LAS VEGAS, Nev., May 1, 2007 — The World Wide Web isn’t what it used to be. Neither is doing business on it.
Every day, more and more businesses are moving to the Web. Advances in Web technologies now offer a wealth of new business opportunities for companies, including powerful new ways to attract, engage with and excite customers. Today at MIX07, Microsoft’s conference for Web developers, designers and business professionals at the leading edge of the consumer Web, Microsoft will detail the role of software at the heart of this transformation and how it is changing all facets of marketing.
PressPass spoke with Tim O’Brien, director of the Platform Strategy Group at Microsoft, to learn more about the important role that software and platform choice will play in determining how effectively companies respond to new business opportunities on the Web.
PressPass: MIX is focused on developers, designers and business decision makers in the consumer Web space. What opportunities do advancements in Web technologies represent for them?
O’Brien: The Web offers a wealth of fantastic new opportunities not only in terms of the applications that can be built with technologies like Microsoft Silverlight, but also in terms of what those applications can do. From a marketing perspective, we talk about the “customer cycle,” which is rooted in core marketing fundamentals. Specifically, if you look at the way companies market and drive adoption of products, you see a fairly predictable cycle: making people aware of your offering, getting them interested enough to try it, converting those trials into paying customers and then working with those customers on an ongoing basis, either to up sell them into other products or to get them excited enough by your product to recommend it to their friends.
We think this cycle has three primary components: 1)Attract — attracting customers both in terms of finding out who they are and getting their attention; 2) Engage — essentially, how do you service them, understand their needs and satisfy those needs? And 3) Excite — once you’ve engaged with customers in a way that hopefully results in a business relationship, how do you cultivate a sense of community where customers can share their experiences with your product and hopefully recommend it to a broader set of people? Marketing fundamentals have not changed. What has changed is the role of technology in efficiently driving marketing to scale, and the major opportunity this represents for companies doing business today.
PressPass: How does technology help drive marketing efforts to scale?
O’Brien: In marketing, there has always been this tension between the goal of creating a very personalized, high-touch engagement with the customer, and the ability to cost effectively reach customers on a broad scale — in the thousands or millions. There are numerous historical examples of how technology has changed the way marketing is done — just think about the impact of the printing press, radio, television and now the Internet. Today, hardware and software advances are making personal interactions with customers at broad scale more possible than ever before. It’s not just about the Web and the reach it affords; it’s the proliferation of technologies such as broadband, mobile phones, devices and digital gadgets in your house. Each one of those represents a digital end-point that can be used to attract customers and interact with them in a very personal, relevant and profitable way — all with software.
PressPass: Microsoft Silverlight has a strong focus on the experience delivered on the Web. How does this technology impact the marketing possibilities?
O’Brien: It’s not enough for businesses to think about how they can get more advertising on the Web or how they can better scale their message or product. They also need to think about how they can better interact with their customers on the Web. Technologies like Microsoft Silverlight enable businesses to combine a high level of customer interactivity with the broad reach of the Web, rather than having to choose one or the other. It’s the experience you ultimately deliver that impacts how the customer cycle progresses, and Silverlight creates possibilities for businesses to heighten that experience at scale.
PressPass: You’ve talked about the opportunities created by software products like Silverlight. What about opportunities created by hardware such as Xbox, Windows Media Center and Zune?
O’Brien: Today, we live in a world where there’s a mesh of digital devices. The PC is now complemented by mobile phones, MP3 players, game consoles, digital entertainment centers in the living room and Internet kiosks in coffee shops. All of these devices represent new ways companies can interact with customers, and at the same time, drive brand-consistent interactions that are fully integrated into more traditional marketing tactics such as direct mail, TV and radio advertising, billboards and retail store activities.
PressPass: What are some of Microsoft’s customers and partners doing in this area?
O’Brien: Many of our customers and partners have done some very interesting things to take experience-focused marketing to the next level using some of their existing content assets and customer-facing Web assets. We’ve demonstrated a number of examples of this at MIX, and will show even more today. You can go to www.visitmix.com and see some of these from our keynotes.
PressPass: How do these technologies help companies create better relationships with their customers on the Web?
O’Brien: A lot of the technologies that are being developed for the Web are designed to make the customer experience more interactive and drive a deeper social connection where the power of communities helps drive sales and improve products and services. Consumers tend to gravitate toward one another on the basis of their preferences — they like the same kind of car, they like the same kind of movies or the same kind of restaurants. Enabling that social element across your customer base is a very powerful marketing lever.
Another equally important piece is to be able to apply the business intelligence needed to capture customer information and preferences and be able to more systematically influence your customers’ purchasing decisions in the right way. And the next step logically is being able to create more customized communities of friends. Instead of just seeing everybody’s opinion, how about just the people whose opinions you care about? We think these scenarios can all be made possible through software, and as a platform company we can help by delivering a platform that provides the capabilities that other companies can take advantage of.
PressPass: What are the opportunities for companies doing business on the Web moving forward? How does Microsoft fit into that?
O’Brien: Companies have an opportunity to show some leadership now by increasingly using software in their marketing to better drive customer interactions on a broad scale. So how does Microsoft fit into that? First of all, we have either developed a lot of these technologies or we have embraced them in our platform. Another big benefit that Microsoft brings is the breadth of platform that cuts across business and consumer, all of the developer technologies, business computing technologies, the home office, and all the way up into consumer technologies, including games.
We think that the breadth of platform provides companies the opportunity to reach customers across multiple devices in a very consistent way. Platform choice is key for companies doing business on the Web, and it’s going to have a direct impact on how well they can take advantage of these new marketing opportunities moving forward.