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5 Ways Microsoft Can Get Back on Track in 2013: Stop Copying Apple and Google

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Microsoft can't get ahead by being a follower.

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Editor's note: This is Part 4 of a 5-part series that will be published over the course of this week. Stay tuned!

As it stands, Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) and Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) are pretty much at the head of the tech industry. While a lot of companies are getting by from imitating their successes, Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) shouldn't be one of them. The former tech giant seems to constantly be playing a game of catch-up with its rivals. If Microsoft is ever going to get back on top, the company needs to make its own way.

For starters, Microsoft's attempts at copying Apple have been a little disappointing. Since it tried to mimic the breakout hit that was the iPod with its Zune, Microsoft has been adapting its competitor's ideas almost instinctively. To be fair, Microsoft had been trying to market a tablet since 2002, and becoming a devices and services company may have been a necessary survival measure, though it was only after Apple had achieved success in these markets that Microsoft truly put its effort into being competitive. While the Surface Pro seems like it will drive tablet functionality forward, it's doubtful that it will be the No. 1 hit that Microsoft is looking for. The company's mimicry of Google is even less glamorous. While it has managed to establish some presence in its online services division, another entry in this series provided ample proof that the company needs to cut those investments.

If Microsoft wants to get ahead again, it needs to be the innovator of a new market of technology, and the company has more resources than most to make that shift. For example, the rumored augmented reality capabilities of its next Xbox/Kinect systems could easily prove to be a force of progress in the video game industry, but the company needs to be aware that the same technology would have similar if not greater applications when used with other media forms, such as movies, television, or music. The motion-sensing capabilities of the Kinect are brimming with untapped potential; with just a few advancements, Microsoft could market it as an essential tool for security systems, audience scanning, or gathering more accurate demographic information.

Microsoft also needs to differentiate itself in terms of which market it goes after. Apple's image and longstanding relationship with educators makes it a force to be reckoned with in the youth category. Rather than trying to compete with dubstep commericals and breakdancing, Microsoft should start appealing to the audience that has worked with its products for years -- Microsoft should embrace its presence in the business world by marketing itself as being designed for sophisticated, suave, performance-driven individuals.

By doing so, it could establish itself as a performance brand priced for mass market appeal, like Honda's (NYSE:HMC) Civic line. They might also consider hiring a celebrity spokesperson, someone who could help the firm paint Microsoft products as sophisticated, and Apple products as made for simpleminded or uneducated consumers, which isn't too far off from the truth these days. Microsoft also needs to put more effort into displacing Research In Motion's (NASDAQ:RIMM) BlackBerry as the go-to cell phone for government and businesses. This will not only help it gain market share, but also help it establish itself as a brand dedicated to professionals.

Although Apple has proven that appealing to a large group consumers can be wildly profitable, Microsoft is never going to get ahead by being a follower. If the company focuses its efforts on carving out its own market and consumer base, it's possible that enthusiasm for the Microsoft name could soon return.

Be sure to check out the rest of this series here:

5 Ways Microsoft Can Get Back on Track in 2013: Release the Xbox 720 Early

5 Ways Microsoft Can Get Back on Track in 2013: Break Up the Company

5 Ways Microsoft Can Get Back on Track in 2013: Build a Better Ecosystem
No positions in stocks mentioned.
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