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Why Personas Matter for B2B Inbound Marketing: Microsoft and Marketing the Surface Tablet

If you’re like me, you watched the TV commercials introducing the Microsoft Surface and had absolutely no idea why you might want one.  The harshly syncopated music and stop action video conveyed no sense of how this new product might fit into my life.  While attention getting, the spots supporting the launch of the Surface are confusing.  And that’s being nice.  What they don’t do is show any real-life application of the device.  They strive for cool and deliver nothing meaningful.

You may recall the really wonderful “I'm a PC” commercials that Microsoft used to support Windows 7 and its Mac-like interface.  These commercials resonated deeply with a large audience.  You could imagine yourself saying, “yeah, that’s me, too.”  Here’s one of my favorites showing that a PC is just as easy to use as a Mac. 


What’s the big difference between the campaigns for Windows 7 and Surface?  My hunch is that Microsoft and its agency didn’t get the personas right for the launch of the Surface tablet, or maybe, they didn’t use them at all.

When a persona is right, the real-life customer can totally relate to the marketing messaging being targeted to them.  It feels like the company is speaking directly to them, one-to-one.  With the Windows 7 campaign, Microsoft hit a nerve: As a PC user, I too have a creative side, a fun side, as well as my work side.  Look at all the things I want to do; I can do them easily on Windows 7.

Contrast that with the noisy and impenetrable creative for the Surface RT and Surface Pro tablets.  There’s little to relate to, because there’s no key message communicated. 

So, Surface sales are described as lackluster at best.  Windows 7 was one of the most successful operating systems of all time.  Interestingly, Windows 8, routinely panned by industry observers, has matched the pace of sales for Windows 7.  Is it marketing momentum from Windows 7?  Replacement sales of older XP machines?  Not sure.

One thing is certain: You can’t give all the credit nor all the blame to marketing and messaging.  These are enormous markets with momentum all their own.  But it is clear that the marketing around the Surface tablets has left most consumers confused and cold.

What could Microsoft do?

Start by figuring out who could and should want their device, and how it would be relevant to their lives and lifestyles.  How does it integrate with other Microsoft products and services that make for a great experience?  What are the ways each would use and live with the device?  Then you could make some compelling advertising.  In inbound marketing, we capture these types of customers in fictionalized biographies called personas.  They are detailed, and made up of real-world observation of customers for a product or service.

Apple has launched a very compelling commercial singling out the picture-taking capabilities of the iPhone 5.  It speaks to me, and likely millions of others, in that we’ve all done some of what’s pictured in the spot.  We can relate to the use case.   The creative is just so wired into the mind of its potential user base that it is simply and elegantly powerful.

One Apple persona must be something like, “In the Moment Mark,” a person who loves to document the big and little moments that make up his life.  He is in touch via social networking (likely Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and SnapChat) and has four or five email accounts he regularly consults.  And he is a big user of Yelp, sharing his restaurant reviews and photos with the wider world.  Watch the commercial below, and let me know if you think “In the Moment Mark” would find it relatable…

What do personas do for B2B marketers?

Having a good idea of who your customers are helps align the organization from product development to marketing to sales to support.  Knowing what motivates people to buy and be loyal to your company is a powerful asset.  You can orchestrate every effort of your company to be distinctly supportive of your customer types.  Your products and services will seem tailor-made to your customers and prospects.  The pre-sales path will be efficient and serve decision-making.  The pricing and packaging will make sense to the user; they’ll innately know what options to pick because it will seem so obvious.

When we provide a free inbound marketing assessment, we begin by asking, “who are your customers?”  The answers we get tell us a lot about the readiness of a potential client to ramp up with us and start generating leads.

Want to explore personas and how they can help you be a better marketing organization?  We’d welcome the opportunity.  Let’s start with an inbound marketing assessment to see if there’s a fit.

Request a free inbound marketing assessment

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