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Jul 24, 2010 | Comments

A few weeks ago, Microsoft halted production of the Kin, their new smart-phone focused on social networking. 6 weeks after launch, Microsoft sold less than 10,000 Kin phones.

Why the poor sales? The pricing? The features? It’s widely debated.

My biggest surprise: failure in light of Kin’s marketing. Bloggers hailed the social media campaign as Microsoft’s magnum opus. 200K Facebook fans. 600K views on YouTube. A multi-city underground concert tour. Audience engagement (e.g., the sacred social media “dialogue”). Every social media box checked and obliterated. All this and the Kin failed to find customers.

Even the video is brilliant (is Facebook+hipsters ever a bad idea?). Featuring a girl’s exploration of her Facebook friends, thousands of people followed her journey on Facebook and Kin’s site, garnering enough attention to make any marketer salivate. Hell–even I was enchanted to watch a few episodes.

Reportedly, Microsoft spent “upwards of a billion dollars to bring the Kin market (if you count the $700 million Danger acquisition plus further R& D cost).” That’s $1,000,000,000 costs plus ~$5,000 sales = sad Steve Balmer.

Rock-star “Old Spice Man” had a similar fate. The Internet meme, reportedly, has not significantly impacted sales. Goals aside, Old Spice destroyed every digital marketing metric but didn’t tip the revenue scales.

The ROI and nuances of each campaign could be debated at length. And product launches fail all the time.

But for me, I’m reflecting on expectations. That is, Kin’s campaign is applauded an A+ by pressing the right digital buttons. The agency, Exposure, should very well have rejoiced at their success–at least by how we define digital success in fans, followers, views, and visits.

Something to think about: it’s easy to circle back through the Kin’s marketing and find the flaws. But like buying a used car, the trick is to know how to avoid a lemon beforehand. Could any marketer be that good? Am I an idealist?

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  1. An interesting post Matt. As you have noticed I was very positive about the social media marketing for this product. As you have surmised though, good marketing doesn't overcome a poor product. You can't polish a turd, but you can pop some glitter on it. That is how I see Kin. It was a very poor product, with some very nice social media marketing.

    Good post.

  2. It seems to me Microsoft was trying to scratch an itch nobody had. I don't think there are really people out there saying, “damn, I wish my smartphone was focused on social networking!” Maybe it was a good phone, but if people don't really have the problem you're solving… ka-splat.

  3. I have to disagree with your comment. The social media marketing was shit. It failed to sell the product–that is, 500 people bought the phone of the hundreds of thousands of people that interacted with the campaign. Why do you think it was nice social media marketing–even after seeing the results?

  4. I think were on the same page–the marketing positioned the product in the wrong way. That is, on social marketing. Instead of showing hipsters dancing on overexposed film, perhaps they should have focused on something more tangible.

  5. I still contend the marketing was a good example of social media marketing. Granted it is difficult to call something good if it doesn't deliver on its objective, in this case driving sales of Kin, but even the best marketing in the world would likely have struggled with this product. Looking at the analysis of why Kin failed it was not because the marketing was lacking, but rather due to pricing and the confusing branding of the device.

  6. Great points.

    I'm not sure that this example works, but I liken it to the finesse of basketball (e.g., the Phoenix Suns). A team can play beautiful offense, but if don't win games, it's failed.

    Similarly, the Kin's marketing, on the surface, had a few beautiful tactics with superficial engagement. But pricing, branding, and even product are all components of marketing. I don't see any excuses by pointing to the product (turd) as justification for failure.

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