Marketing Lessons from Microsoft @ E3

  • Chester

XBox_LessonsYou’d think a name as big as Microsoft, or specifically a game console like the Xbox, would sell itself – hence, little need for any marketing sleight-of-hand.

But consumers are a fickle lot. And when they are also fans, and the whole sales cycle is taking place on B2C territory, the trusty old self-promotion approach can fail even big brands.

Microsoft learned that the hard way last year, with the controversies surrounding the reveal of the Xbox One: a hefty price tag, restrictions on game ownership, and a hard bundle with the unpopular Kinect add-on. Garnished with a ‘take it or go back to the old Xbox’ stance, these left a bad taste in the collective palate of the gaming community.

But at this year’s E3 expo, pitching that selfsame console, they’ve gotten their act together and pulled off a classic buyer engagement play – one that has all the hallmarks of sound B2B marketing.

Acknowledging the competition

The Xbox One alone isn’t going to carry the market, and Microsoft showed they understood this when they gave a shout-out to rivals Sony and Nintendo.

It was a textbook “no man is an island” display, touching on industry issues like the necessity for competition and the uncertainty in today’s video game business landscape. In essence, it was two things:

  • an acknowledgment that customers want choice,
  • and a show of confidence in their own brand.

Likewise, mentioning competitors in our marketing is not promoting them at our expense. It’s showing our audience our awareness of the industry at large, as well as that we want them to choose what’s best for them. Both are great credibility boosters.

Focusing on customer wants

A huge part of E3 has always been about the games. And inevitably, surrounded by all this swanky new software, gamers want to hear from the manufacturers if their last hardware investment is already losing steam.

Microsoft came out to assuage those concerns by putting what their buyers want first – the games. They showed they had gamers’ interests at heart with

  • the better part of an hour dedicated to game showcases,
  • and extending thanks to the fans for their participation and feedback.

Microsoft saw the fans’ concerns that consoles like the Xbox were no longer worth buying. And it did the smart thing by acknowledging these concerns. Because in the end, what’s a console without good games to play on it?

It’s always about what the customer is after. Making them the centre of our marketing, and demonstrating that we are listening, encourages conversation. Which builds trust.

Positioning strengths well

By making games the thrust of their pitch, Microsoft killed a second bird. They diverted attention away from the fact that, unlike the Xbox One’s predecessors, they no longer have a product that stands out from the crowd on its own technological merits.

With next-gen rivals already buzzing on the radar, like Sony’s PlayStation 4 with its much anticipated Project Morpheus, the need for Microsoft to retain customers is more crucial than ever. Which it attempted to at E3, by

  • focusing on an evergreen want of its customer base,
  • and doing so agnostically.

Whether intentional or not, it was a smart play – because many more gamers care about the gaming experience than they do about the technology behind it.

In the same vein, while we shouldn’t obfuscate the cons of our offerings, we shouldn’t be shy with the pros either – it’s all in how we put them across. Align a product or service with something buyers will always want or need, and leave branding out of it, and it will be relevant.

Clearly, B2B marketing has its place in the B2C arena as well. Microsoft’s show this E3 is as good an example to follow as any: speak as a part of the industry, keep the spotlight on what the buyers really want, and play up strengths without blowing trumpets.

And, of course – don’t make customers pay more for something they don’t really want, and then tell them they can downgrade if they don’t like it!


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