Microsoft Mobile overhauls 'functional' marketing language in new partnership with Relative Insight

Facebook, Twitter, blogs, websites, YouTube – “we crap out shitloads of copy on a daily basis,” Microsoft Mobile’s head of digital marketing Thomas Messett told The Drum as he explained what he wants to know now is how copy is resonating with consumers and, more importantly, how it is stacking up against competitors.

Microsoft Mobile – until recently known as Nokia – has endeavored to answer this by going back to the fundamental blocks that its vast array of content is built on. Language.

It struck up a partnership with Relative Insight, a newly launched language analysis service born out of the technology it developed for the child protection and counter-terrorism police forces to help them identify online criminals. For brands, it can analyse all language they are associated with to determine how they resonate with key audiences.

“I approached Relative Insight after seeing what it had done with Ogilvy,” said Messett. “We have a lot more data but needed more insight and I was intrigued by the idea of getting real insight that is theoretically an artistic form – the use of language – and looking at it overlaid with consumer data.”

The system is relatively simple; ‘source text’ can be inputted from any touch-point – advertising copy, website copy, social media, forums etc – before being outputted as a series of data insights. In other words, language, which is a subjective expression, can be turned into an objective data source which brands can directly compare against rivals or target audiences.

Microsoft Mobile has initially focused on its digital content, predominantly the language used on product pages versus the likes of Apple, Samsung, and Blackberry.

“What we found is that we use much more functional language,” said Messett, which he explained was logical given the brand’s Finnish engineering background.

“We’re describing the Lumia 1020 as a 41 mega-pixel camera with a carbonized lens. But competitors are using words like ‘world-changing’, ‘game –changing’, and ‘innovative’ to describe hero products. So even though [the Lumia 1020] is ‘world-changing’ what we’re saying isn’t resonating in the same way with the consumers as our competitors are, because of the language.”

This proved particularly problematic as Microsoft Mobile, ultimately a B2C company selling through retailers such as Vodafone, O2, and Carphone Warehouse, sits directly with competitor products on those third-party sites.

“They use copy that we give them,” Messett explained. “If our retailers are talking about us in a functional way but about our competitors in a much more excited way, you can see how that’s a problem. They’re saying Microsoft Mobile is ‘functional’ and our competitor is ‘innovative’.”

Messett said that Microsoft is in the early stages of its relationship with Relative Insight and they are only now beginning to make changes based on what has been gleaned from the data.

“We can’t say ‘right, we have to be more enthusiastic as competitor X is more enthusiastic, so let’s change all of our copy and our dotcom. We have to evolve; recognising we have a problem is the first step and we have to agree as an organisation that things can be done better.”

He revealed there has been “board-level” support that the use of functional over emotive language in the brand's marketing materials needs to be reconsidered.

“Product briefs form the basis of agency briefs, which inform what the creative teams do,” he said. “It’s a marketing process and marketing thought change. We’re taking language more seriously and thinking about what we’re saying and how we’re saying it.”

This thought change comes at a “fortunate time” as all aspects of the brand are analysed in wake of the takeover [Microsoft purchased Nokia for $7.2bn in April this year and subsequently rebranded to Microsoft Mobile].

When asked if delivering ROI is a priority, Messett said it is “too early to be measuring change” and added he was not “worried about forcing it into a ROI model.”

“The spend is not significant enough for us to be unduly worried about this. And frankly, looking at the ROI models of lots of things that marketing does is relatively shaky. I want to see how it evolves, changes and impacts the business,” he said.

Moving forward, Microsoft Mobile will track the changes it begins to make, and of course, how its competitors evolve over time. It will also be looking to generate data for languages other than English – a gauntlet it has laid down for Relative Insight.

“Our global brand language is English which has made it easy – but to drive change throughout the business we have to look at other languages. So the challenge is to do it in Spanish, French and German,” he said.

In addition to Microsoft Mobile, Relative Insight has consulted with numerous media and digital agencies including Ogilvy and Havas WW.

Asked by one unnamed supermarket to analyse how its customers talked about summer in a bid to hone its advertising, Relative Insight pulled in over one million words from parenting forums Mumsnet and Netmums to deliver precise insights into what parents were talking about.

CEO Ben Hookway also told The Drum that the small team of eight will continue to work with the police and security forces.

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