Developers are Microsoft's key audience. They're the ones who create programs and products that make up the Microsoft ecosystem. But they're also one of the toughest audiences to market to: highly intelligent, averse to marketing hype and suspicious of most claims until they look under the hood for themselves. They also tend to view Microsoft as the stodgy grandfather in the space, as compared to hipper, younger Apple or Linux. So what's a software monolith to do?
Luckily Microsoft has quite a few of its own developers to use as resources, as high up as its own chairman, Bill Gates, who has been writing programs since the eighth grade. They also do lots of market research to plumb developers' personalities, as well as encourage close contact and information exchange with the developer community. And think of a marketing campaign as not just a campaign.
"The most important part isn't what we're saying, but what we're hearing back. The campaign is just the conversation starter for us," said Rob Bagot, executive VP-executive creative director, McCann Worldgroup, San Francisco, which handles Microsoft business. "[Developers] require you to have an always-on marketing sense, ready to have a dialogue any time and anywhere."
And using cutting-edge tech ideas in its messaging doesn't hurt either. The just-launched McCann-created Visual Studio campaign, uses machinima, the underground filmmaking technique that lays custom dialogue over captured video-game footage. Microsoft's machinima effort at DefyAllChallenges.com uses footage from an Xbox title -- in a bit of cross-promoting -- called "Fable: The Lost Chapters." It uses several new game environments and allows users to create their own machinima mini-films and e-mail them to friends. The initial response has been enthusiastic, Mr. Bagot said.
He and his team first heard about machinima from developers who e-mailed links and clips -- the Microsoft-developed video game "Halo" is the source of a hot clip. "We know we have to be breaking bread with developers," he said. "Like any subculture, they have a language all their own and we need to speak to them in it."
The concept was further bolstered by research that cross-referenced video gaming and science fiction and fantasy as top developer interests.
Keeping the lights on
Of course, Microsoft's relationship with developers has not always been smooth sailing.
"Microsoft's current problem is they're not trendy," said Rob Enderle, principle at the Enderle Group. Microsoft has to remind these guys that at the end of the day they have to pay the bills and Microsoft will be the most lucrative choice. Forget that the Linux OS may be more fun, what will pay the bills?"
Developers must be getting the point: Microsoft maintains a more than 90% share of the operating-system market, analysts pointed out -- it's just that they may not be as vocal as the competing Apple or Linux platform fans.