How to save the Zune

This is a guest post by Michael Pinto who is the Creative Director of Very Memorable, Inc. a design firm that specializes in the youth market and interactive media.

With the iPhone taking away the mind space of the iPod, the Zune already seems to be in an orphan category with consumers. A sign of this is the recent high profile blowout when GameStop announced that they planned to stop selling the Zune. However, to me the surprise was that GameStop had been selling the Zune in the first place. I’ve been to several locations over the last year or so and I’ve never spotted one in a store. Perhaps the reason for this is that I was hunting to buy yet another Nintendo DS Lite and not looking for an MP3 player as a stocking stuffer.

In fact the only time that I’ve seen a Zune in the wild was while I was running through Kmart. Now think about that for a second: The biggest market for this device would be those hungry for music — tweens, teens and young adults. This market is very style conscience to say the least, and the one place they might encounter this device is in-between the linens and pantry items. Also the few times that I’ve seen representatives of the youth market at Kmart they were hunting for dorm room necessities rather than objects of entertainment.

The first problem with the Zune is it’s price point, which ranges from $150 to $200. This is a disaster as the iPod, which is seen as more high end, sells the shuffle for $50. Zune needs to be Pepsi to Apple’s Coke in this department and have their main product on the lower end of the cost spectrum. In fact, the best thing for Zune to do is to have a $25 model if they want to thrive in a recession based economy. On the low end, the iPod shuffle doesn’t even feature a screen, however, what makes it work so well is that it acts as a fashion accessory more than anything else. Zune needs to focus more on the form factor rather than the technology inside the device.

After having a low priced base model, the next for Zune to do would be to offer limited edition versions of the device aimed at specific niche audiences. These limited edition Zunes should feature co-branding and creative collaborations with both well known trademarks and fashion forward artists. For example, there should be a Hello Kitty Zune, or on the high end a limited edition Takashi Murakami Zune. Microsoft should also go after unfashionable males with both sports and comic book themed Zunes. And then instead of having a generic display at Kmart, these limited edition Zunes should be available at targeted retail locations and high profile events. So for example, you’d be able to buy a Iron Man Zune at the Sand Diego Comic Book Con much in the same way you’d buy a Star Wars Mimobot Designer USB Flash Drive.

Zunes should always come pre-loaded with music, in fact this would be a natural direction as the White Stripes and Nine Inch Nails have already released pre-loaded USB drives in the past. This could be taken to the next step by including music videos and exculsive audio interviews. In fact, Microsoft should collaborate with services that sell audio recordings to an audience after a concert. So instead of people owning just one iPod, a fanboy or fangirl might own several special edition Zunes that they’ve collected over the years like a beloved set of Swatch watches.

Also see: Zune 2: five things Microsoft did right

The one thing that Microsoft has done well with the Zune is with their creative online branding efforts. In fact their website is much more innovative than anything that Apple has done so far (just look at their wonderful use of commissioned animation). However, they need to push this to the next level by addressing social media — this is a bit of an irony as their initial tagline was “welcome to the social”. Microsoft needs to have an interactive presence on MySpace, Facebook and Twitter in association with well known musicians. HP for example has an engaging website in which they collaborated with Gwen Stefani to sell printers, if anything this sort of strategy would be much more natural to sell an MP3 player.

About the Author

Michael Pinto is the Creative Director of Very Memorable, Inc. a design firm that specializes in the youth market and interactive media. He is also the Publisher of and


last100 is edited by Steve O'Hear. Aside from founding last100, Steve is co-founder and CEO of Beepl and a freelance journalist who has written for numerous publications, including TechCrunch, The Guardian, ZDNet, ReadWriteWeb and Macworld, and also wrote and directed the Silicon Valley documentary, In Search of the Valley. See his full profile and disclosure of his industry affiliations.

22 Responses to “How to save the Zune”

  1. JP LeClair says:

    I agree on price – a little. There is a price point where a product is perceived to be “too cheap” – where a consumer will not even consider the product.

    I expect to spend good money on a good product. Yeah I want a deal but I start questioning it’s quality when it’s price point is near the floor. You start wondering, “what’s wrong with it that it’s so cheap?!”

    There needs to be a good balance of price / value. Maybe a free month of Zune Pass with every Zune purchase (much like Xbox Live – free month with console purchase).

    Apple had no real viable competition and was able to make iPod a household name in no time flat. Once you have that you’ve pretty much cornered the market and any competitor will have a tough time overcoming that notoriety.

    I love my Zune 30 and wouldn’t trade it for anything – okay, maybe a Zune 80. 😉

  2. Vipralion says: They’ve even struck a deal to have Zune skinned music players that anyone with a myspace profile can select and have displayed on their page.

