Think of your software program as a can of tomatoes. Or a new skin moisturizer. C. Rowland Hanson does, and he is trying to market software with the same pizzazz and image-making that Madison Avenue brings to other consumer products. Hanson, a vice-president of Microsoft Corp., in Bellevue, Wash., is bringing the strategies he learned as a marketing man at General Mills Inc. and Neutrogena Corp. to software. "Both cosmetics and food marketers really know how to create a brand and market a product," Hanson explains. "I want to make Microsoft the perceived quality brand of software. I want people to think of Microsoft the same way they perceive Sara Lee or Estee Lauder."

Image-making will drive the software business as it matures, Hanson says. Gone are the days of marketing programs as if every potential user is a techie who is driven to ecstasy -- and then to a store--by the mere mention of an obscure technological advance. Convincing the garden-variety consumer to buy on brand-name recognition is now the goal Although this raises the cost of competing -- the industry will double its advertising expenditures this year -- Hanson contends that small companies can compete by "spending smarter, not more."

Microsoft, for instance, won't follow its two major competitors, Ashton-Tate and Lotus Development Corp., in spending big dollars on television ads, he says. Instead, it is focusing on three media Hanson regards as more efficient: direct mail, computer and business magazines, and in-store merchandising.

Hanson is borrowing another tactic from his days in the vanity business. Just as consumers can buy a dab of an expensive cosmetic to smear at leisure, now they can go home with an abridged version of Word, Microsoft's word-processing software, for $10. If they opt to purchase the real thing, they receive a $10 rebate. That's enough to buy some skin moisturizer or even a can of tomatoes on the way home.