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Microsoft Kinects with Audience…Finally

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Original post date 11/29/11

With the Christmas shopping season fully upon us, Microsoft’s Kinect motion-sensing game device is expected to be at the top of the gift list for many consumers. Last year, Microsoft sold 1 million Kinect devices for its Xbox 360 in 10 days, and in a recent poll it was at the top of the wish list for children 13 and older. But what you might not expect is that some of those orders are going to be coming from businesses.

Early this month, Microsoft launched Kinect for Windows SDK with a brilliant, new ad called “Kinect Effect.

The Kinect Effect TV Ad

Microsoft is pushing Kinect hardware for Windows SDK for business applications.  As staff writer Jason Kennedy from PCWorld states: “SDK will make it possible for programmers and dreamers from the world over to tinker with the system and make it do things Microsoft hadn’t thought of, and push the development of NUI [natural user interfaces] to the next level.”

What is noteworthy about the Kinect Effect ad is what it took for Microsoft to make it. Six years ago, in an interview with CMO magazine, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer confessed to a problem long known by many consumers of Microsoft products:

During Microsoft’s climb to the top of the software industry, rapid-fire product cycles often happened without much front-end input from the folks in marketing. Engineers would develop new software, pack it with bells and whistles, decide on an acceptable number of bugs and toss it over to marketing for a press release and a launch event.”

At the time, Microsoft had set out to change that course through an expansive and expensive relationship marketing initiative. Internally, it aligned marketing with product groups, created a “mea culpa” marketing campaign to reach out to past customers, and targeted loyalists hoping to turn them into advocates.

But because of its past transgressions, and a perception that many of its products were “necessaries” with little to pique the desire of consumers, Microsoft struggled with finding an ignition point, or something to connect customers with the brand and ignite their passions.

Well, those days appear to be over. With the Kinect Effect, the tech titan proves that it can be relevant, even desirable, with a campaign that is expansive, inspiring and incredibly human. The campaign asks audiences to dream about how they might use Kinect by inspiring them with images of people playing air instruments, a doctor flipping through X-rays, and a student deconstructing DNA with only hand motions.

The expansiveness of the idea allows Microsoft to reach, and hopefully inspire, all three of its targeted audiences, including consumers/users, businesses and developers.  Any one group can have the dream, but all three are needed for it to become reality.

Perhaps the most significant point of the ad is that it’s proof that the relationship marketing effort was a success, Microsoft now understands the strategic importance of the “front end” as Ballmer calls it.  Five years ago the message of the commercial would of been about the “bells and whistles” of the Kinect device.  This ad is an elegant and visually stimulating vision of what Kinect can enable, the virtually unlimited imagination of dreamers.

If Microsoft can continue to build this connection with the customer while retail store openings roll-out into 2012, it could transition itself from the company that makes the “have to have” product to the company that is the “want to have” brand.

The Death of Big Data?

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Big data is about to get bigger. Deliotte predicts that by the end of 2012 more than 90 percent of the Fortune 500 will likely have at least some Big Data initiatives under way.   Companies will likely spend  $1-1.5 billion to enable their organization to collect, analysis and use “big data” with the intent of gaining a better understanding their customers.   But according to Doc Searls author of the new book Intention Economy: When Customers Take Charge that may be a waste of money.

Searls points out in a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, that as fast as companies are configuring systems to capture data at customer touchpoints, consumers are disabling collection sites.  In May of this year, ClarityRay reported that the overall rate of ad blocking in the U.S. was 9.26%, and even higher on certain types of site and browser (download the report on ClarityRay’s website).

In May, Microsoft announced that the “Do Not Track” (DNT) feature will be turned on by default in the next version of Internet Explorer.   Add this to Dish’s ad skipping product, Hopper and you have an increasingly less assessable consumer.   What does this mean, well according to Searls it’s leading to a point where the supply side will yield influence, and ultimately power to the demand side, the consumer.

Searls book explores how customers will transact over the next 10 years, and the rise of Vendor Relationship Management (VRM), think CRM built for consumers to aggregate personal information and signal their intention to vendors on their preference, terms and desired price.  As Searls points out, sites like Priceline and Travelocity, have started this movement but they are still “siloed.”

The tipping point for the next wave is fully empowered consumer, untethered by restrictive contracts, and siloed information.  In this new world, consumers will have software that can integrate apps with the services offered by companies, saving time for consumers and creating commerce for companies in real time.

Imagine a business trip in which your phone apps for travel, budgeting, mapping, all work together to compare offers, make reservations, and filling out expense reports along the way.

What will it take to enable this revolution?   Ultimately, it comes down to the recognition that a free customer is more valuable than captive one.   Companies who will thrive will identify opportunities that take advantage of consumer’s freedom that they have, or want.  A mindshift from thinking of consumers as “targets” that live in “populations” who need to be “acquired” or “locked in.”  To an empowered individual buyer who will signal their intent to a company, as long as there is a trusted relationship.

In this personal empowerment revolution outlined by Searls, the future of buying lies not in investing in big data systems to figure out consumers, but rather by integrating apps that enable “small data” to be used by consumers.

Big changes for big data are looming on the horizon…