Microsoft Surface: From early stage concept to market - A continuing collaboration

26 Apr 2010|Added Value

In 2002, Microsoft undertook a project to continue to expand its role as a major player in the consumer market by creating, developing and marketing a new software platform. Thus began a 5-year collaborative effort between Cheskin Added Value and Microsoft culminating in the 2007 launch of Microsoft Surface.

During development, Microsoft sought Cheskin Added Value’s support in refining the initial product concept – vetting the idea, identifying the most appropriate and viable markets, and focusing the positioning and naming. We were a valuable partner to the Microsoft team, acting as the common thread that carried institutional knowledge and consistency throughout the process, making it easier for Microsoft management to focus development around key customer needs.

In the beginning
That no category existed for context and comparison created a challenge. Initially, Cheskin Added Value reviewed and analyzed a vast amount of relevant secondary data, conducted meetings and discussions with cross divisional groups, and garnered direct consumer feedback on a range of concept ideas via in-home ethnographies with leading edge consumers. It was during this stage that the “Virtual Game Table” or PlayTable concept emerged as an idea with strong potential, representing a ‘sweet spot’ of existing and emerging categories.

To uncover and vet a wide range of ideas for innovation, Cheskin Added Value led an ideation session with Microsoft teams to generate additional concepts. At the meeting, each member was issued pretend venture capital dollars to fund the concepts that most appealed to them. This “VC investor” exercise sparked healthy competition between groups, as each had only 10 minutes to pitch their concept to “potential investors.” PlayTable was the clear winner.

Finding the Market Opportunity
As the project grew and new layers of management were added, the high regard for Cheskin Added Value’s  previous work led to requests for continuing collaboration. While Microsoft furthered the actual concept development and design, Cheskin Added Value was engaged to deliver an in-depth analysis of market opportunities and recommend the most viable options for investment. The outcome from this work led Microsoft to focus product development on the leisure and entertainment markets.

Using our OpFinder methods based on market analysis, partner interest and strength of value proposition, Cheskin Added Value prioritized the best potential markets and, working with the Surface team, developed a business plan that helped sharpen the focus on potential industries and partners for Microsoft. As a result, Microsoft has moved ahead with partnerships with Harrah’s, Sheraton and T-Mobile among others.

Positioning Focus
To determine the ideal way to align the product with consumer desire, Cheskin Added Value led in-depth qualitative work with consumers. With these insights, we helped to develop and focus positioning. In collaboration with the branding firm SALT, we conducted research that weeded through a myriad of naming options, giving Microsoft the knowledge needed to select Surface as the best name for the product, evoking optimal emotions and aspirations among the target market.

The results
Cheskin Added Value’s  ability to deliver insights and direction throughout the entire project process, from vision to launch, saved the Microsoft team valuable time, and kept focus and learning consistent from phase to phase of development. At the time of its launch, the reception to Surface was extremely positive and we’re honored to have played a major role in the Surface team’s success.

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