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Microsoft Asks: Who Are You?

Embracing the social geek “in order to transform perceptions of Microsoft”

Executive Summary:

Although Microsoft has worked hard to involve customers in the development of Windows Vista, Windows Server 2008, and other recent releases, IT professional and developer satisfaction has been declining for several years. In its newest attempt to improve customer satisfaction and build a sense of community, Microsoft has launched its Who Are You program. Central to that program is a Web site in which IT professionals, developers, and other customers can share their personal talents and interests.

Customer loyalty and satisfaction result from good products and excellent customer service. To create products that fill a need, a company has to understand who its customers are and what they want. Back in the 1990s, Microsoft generally disregarded its customers and is paying the price of low customer satisfaction today. In contrast, Apple is a technology company that “gets” its customers and inspires fanatical loyalty by creating über-cool and innovative technology. That loyalty leaves Microsoft yearning to win the hearts and minds of IT pros and developers. Although the company has worked hard to involve customers in the development of Windows Vista, Windows Server 2008, and other recent releases, IT pro and developer satisfaction has been sliding for at least five years. I can imagine some frustrated Microsoft workgroup wondering what it would take to make IT people happy-and suddenly coming to the realization that Microsoft needed to find out what makes IT pros and developers tick.

The Social Geek
Then along came Mark J. Penn with his book Microtrends: The Small Forces Behind Tomorrow’s Big Changes (Twelve, 2007). Penn’s research reverses the stereotype of the geek as a loner. Penn dubs today’s tech-head as the “social geek.” Penn maintains, “Geeks as we know them have all but disappeared.... The social uses of technology, with its new emphasis on ‘connection,’ have far outstripped the antisocial, individualistic purposes technology used to serve.”

Significantly for Microsoft, Penn goes on to say, “The implications for technology marketing are staggering. Whereas tech companies used to target ... pasty, lonely guys, now they sell having a great PC ... as cool .... Being tech-savvy was once socially disdained. Now it is at the center of organizing friends, parties, and the social life of the family.”

Considering customers as social beings who have a life outside of IT has led some marketers at Microsoft to a new concept that’s not just for marketing but also for improving customer satisfaction. That concept is Who Are You (see The idea is for IT pros to show off their talents and interests for Microsoft and the world to see. Do you sing Karaoke? Upload your video!

The Magic Bullet
According to a Microsoft flyer touting the program, “The Who Are You campaign focuses on recognizing and celebrating the IT Professional as a unique individual in order to transform perceptions of Microsoft within this key audience. The campaign’s execution is multi-tiered; it is comprised of online visibility, print advertisements, and events where IT Professionals can showcase their multidimensional, creative personalities as people instead of simply professionals.”

Who Are You is Microsoft’s attempt at “crafting an IT consumer-base that feels valued for their \[sic\] creativity and individuality.” Presumably, this means that if you feel Microsoft values your individuality, you’ll be enthusiastic about the company and a more satisfied customer.

Your Potential, Their Passion
I’ve criticized Microsoft in the past-first for the company’s indifference to community, then for its drive to manufacture and consume “community” instead of interacting with customers in an authentic relationship. Although I’m not convinced that emulating Apple is the way to achieve a true connection with IT, I have to give Microsoft credit for continuing attempts to get it right.

Romi Mahajan ([email protected]), a director in Microsoft’s US subsidiary, told me, “I believe very strongly that we all make emotional connections with companies, with societies, with different parts of community, with each other. And in the absence of the people in the company understanding truly who you are, it’s hard to build an emotional connection. I can think of a Microsoft competitor- i.e., Apple-that does it very well.”

For such an effort to succeed, Microsoft can’t just consume personal information about its customers. Instead, Microsoft employees have to be willing to share their own interests and passions. Romi responded, “Community is predicated not only on an honest dialog, but also an exchange-sometimes even a rancorous exchange-so we all get better. I’m not arrogant enough to think I have the right to know something about somebody unless I’m willing to give equally of myself. We have to find the right balance and not try to influence customers, but just show up-show up and be benign.”

I’m curious about what you think of Who Are You. How much of your personal life do you want to share with Microsoft? Email me at [email protected], or comment online.

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