Microsoft Tries New Ways to Reach Small Business

Microsoft has launched two initiatives to raise awareness of its new small and mid-sized business software packages.

The company is utilizing floating ad technology from Rovion to promote its Microsoft Office Live product line, and is separately running a contest to find “the most creative small business idea in the country” as part of a campaign for its Microsoft Office Accounting application.

“We are absolutely making a strategic push to small business,” said Michael Schultz, U.S. business and marketing lead for Microsoft Office Live. “We are looking for new and innovative ways to reach the target audiences.”

Microsoft is using Rovion’s InPerson platform to enable “Fred,” a guy in a gorilla suit trying to promote his own business, to talk to viewers about the benefits of Office Live. The video personality appears in a floating ad format, which Microsoft decided to try after it saw a decline in conversions from traditional online ad units.

“We do a lot of marketing investments with keyword search and banners, and what you notice over time is unless you can put something very interactive and compelling, you’re not seeing the conversation rates that we saw a few years ago,” said Schultz. “The challenge for us is how do we reach people who don’t normally click on the same old same old?”

Len Ostroff, CEO of Rovion, contends the company’s products are aimed precisely at that problem. ” People who see things in a box see it to be not real, to be TV,” he said. “When you look at… a spokesperson appearing on top of all the other content on the page seeming to be a layer closer to you, it brings the third dimension to the internet.”

Microsoft is also running an “ideaWins: The Ultimate Challenge” contest to identify and recognize an innovative business idea. The winning submission will receive $100,000 in business start-up money, infrastructure and software, and the use of a Manhattan-area storefront for one year. Celebrity judges for the challenge include Carolyn Kepcher from the Apprentice television show, and maternity clothing entrepreneur Liz Lange. The contest is geared to promote Microsoft Office Accounting 2007 and ends January 31, 2007.

Going the extra step to woo small and midsized businesses is necessary because each one is different and has different needs, said Schultz.

“It’s not straightforward all the time, reaching small business customers. They are across industries, so it’s really hard to have a single message that will resonate with every single one,” he said. “They don’t have much time and they don’t usually have much money, so what Microsoft is trying to do with the technology from Rovion and others is reach out to small businesses in smart ways to make sure they know the value proposition that Microsoft has.”

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