    The type of sponsored content that was mentioned recently will also do well to do the “Gwen Stefani – Printers” thing. Right now you can add the profile of Ryu Hayabusa, protagonist of the Xbox 360 exclusive, Ninja Gaiden 2, to your friends list and then drag and drop their Zune card onto your Zune device (with Zune pass) and instant promotion of the songs there, as well as free content from the game’s soundtrack by subscribing to the podcast. Look to see this sort of content expanded upon.

    GameStop announcement = Meh.

    And finally, every blogger, news article, etc. is so keen on making Zune seem like it has to compete against iPod and NOW or else it will fail. But the truth of the matter is that Zune is an amazing alternative to iPod and so long as there is a steady stream of new users joining the social there isn’t going to be any problems. It’s like comparing OS X to Windows. They haven’t made any gains for years until recently, yet they still are a completely viable alternative to Windows and aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.

  3. Dave Zatz says:

    I agree MS/Zune are facing an uphill battle (partially of their own making), but the GameStop announcement isn’t entirely relevant – what’s a video game store doing selling music devices and cell phones (Helio) anyway. Their expansion *hopes* are more about them, than about the products they’re selling.

    I have an iPhone, and I don’t care for it as a music device. It’s OK, but my red Nano (pre-fatty model) was more efficient with the spinny wheel and more compact for running/walking. The new flash-based Zunes appeal to me – especially with an FM tuner, needed in for gym TVs. Oh yeah, I’m a big fan of all-you-can eat plans. BUT before I make a move, I’m waiting to see if XM or Sirius introduce a streaming client for the iPhone next month.

  4. Jawad Shuaib says:

    This is brilliant.

    “Zune needs to be Pepsi to Apple’s Coke.”

    1. Lower the price (drop it below the iPod shuffle)
    2. Co-brand it with niche audiences and bands
    3. Zunes should always come pre-loaded with music

    – Jawad Shuaib

  5. enz says:

    Seems pretty ignorant to me that you can write a piece about a Zune and not own one. You obviously don’t, i get that from reading these few pages of uninformed garbage. Not to mention you are out of touch with the target audience seeing that you create advertisements featuring Clifford the Big Red Dog and Snoopy. You know zero about the market and seem to think that its only filled with ipods and zunes. stick with drawing cartoons for you kidcentric ad company.

  6. Michael says:

    How to save the Zune: keep trucking along the same way you are.

    There is a reason that the Zune is the number 2 MP3 player because they are doing it right. By version 3 it will be just as good as the iPod and I wouldn’t be surprised if sales start to explode.

  7. David says:

    Zune #2 MP3 player??

    Maybe you should look at this

    Not even in the top 10!
    Apple and Sandisk BOTH sold more of their product in December that Microsoft has EVER sold since the inception of the Zune.

  8. Chustar says:

    It IS as good as the iPod (i think) but that’s the problem. No one knows that. iPods have become the face of the digital music industry that the very idea of something else being as good or even better is immediately discounted. Advertisements, anyone? Thats what they need to do. Non stop ads. People shouldn’t be allowed to forget one before they see another. Any wonder why Apple is so popular?

  9. rich says:

    Zune is fine but it’s not better than the iPod and iTunes. The navigation is not as easy and the software and the way it works with the hardware is still kludgy, desite a few features up on iTunes like separate file sync locations. Integration with WiMP was expected, but the new app is more unwieldy.

  10. bill says:

    It’s strange. The Zune is pretty snazzy on the one hand (Zune Arts, the software, the device itself, Originals), but the look of the in-store Zune islands—in a sea of brightly colored iJunk—is that nasty brown. They need to get some of the Zune Arts or Originals staff working on the packaging.

  11. Quikboy says:

    The Zune just needs to do something more amazing. I have a Zune 30, and it works well for me.

    I would agree about making special limited-edition versions of “well-known” artists. And it seems as if the Zune will do the special artist/theme packages via Zune Social, in some sort of advertising promotion like way.

    A separate Zune retail store (or a Microsoft store for that matter) would help getting a central place for all things Zune.

  12. SteamChip says:

    Forget about the Zune, we should be talking about how to improve the 512MB Sensa m230 Sandisk 6 4.4 2 instead (as per Davids link post ). They at least are making progress against Apple and I never heard of that mp3 player until now.

    If Microsoft makes changes as suggested, they might sell 10 more of the devices.

  13. Argo117 says:

    wow… zune has come preloaded with music, videos, and music videos since the beginning. This guy has probably not even held a zune

  14. Michael says:

    How to save the Zune: keep trucking along the same way you are.

    There is a reason that the Zune is the number 2 MP3 player because they are doing it right. By version 3 it will be just as good as the iPod and I wouldn't be surprised if sales start to explode.

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