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Allison Brown

Microsoft has created a fictional woman to help make its Windows 8 operating system a reality, report Shira Ovide and Ann Zimmerman in The Wall Street Journal (10/22/12). Her name is Allison Brown — otherwise known as Alicia Gonzalez in Latin America and Franziska Fiegler in Germany. Whatever her name, Microsoft is using her avatar to show shoppers how Windows 8 handles her photos, emails and so on.

It’s all part of Microsoft’s retail strategy behind the launch of its new tablet, the Surface, which includes pop-ups and big-box stores, as well as its own retail shops. The thinking is that Windows 8, because it represents a significant departure from Microsoft’s previous platform, needs to “be seen, touched and explained in person.” This involves a massive training program, notably in partnership with Best Buy, which has “invested roughly 50,000 hours in Windows 8 training for sales staffers and its home-service Geek Squad agents.”

Microsoft certainly is way behind Apple in using retail to drive brand awareness, understanding and sales. Microsoft sees retail playing “a key role in hawking new hardware and software — particularly the Surface … which will be sold only in its own stores and on websites in some countries.” Stylistically, the Microsoft stores take “many cues” from Apple stores, featuring “wood floors and wide aisles for people to cluster around devices.” Consultant Craig Johnson of Customer Growth Partners suggests that that’s where the similarity ends. “Apple has a style and a hot brand,” he says. “Microsoft, well, it sells software.”