Insights on Marketing & Technology

Insight: Microsoft’s new approach to Tech Marketing

In this dialogue brought by MARKET, Trine Tirsgaard, Microsofts’s Director of Consumer Marketing in Western Europe, and Shai Idelson from agency SID LEE discuss their shared experiences with tech marketing, related challenges, and how they plan a departure from existing paradigms.

  • By: Trine Tirsgaard og Shai Idelson
  • Published: 14-05-2014
Shai: What do you think is the state of tech marketing today?
Trine: As much as I’d hate to admit it, the state of tech marketing is captured nicely in a video made by College Humor late last year. While we see many powerful and emotional executions out there, everything starts to look, sound, and feel a bit too similar.

“Every Tech Commercial”

This parody from College Humor nicely sums up the state of tech marketing today.

S: I look at it as an agency person, and I see an entire category that’s a bit struggling to make something disruptive and yet meaningful—and the irony is, the bigger the tech brand, the more challenging it gets to do something disruptive and meaningful.
T: Yes, but at the same time, to get to the creative executions, everyone in the category is also challenged with creating an operational infrastructure that powers everything we do. It’s about connecting all the dots from TV to digital to commerce.
But specifically at Microsoft, we have a perception among audiences that we need to shift, as we reinvent our brand across verticals—from enterprise to students. So our unique challenge is to craft a consistent brand story that respects our heritage while helping us stand out on the bleeding edge of a very competitive category.

As an agency person, what do you believe is the root cause for this “sameness” in marketing for the category?
S: I think that every tech brand is trying to answer one question: How can I bring humanity into technology and make that part of the ethos for my brand? It doesn’t matter if the brand makes devices, software, or both—everyone is trying to infuse humanity into technology.
In the last 5-7 years, a few brands, and the agencies they work with, have found creative storytelling tools that do that. And I think that everyone has adopted these tools and now we’re all running from the same playbook. Now, I don’t think that makes any of the work bad — the reason everyone is following the same playbook is because it works.

T: We see the state of tech marketing today as an opportunity to shift gears—both from an integration/operations perspective and from a creative perspective. We want to drive bold new thinking that may not adhere to the playbook.
You talk about these “creative storytelling tools”. Can you elaborate on what those are?
S: If you take every tech campaign ever made and get to the core of it, you’ll see that there’s a progression that happens between three paradigms.

The Three Paradigms of Tech Marketing

The first paradigm is the WHAT-paradigm. When a new product category comes out, the first paradigm of tech marketing introduces the world to this shiny new thing.

T: Right, so at first we’ll talk about the form factor, the innovative features and the technology itself.

The WHAT Paradigm

As illustrated by the first iPad commercial.

S: Exactly, think back to the tablet and how Apple started marketing it, that’s what you’re supposed to do if the product itself is news. But after a while—usually 12-18 months, we often move on to the second paradigm: HOW?

Once a new product category is no longer novel, we start talking about how people use it to do awesome stuff. This is what all the slice of life executions are about, and this paradigm is what 99% of B2C tech marketing today is based on.

The HOW Paradigm

How people are using tech

T: At Microsoft, we do this a lot and so are our competitors. We do it because it’s effective. But we’re seeing certain players in the category move on to the third paradigm we talk about, the WHY?

This is an interesting paradigm. It might still look like "slice of life” executions, but the narrative is quite different. In this paradigm, brands focus on the reasons why people do what they do with the tech. These are stories about people’s passions, motivations, emotions, stories.

S: And the most interesting thing about this paradigm is that it can actually demonstrate the value of the product even more! Talking less about specific interactions people are having with the tech allows us to talk more about the reason why people can’t live without the tech! I can point to two recent executions from one of our competitors that use this paradigm. Now the question is, will the rest of the category follow or will other brands try to do something completely different?

The WHY Paradigm

Why people are using tech

Where does Microsoft stand on this?

T: Without going too much into our plans, I can say that we’re looking to have an approach that doesn’t follow any of the above-mentioned paradigms per se. You might notice that what’s common to all of them is that they’re rooted in storytelling; the brand takes a role of documenting or crafting stories about real people using the technology to do awesome things big or small.

We see an opportunity to move from storytelling to story-making. And while we aim to tap into human passions, motivations, and emotions, our goal is no longer merely to document these stories, but to enable our consumers to create them with us.

For example, we’re looking at partnering with other brands that give us scale and reach. Like everyone else, we’re looking at media differently too. For us, it’s about delivering assets that let our local markets create an experience locally and amplify it with their audiences. And when the media landscape is so competitive and crowded, we want to offer something true for the few, and then feed the fire and help it grow bigger. So, that’s media.

And while it’s easy to believe this is merely a tweak in media usage, we see this as a transformation in how we do marketing with the shift in media spend that is the result of four other big changes we and our agency partners are working toward:

Change #1: Focus. We always have so many things to tell people. But with so much noise in the marketplace, it’s hard to do anything spectacular by spreading yourself thin. So our strategy going forward is to come out as One Microsoft—to focus on doing a few things bigger and better to deliver impact.

S: Change #2: Action. For us as a creative agency, we’re no longer capturing (or scripting) stories of awesome, but we’re actively creating them with people and in the process, creating transformative experiences for people.

T: Change #3: Together. When we see ideas like that, we’re looking for more reach and more passion points we can tap into. And this is where co-marketing with other brands comes in. We’re interested in creating opportunities with other brands, where each brand achieves its selfish objectives while at the same time, helping in the creation of a gigantic initiative that benefits everyone involved.

S: Change #4; Purpose. I think that a big lesson we’re learning together is, that the people we’re targeting seek a higher order benefit from their engagement with us. People are looking to get involved with initiatives that have a positive impact on our world. Just look at the impact an initiative like Kony 2012 had.
So going forward, we’re working together to create programs that bring other brands and people other brands and people together around initiatives that have a real purpose—a purpose we can all feel good about.

T: And by the way, we don’t see this as cause marketing. This is a 100% commercial play that proves the power of the technology we make and helps prove to people just how powerful, fun, and awesome the technology we make can be.

S: So, all that to say, we love the tech marketing playbook and are not against borrowing from it. But we have something else in mind. Something bigger and more disruptive. And we invite other marketers to add their ideas and their brands to this conversation because by focusing our efforts, activating people, and working together toward a real purpose we can achieve great things.

Well, we certainly have exciting things on the way, how close do you think we are before we’ll have something in market?

T: It’ll take a bit of time incorporating new marketing motions in a global machinery. So, we begin with a few areas that help us test it, which fits well in to our existing marketing operations.

But this is not to say that we’ve figured it all out. This paradigm is shifting and morphing every week as we experiment and develop ideas. The goal is to find more brands to partner with and pursue co-marketing with a purpose across many passion points. So we’re inviting other marketers into this conversation with the hopes that we can work together for the benefit of our respective brands.

Trine Tirsgaard
Trine Tirsgaard is the Director of Consumer Marketing, Western Europe at Microsoft. During the past 15 years, Trine has been extensively involved in the commercial disciplines of strategic branding and commercial business in the IT and financial sectors.

Shai Idelson
Shai Idelson is the Strategy Director at Sid Lee. Shai leads strategy for multiple clients across Sid Lee offices in Europe and North America. He specializes in the sports and technology categories.

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