Consumer tech companies reach out on personal level

Between September and November, Yahoo, Microsoft, and HTC introduced campaigns intended to make consumers feel like their products were designed specifically with them in mind.

This past fall, consumer tech was all about "you." Between September and November, Yahoo, Microsoft, and HTC introduced campaigns intended to make consumers feel like their products were designed specifically with them in mind. All three companies used different tactics to drive this point home, but their effectiveness ultimately hinged on whether these mass marketing campaigns felt personal to consumers.

In October, HTC launched "Quietly Brilliant," its first major brand awareness effort. The mobile-phone maker first seeded the campaign with stark billboards that simply read "You." Later, it introduced the tagline, "You don't need to get a phone. You need a phone that gets you."

Tailored approach
"Personalization used to be about colored covers and ringtones," says Keith Nowak, senior PR manager for HTC. "This was visual, but not very deep. But now, products are taking bigger steps to tailoring and customizing."

However, he adds, these campaigns aren't just about new features. They're tapping into people's underlying feelings of being overwhelmed by information and features.

"There's a critical mass of information out there, where it's truly possible to tailor the experience of technology," Nowak says. "But you have to actually deliver the substance people are looking for."

Nick Chavez, VP of integrated marketing at Yahoo, says this overabundance of customization options also drove the search engine's "It's Y!ou" brand campaign. The effort, launched in September, was based on global research Yahoo conducted.

"Our big takeaway: people are overwhelmed by options," he notes. "This explosion has completely outstripped the average person's ability to monitor it."

So, Yahoo positioned itself as the company to help consumers "make sense of it all," Chavez explains. In addition, its campaign featured billboards of people that consumers are expected to identify with and the tagline "It's Y!ou."

The following month, Microsoft debuted Windows 7 with the tagline "I'm a PC and Windows 7 was my idea," also featuring posters with average-looking consumers. Bill Cox, senior PR director for Windows, believes consumers won't suffer from "you" fatigue because these campaigns reflect how people are thinking.

"We've been driving this 'I'm a PC campaign' for over a year now," Cox notes, adding the campaign was based on feedback from users.

He adds that the popularity of "you" campaigns will probably grow - especially in consumer technology.

"PCs have been getting more personal and this trend is only going to continue," Cox says. "So much of what people are doing online now is personal."

Yet some experts think this trend goes deeper and is linked to a collective uneasiness, caused mostly by the difficult economy.

"It's a sign of the times," says Sabrina Horn, CEO of the Horn Group. "With this recession and all of this unrest in the world, I think people want things to be about them."

The campaigns clearly tap into the self-involved reality created by social networks. But these communities have become a safety net in a world full of uncertainty.

"It's a very psychological need for that right now," Horn says. "People feel like their lives are out of control."

A good feeling
Companies that can help consumers restore good feelings of control and being important are on the right track, she adds.

"There is a general trend that marketing will return to the concept of love not fear," Horn predicts. "It's not about, 'If you don't buy this something bad is going to happen.' Now the shift is back to feeling good and buying products to feel good about and making emo-tional connections."

Julie Crabill, a communications consultant who until recently was VP of Shift Communications' consumer practice, agrees.

"Consumers don't want to feel like everyone else anymore," she says. "They don't want to feel like they are cows being herded; they want to feel special, like a company is speaking to their needs."

HTC's Nowak points out that people's preference for blogs and niche Web sites is in sync with this trend toward "you" marketing.

"People don't like digging through the chaff to get to the wheat anymore," Nowak says.

The latest in 'you' technologySmartphones
The leading technology to advocate personalization, mostly through applications Foursquare
A location-based social network that allows users to engage based on the places they visit Lifestreaming
This practice is gaining traction from blogs, as it's considered more dynamic and socially interactive

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