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‘You have to do more with less.’ Microsoft offers a case study in marketing

“The customer journey is constantly evolving and it's not linear.” Ram Iyer, worldwide director of digital strategy and ecommerce at Microsoft, advised on our “Behind the Numbers: Reimagining Retail” podcast.

Think beyond a strictly digital or in-store consumer and meet customers where they are through an omnichannel and cross-platform approach, he said.

Look at the shopping journey “through the eyes of the consumer,” said Iyer, who noted the pandemic accelerated consumers’ comfort with digital shopping.

  • In 2020, the number of US digital buyers grew by 5.4%, according to our forecast, before settling at 1.6% growth in 2021.
  • Those digital buyers stuck around, and this year, 84.2% of US internet users will buy online.

Think about those shoppers through an omnichannel lens. “Digital can really become the glue that can help us connect across all these channels,” Iyer said.

  • Some 60% of Windows PC consumers shop both in-store and online before making their final purchases, he said.
  • Iyer stressed the importance of personalizing content to shoppers at the point of purchase, either through QR codes, augmented reality (AR) features, or live demonstrations that turn the store into a “digital storytelling” space.

Social commerce provides another storytelling opportunity.

  • Social is “the new playground for shoppers,” specifically Gen Z and millennial consumers, noted Iyer.
  • Social isn’t only important for discovery (although that remains vital). “What we are clearly seeing is this evolution from just being a medium for driving awareness to really enabling some of those commerce transactions,” Iyer said.
  • TikTok is, unsurprisingly, a key platform for Microsoft. “It's kind of replaced TV for me from an entertainment perspective,” he said.
  • Move away from programmatic content calendars and follow the trends, he suggested. This approach has paid off for Xbox in particular, which leverages trends to push timely, and occasionally risky, marketing campaigns.

The Amazon effect: Microsoft leverages its sometimes rival for product discovery. “[Amazon is] not just a sales engine. It’s a sales and marketing engine for us,” said Iyer, noting that 63% of customers start their PC searches on the retail giant’s site.

Microsoft sweet spot: Microsoft’s approach reinforces the fact that the digital shopper is, in reality, an omnichannel shopper. And with each shopper taking a unique journey, what’s most important is reaching and engaging those consumers where they are. Microsoft does this in several ways.

  • The company uses an omnichannel and experiential approach with in-store shoppers, leveraging AR, QR codes, and demos to push purchases.
  • Microsoft takes advantage of social trends as a point of discovery and, increasingly, uses social platforms as a point of purchase.
  • And it understands the importance of a healthy Amazon presence.

“The holy grail of marketing for us has always been all about attribution and incrementality,” Iyer said.

Listen to the full episode.


This was originally featured in the Retail Daily newsletter. For more retail insights, statistics, and trends, subscribe here.