By: Vincent Cuellar On: November 19, 2013 In: JEG Musings Comments: 0

The holiday season is upon us!  This is a particularly special one for gamers across the globe because of the release of Sony and Microsoft’s next-generation consoles. Sony’s PlayStation 4 hit the market on Nov. 5 and this Friday, Nov. 22, Microsoft will ship out the Xbox One. The sales of these consoles will be the culmination of years of planning, marketing and promotional campaigning. Many will wonder if this head-to-head launch will mirror what happened earlier this year at E3. E3 is considered the ‘Super Bowl’ of video games, an annual trade show where publishers, video game companies, tech leaders and entertainment industry experts come together to announce, celebrate and criticize the newest products hitting the shelves. This year was particularly noteworthy because Sony and Microsoft announced the release dates and specific features of their next-generation gaming consoles. These announcements are often viewed as backyard brawls – showcases where competitors seek to position their new technology as superior relative to the competition.

So what happened at this event? A quick Google search  for the 2013 E3 event brought up  some creative headlines ranging from,  “Sony Digitally Slaps Microsoft” to “Sony drops the mic to universal applause at E3 2013, Microsoft left stuttering,” and even “Sony brutally destructs Microsoft’s Xbox One plan.”

While analysts and polls are now predicting a very close race between the two consoles, judging from past headlines, the media narrative showed a Sony victory. But how did this happen and what was learned? What did Sony do that Microsoft did not during this round between the two technology giants? The answer lies in knowing what the audience wanted and giving it to them. At the time of the announcement, Microsoft had made a few changes that gamers did not agree with, such as taking away the rights to re-sell used games, demanding constant internet connectivity, daily check-ins to use the console, and setting the price at $499 (compared to  Sony’s at $399). Gamers found common ground with Sony, who had leveraged an intimate knowledge of what motivates gamers and what they want in an overall gaming experience.

So how did Microsoft recover? By apologizing and listening to the needs of gamers, Microsoft began to rebuild their public perception by addressing the relationship with their core gaming audience. Microsoft’s president of interactive entertainment, Don Mattrick, wrote in a blog post titled “Your Feedback Matters” that, “since unveiling our plans for Xbox One, my team and I have heard directly from many of you, read your comments and listened to your feedback. I would like to take the opportunity today to thank you for your assistance in helping us to reshape the future of Xbox One.” Microsoft made many changes to its services, including no longer requiring daily Internet service check-ins and allowing consumers to buy and re-sell games at their own discretion. This helped establish a positive, open dialogue to put themselves back in the good graces of consumers just before the holiday season.

Here are three tips to stay connected with your audience:

  1. Know your audience – Gamers are a brand-loyal, niche audience. Video games have a visual storytelling element similar to books and movies where the user can be directly involved with the product for hours on end. With that much consistent engagement, the process creates a strong sense of loyalty in the culture. While Microsoft’s all-inclusive family entertainment center appeals to many audiences, telling avid gamers this at a conference focused on gaming didn’t bring the response Microsoft sought.
  2.  Speak their Language – Brands need to think: what does our audience want to hear? What do we have to offer to them? At a gaming expo, gamers are there to learn about new products and technologies, not to listen to a sales pitch from an unrelated product line. The first 30 minutes of Microsoft’s presentation highlighted new television capabilities while Sony showcased improved graphics, which impressed gamers.
  3. Remember your Core – Not one company can do all things for all people. In Microsoft’s attempt to attract new customers they veered off course away from their strong position in the gaming industry that got them to where they are. Microsoft viewed the all-in-one TV, DVD, and gaming device as a way to become the focus in the family room, not a message that resonated with a gaming focused audience. At one point during the presentation, Steven Spielberg was announced as an exclusive producer for a new television series for the Xbox One. But as a filmmaker, gamers did not connect with him, and rather, took to the internet—publically proclaiming their allegiance to Sony. Microsoft had again overlooked the hardcore gaming fan-base that built its reputation.

Taking the time to recognize the needs of your audience before pitching your brand is an integral step in maintaining a connection with consumers. Each audience has unique traits that need to be addressed while developing your messaging even as you grow as a company.  While the desire to take risks and grow to a broader audience can be rewarding, brands must be mindful of their current audiences as well to keep them interested as new products come to market. The next few weeks will begin to tell the tale between these two tech giants, as the Playstation 4 and the Xbox One become key targets for holiday shoppers. Check back in with JEG Musings soon when we follow up this post with more on the data and results surrounding the next-gen consoles.

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