How Zune Can Win the iPod War

zuneMicrosoft has confirmed what we already knew: that it is going to take its shot at knocking the iPod off the portable music player throne. TechCrunch has a story about it, in which Marshall Kirkpatrick sums up what I and others said a couple of weeks ago when the Zune rumor first hit the blogosphere:

“It’s an ambitious project that some critics are already saying goes too far outside Microsoft’s core strengths and could end up joining other media projects on the junk heap of tech history.”

Trying to pick up where Scoble left off, Microsoft’s Cesar Menendez is blogging about Zune at the aptly named Zune Insider blog.

I don’t own an iPod, and I would love to see someone provide a successful alternative to the proprietary iPod/iTunes semi-monopoly. I’m just not convinced Microsoft is ready to take on the musical equivalent of trying to convince Coke drinkers to switch to some new cola.

But here’s my roadmap for how to do it, in case Cesar and the rest of the Zune crew are serious about it.

First, embrace the saying “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” and go cut a deal with Yahoo to embrace Zune as a part of its looming war with iTunes. France and America don’t like each other either, but they unite every 50 years or so in the face of a common enemy. If you have to, make Yahoo a partner in this venture. Otherwise, I can’t envision a way to unseat iPods to any significant degree.

Second, make the players work with as many formats as possible- do not try to force people to formats they don’t want to use. Windows media may or may not be a better format, but millions of people have millions of MP3s that they are not going to convert to another format just to use Zune. Couch yourself as the open standards player. Play the proprietary technology card when talking about iPods.

Third, be thoughtful about DRM implementation. DRM will be necessary to get the music providers to play ball. But don’t forget the horde of people, including me, who have never and will never buy a DRM infested song. We want the ability to move our music to and from our players without any DRM-related hassle. DRM should be invisible to us.

Fourth, be wary of feature overload. Don’t try to make the Zune all things to all people. Make it a quality, reliable and intuitive music player. Period.

And finally, market the player as aggressively as you market the new versions of Windows. You don’t need to hire the Stones again, but go hire a bunch of new artists to do commercials for Zune. Come up with a slogan- maybe “Set Your Music Free,” and use it over and over and over, until people associate a positive shift in music management with Zune.

There you go, Microsoft.

Have at it. We’re all watching.

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