Apple Vs Microsoft – A Battle of Brand Association

tech branding melbourne

All Brands Have Meaning
Whether carefully and strategically considered or by default, all brands hold associated meanings in the market place. Well considered brands establish a competitive brand proposition (their brand strategy) with layers of meaning to both differentiate themselves from their competitors and to connect with their audience. These brand reinforce their meaning through all of their actions or brand touch points. As a brand agency we help brands to define their meaning and create the brand design for all their communications in order to create a consistent association with these layers of meaning in the minds of their customers.

Apple Vs Microsoft
Today we compare the brand associations of consumer technology icons Apple & Microsoft.

A Snapshot of Brand Association
The clever people at Brand Tags have been busy collecting a comprehensive list of more than 1.7 million associations that people have with brands. The result is a unique opportunity for those brands to compare the meaning and messages of their brand communication strategy with the brand associations of a cross section of the market.

A Comparison of Brand Associations
As expected, both brands have a high level of association with descriptive terms such as ‘computer’, ‘pc’ and ‘software’. Both brands boast strong levels of association with their product line; ‘Windows’, ‘Mac’, ‘iPod’ , ‘Office’ and ‘Word’. Also, interestingly both brands maintain a strong association with their founders and leaders; ‘Steve Jobs’ and ‘Bill Gates’, reflecting the brand equity that these two industry icons continue to maintain. However, from there it gets interesting to say the least. Given the enormous number of people who have contributed the brand associations (more than 300,000 of them of all ages, nationalities and brand affiliations) the differing tone of brand association is astounding.

The Apple Brand
The Apple brand is openly loved, maybe even adored with strong levels of association to words like ‘cool’ ‘awesome’ and even ‘love’. Plenty of brands want to be loved, but very few can lay claim to that strongest of positive associations. The words ‘design’, ‘creative’ and ‘innovation’ are also strongly associated with the Apple brand. When pooled with associations of ‘quality’, ‘sleek’, ‘simple’ and ‘style’ it is easy to see why Apple commands such high levels of brand loyalty and continues to create enourmous anticipation for each new product launch.

The Microsoft Brand
On the other hand I could barely believe my eyes when tracking the negative tone of much of the strongest brand association for Microsoft. Few successful brands include such high levels of negative association including; ‘evil’, ‘monopoly’, ‘crap’, ‘shit’ and that classic of poor customer feedback – ‘sucks’. Whilst at a commercial level, Microsoft’s strategic, commercial partnerships have built incredibly high levels of product use, it appears that the brand has seriously failed to translate that product use into positive brand association and brand loyalty.

If you’d like some help to define the meaning for your brand and create your communications in order to create a consistent association with these layers of meaning in the minds of their customers, why not drop us a line?

David Ansett, Brandamentalist
If you’d like daily updates of our brand thinking, you can follow me on Twitter here.

Photo from Tim Mossholder on Unsplash.


  1. Alex, I’ve gotta put up my hand I’m an Apple obsessive. The thing with this brand association is it’s not about which brand is better – more about what meaning people associate with the brands, and how well that aligns with the positioning strategy of the brand. Love the Microsoft passion out there.

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  3. Interesting to see what it will be in a couple of years time. I love Apple, have done since the Mac Classic but I’m becoming uncomfortable with the way they’re going – they’re getting ‘Big company syndrome’ and people are starting to hate them for it. Everyone loves the underdog. Apple may have to change how they’re doing things now they’re no longer the little upstart they once were, otherwise they’ll become the new Microsoft.

  4. Sad but true Mark – a challenge facing all brands who build these highly loyal relationships as part of their strategy for success – then when they become successful they are at a size of business that provides a tension with much of the brand culture that drove the loyalty in the first place.

  5. Thanks for your comments Jitendra. If it wasn’t clear from the blog – the brand associations published are drawn from a site called brand tags that combines more than 1.7 million opinions on brands. I agree the associations don’t paint a particularly positive picture of Microsoft, but we don’t edit or influence those associations, we literally re-publish the impressions they collect. As I mention – I was particularly surprised by the vein of negativity as I personally hold a neutral view of the brand. I’d love to understand in more detail which of our interpretations you disagree with – not from your personal view-point, but from the associations collected.

  6. Quite a thorough analysis!
    IMHO, comparing Apple – Microsoft is like comparing local TV – PayTV. Local TV has less quality but wider networks while PayTV has unquestionably higher quality, but less network infrastructure & costly.
    Therefore local TV (a.k.a Microsoft) will still conquer the mass market segment for a long period of time, while PayTV (Apple) will probably conquer the middle to upper class market segment.

  7. Thanks Grace, great to have your perspective added to the brand conversation. The thought I’d add from this analysis of brand association which cuts across all demographics is regardless of popular take-up, there seems to be a strong, negative thread of brand association for Microsoft. Perhaps that’s part of being such a dominant market leader.

  8. I think this is a very good analysis.

    I have a couple of related questions, was Microsoft once loved or at least admired? Didn’t it too once make us gasp with admiration at its products? Wasn’t it once an innovative company that set the standards others followed? Not perhaps in the same way as Apple but in its own unique way?

    And does anyone else feel their love for Apple is declining? I am convinced I have brand fatigue with Apple and Apple products. And I know I’m not alone as more of my friends shun the iPhone for Samsung.

    • Hi Marcus, you raise a very valid point around brand fatigue. As if it’s not hard enough for brands to engender wonder, admiration and love in their markets in the first place, the other great challenge for brands is to remain fresh and relevant as the market and their consumers change – especially as they grow into multinational businesses. The once amazing Microsoft failed to keep an eye on the level of brand love, something Apple have done consistently well over the years as this snapshot shows. The big question is how long Apple will be able to maintain the level of brand fanaticism. In my book, the length of time they’ve maintained their status to date marks them in the highest category of brand genius. I’m watching with interest post Steve Jobs to see whether they can maintain the level of passion.

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