Defensive Strategy

Microsoft Windows Phone 7, Insights and Benefits

20 Oct 2010  

Microsoft is currently running a teaser spot for its new mobile software, Windows Phone 7.  The ad is charming; the folks at Microsoft have clearly found an insight that will resonate with people.  The big question, of course, is whether Microsoft can turn the insight into a meaningful product benefit.

In the new spot, Microsoft highlights a basic problem with smart phones; they are simply too engaging.  People with smart phones have a tendency to tune out the people around them.  This can be incredibly frustrating.  Almost everyone has had the experience of talking with someone only to have them look down in the middle of the conversation to check the phone.   This is a rather deflating moment.  The clear message:  my phone is far more interesting than this conversation.  The feeling is captured beautifully in the spot: “Really?” 

This happens to me in class fairly often.  I’ll be doing my best to be engaging and witty and informative, and I’ll look up to find someone totally focused on their phone.  So I become even more animated.  I tell my best jokes and pull out my most interesting examples.  And they are still focused on the phone.  It seems totally hopeless; I just can’t compete with a smart phone.  When a student is absorbed in a phone in the middle of class I can relate to the Microsoft commercial.  I’m tempted to embrace the campaign idea: “Really?”

There is a difference, of course, between an insight and a benefit.  An insight is a bit of knowledge about how people think and act.  A benefit is a reason to use a product or service.

The big question now is whether Microsoft can use the insight to deliver a benefit.  I think this will be hard.  How do you get people to stop focusing on their phones?  I suppose you could produce a phone that doesn’t work very well, or is so frustrating to use that it isn’t worth the time.  You could also create a phone that simply shuts off, perhaps after you’ve used it for more than seven hours in a day.  It looks like Microsoft will promote the product by saying it is so easy and quick to use that you can check it and then focus on other things.  I’m just not sure this is how the world works.  There is always something else to check, or a new app to use, or a new website to visit.

Of course, this is all speculation.  We will learn more when the product actually appears and people use it.  Microsoft has an insight.  Now the challenge is to turn it into a benefit that matters and they can own.

7 Responses

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  2. Miroo says:

    Prof. Calkins,

    I never took your class at Kellogg but heard about you a lot from many of my friends at Kellogg. I am writing this note as I happened to be part of the team at Microsoft that did research and created the campaign for WP7.

    The key insight we discovered across many countries with regard to smartphone or even feature phone usage was that they all have “love and hate” relationship with their phones. People get to spend more time on their phone as the phone provides more features including emails, web surfing, etc. Thus a lot of them complained that they are stuck with their phone no matter they want it or not. They want to be “there” with their friends and family, but there are always something to check (as you have recognized above in your posting). They admit the need of their phone, but hated that they are stuck with their phone. We called it “love and hate” relationship.

    It was pretty simple but very interesting insight, as it provided the “pain point” as we try hard to find in creating products/services. It was a clear pain point, but I wasn’t sure if anyone can solve the problem. Yes, you may be able to solve it by providing a phone that works more easily and is simple. In fact, I believe iPhone is pretty intuitive and simple to use, but users get to find more expanded usage with iPhone thanks to apps.

    My personal interim conclusion from that research was that this “love and hate” relationship is more like a cultural phenomenon. It’s a bigger problem than those a technology can simply fix. (Yes, technology definitely is helping to make that pain point more painful.) Thus I thought it could be very misleading if Microsoft positions WP7 as a solution to that pain point, because simply it isn’t. Yet the insight was so intriguing and tempting, so they decided to use it as the core message in the campaign. I’d say the campaign is brilliant bringing up that insight, but I’m not confident that the product will deliver as it shows in the campaign.

    On the side note, I don’t think you need to worry about those who focus on their phones in your class. If they were paying more attention to their phones than to you, probably they aren’t worth your care.

  3. Tim Whiting says:


    Having grown up in this category, the insight cleverly manifested by Microsoft (really, Crispin, Porter & Bogusky) isn’t unique to a smartphone, only exacerbated by it. I’ve observed this same phenomenon for years: two-way pagers, text messages, instant messaging. It seems the root narcissism in human nature causes us to confuse immediacy with priority. Even being self-aware, it’s hard for me to ignore the siren song of a new tweet, IM or email. You bring up a great point on Microsoft being able to deliver a benefit against this insight. Will the intuitive efficacy of windows 7 (read sarcasm here) really enable people to break their addiction and return to the human race? It will also be intriguing to watch RIM’s counter-punch which I believe will celebrate the “crackberry” addiction. Hope you’re well.


  4. Chris says:

    Maybe you could put big stickers on the ground (in front of the desks) saying, “LOOK UP IF YOU WANT TO PASS THIS CLASS!!!”

  5. Brian says:

    I thought your classes were laced with wit on purpose, now I know that it was because of all the iPhones we execs seem to have. Look at this way, you may be able to give some credit for your Best Teacher award to Apple. Just joshing you, I often wish I was in marketing, mostly because of your class. I can at least relate to my marketing colleagues more and once in a while provide a little help.

  6. Ashish Parulekar says:

    I really liked the intuition too but I am more optimistic about Microsoft finding a solution. I agree that they have to clearly define a benefit. I enjoy speculating so below are a couple of ways I imagine they could do it. It would be great to hear more speculation

    1. Benefit: Regulating amount of time spent (wasted) on smart phone: If their target customers are people who think they spend too much time on the phone, they can ask users to input some information up front. e.g. right now I check my email 57 times a day. I’d input I should check it no more than 1 per hour. Now it’s fairly easy to design a phone that would help me regulate this behavior

    2. Benefit: Use the phone to increase interactions between people rather than decrease them: Use the phone to help people find ice-breakers. Again ask user to input some information. e.g. I am a Steelers fan, I play in a band, I am planning a trip to Australia … if I am in a vicinity of another Windows 7 phone user it gives me a prompt which could be a conversation starter

    I’m very curious how they pull it off. I just think it would be easier if the user and the phone share the burden of the solution. After all phones will never be smarter than us … or will they?


  7. Tim,

    Great post as always!

    Completely agree with the consumer insight behind the campaign. As consumers we can all relate to it.

    But yes, what is the solution that Microsoft is selling. Smart phones are supposed to be engaging so it will be interesting to see how Microsoft is able to deliver on the message of getting consumers back into reality with their product.


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