File picture: Reuters
File picture: Reuters

Can TikTok make Microsoft great again?

By The Washington Post Time of article published Aug 13, 2020

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By Heather Kelly

Kids love Microsoft, they just might not know it. The 45-year old company known for its enterprise, cloud and productivity products owns the video game Minecraft and game system Xbox, both of which have chugged along under Microsoft's leadership as distinct brands.

With news that Microsoft is considering purchasing Chinese-owned TikTok in an unusual brokered marriage that involves President Donald Trump, the question is: Is Microsoft cool enough to for users to stick with the app under it as the owner? Or at least smart enough to treat it just like Minecraft?

- Here's a brief history of Microsoft's cool factor:

When Apple was the underdog, it released entire ad campaigns framing itself as the hip young company and Microsoft as the out-of-touch rival. Much of those sentiments about the two brands linger today.

But Microsoft is ok with that. The Redmond, Wash.-based company has long been marked by unironic enthusiasm. Clippy genuinely just wanted to help you write a letter. Former chief executive Steve Ballmer's manic energy, dance moves and sweat showed he just believed in the company that much. Yes, possibly too much.

Now under the soothing leadership of Satya Nadella, Microsoft has embraced itself for what it is. A vanilla, highly profitable technology giant that has not had to defend itself in front of Congress recently.

- Influencers know Microsoft isn't exactly hip.

The TV show Friends had a resurgence in popularity thanks to Generation Z, so it's not out of the question that some of that same kind of retro-affection could be whipped up for Microsoft. But it could be an uphill battle.

Asked what she thinks of when she thinks of Microsoft, Elma Beganovich, influencer and co-founder of social media marketing agency Amra & Elma said, "Old".

"It's just a certain type of crowd. More office, serious, the opposite of fun and exciting and new and cool," said Beganovich. "I think of Bill Gates, whom I very much respect, but I wouldn't want him to throw me a party or anything."

Junae Brown, founder of marketing agency Browned 2 Perfection, saidshe has yet to see Microsoft "purchase a creative company and sustain it well and keep it cool."But she thinks users have other worries on their mind.

"I don't think the users will care," she said. "I think they moreso care if TikTok gets banned."

- Ultimately, Facebook's (not great) reputation may matter more.

On Wednesday, Facebook did what Facebook often does and launched a clone of its competitor. Its new Reels feature in Instagram tries to recreate the TikTok experience, and the company has been paying popular influencers to post to it and build up momentum.

But many influencers have soured on the brand. Elma Beganovich says the Facebook and Instagram algorithms have made it harder for posts to get views, and that makes newer platforms more exciting.

Facebook is unlikely to give up easily. Each generation seeks out a new social media home, she says, in part to find their own spaceseparatefrom their parents. That's why Facebook bought Instagram and is now integrating it more into the main Facebook brand.

"You have to capture every new generation otherwise you cease to exist as a new platform," said Beganovich.

- Brands need loyal customers to survive.

Microsoft is ranked 39 in the upcoming 2020 Brand Keys Loyalty Leaders List, which looks at how much loyalty brands have with consumers(Netflix is number one). Facebook has been slowly tumbling down the ranking for two years, and is now at 41, says Brand Keys president Robert Passikoff. TikTok, a newcomer to the ranking, is buried deep down at 321.

"Loyalty is ultimately defined by how well the brand meets your expectations," said Passikoff. And if handled right, TikTok could expand on that loyalty for Microsoft over time.

Microsoft isn't looking for some sort of magical rebranding with the possible TikTok purchase. It's more interested in the apps underlying artificial intelligence technology. But it would benefit from keeping TikTok's passionate fan base. All it needs to do is very little.

"I don't that know if it matters whether it's cool or not, because I think they'd keep it separate," said Brian Rafferty, global director of business analytics & insights at brand strategy firm Siegel+Gale.

But for a second expert opinion,Rafferty asked his tween daughter and TikTok user what she thinks about the potential purchase. She told him, "Microsoft, yeah, sure who cares, as long as they don't touch it."

The Washington Post

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