of blog posts on the subject of running Windows on the Intel Mac. For those who haven’t heard, and for the record, Apple announced yesterday an official version of a program that allows Windows to run on the newer Macs with Intel chips and they announced that it will be built into the next update of their operating system.

Thousands of blog posts were instantly posted yesterday. The announcement made the front page of the New York Times and the front page of the second section of the Wall Street Journal today. All of this despite the fact that Apple virtually hid the announcement: no usual big splash, not on the home page of their web site, buried in their web site. This, despite the fact that it’s one of the biggest announcements in the computer industry in the last decade.

The reason I’m talking about it here is because it illustrates many word of mouth and other marketing principles, and allows us to make many predictions.

As I’ve said before here and here, there is a huge disconnect between the word of mouth for Macs and their actual sales. Only about 2.6% of business users use Macs. But more than half of them say that they would switch to Macs if they could do so painlessly.

This illustrates the principle that word of mouth is not enough. Word of mouth is only powerful because it gets people past the decision blocks that conventional marketing is not effective with. Issues having to do with experience, credibility, simplification, subtle interpretation, reassurance, encouragement and real-world practical nuts and bolts. Advertising, sales people and other conventional marketing methods do not work very well on marketing blocks that involve these issues. Friends, colleagues, experts and advisers are much more helpful in these areas.

Now, there is a gradual way to switch to the Mac, as I’ve described in previous posts.

My analysis of the Mac decision map has revealed many blocks. The biggest one is the lack of a way to try OS X and to switch to it gradually. This new development is important because it wipes out these blocks.

Word of mouth ultimately wins. Blatantly inferior products like Windows, GM and Ford cars, AT&T and Verizon long distance telephone service ultimately lose because information transmitted independently through word of mouth will ultimately overwhelm (in both credibility and quantity) slick ads. It doesn’t matter how big the company is. Especially when those ads are insulting to customers. (For instance, depicting them as dinosaurs, as Microsoft does.) These were, and are, the largest companies in the world. It doesn’t matter. Google may be headed in the same direction. People love telling other people about new and better search engines, and the cost for switching is very low. For instance, and have been mentioned to me many times in the last week and I’m actively trying them out, even though I love Google.

The cost of switching to Apple has always been high, until now.

The takeaway here is to keep your eye on the steps that people need to go through in the decision process. This will reveal all sorts of blocks and opportunities that will allow you to have very high prediction accuracy.

Oh, yes, the predictions. The necessity to reboot when switching between OS X and Windows is a huge block. My guess is that it will not take more than a few weeks, given the enormous interest shown, to develop a switching program that does not require a reboot. In fact, it may already be here. Today’s Wall Street Journal mentions a beta program called Parallels that purports to do this.

I predict that GM and Ford will continue to take themselves into deeper holes before desperation causes them to take some very bold moves. First there will be the corporate financial moves, which may bring them breathing room but will do nothing for their sales. Then there will be some dramatic product quality moves. I have no way of predicting whether these moves will be too little or too late. I am very pessimistic, because the only thing that will save them is to turn around word of mouth. But they don’t even begin to understand what word of mouth is, as evidenced by the Tahoe CGM campaign. They’re just using word of mouth as another manipulation. They need to bring in the customer by having the customer help them design the car, not the ads. They need to openly and transparently share their commitment and steps to solving the product quality problems.

That’s what Apple did. They paid attention to the enormous desire of their customers to be able to run Windows on their Macs for the few programs that cannot be translated to OS X. The announcement released an almost overwhelming torrent of word of mouth. Sales will go through the roof because the solution is already “good enough” and will only get better.

Another prediction: there will be an enormous fight the other way around. People will get OS X working on Windows boxes. This will probably unleash a gigantic fight from Apple. While I believe that they should have the right to attach any conditions to the sale of their programs, this would be a mistake. They could sell a huge number of operating systems without the machines. This would result in huge incremental profit. Since they always seem to be able to stay ahead of the other machines in features, quality and attitude, they would compete very well on the boxes, too. But only if they stay the “good guy” and don’t turn people against them by coercive actions.

Give the people what they want, don’t fight their desires and their WOM, empower them to go the next steps and don’t set up obstacles to what they are going to do anyway. So far, so good.

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