Microsoft refines Windows Phone marketing on Windows 8, Xbox

LAS VEGAS--Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) will place more of a marketing focus on the signature features of the devices its partners produce as well as on the connections between the mobile platform and Windows 8 and Microsoft's Xbox gaming console, according to a Windows Phone executive.

In an interview here at the CTIA Wireless 2013 conference, Greg Sullivan, Microsoft's senior product manager of Windows Phone, said Microsoft's experience in marketing Windows Phone has clearly been an "evolution."

"The lessons we've learned are that you don't necessarily have to describe all of your attributes in 30 or 60 seconds," he said. "And focusing on some core scenarios where we have a clear and distinct advantage, and coordinating that [with hardware partners and carriers], is going to be more effective than independent marketing efforts."

That strategy is starting to play out with the marketing efforts for the Nokia (NYSE:NOK) Lumia 928 at Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ), with all three parties focusing squarely on the device's imagining capabilities, especially for low-light photography.

Sullivan pointed to data from IDC last week that said vendors shipped 7 million Windows Phone units worldwide during the first quarter, up 133 percent from 3 million during the first three months of 2012 and increasing the platform's global market share from 2 percent to 3.2 percent year-over-year. That beat out BlackBerry's (NASDAQ:BBRY) 2.9 percent, IDC said. (Rival research firm Gartner, which tracks device sell-through to end users, said that BlackBerry edged out Windows Phone globally in terms of market share in the first quarter, 3 percent to 2.9 percent.)

Either way, Windows Phone still trails behind Android and Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iOS in sales and market share, but Sullivan said Microsoft is making important strides in closing that gap.

Specifically, he said Microsoft intends to highlight the connections between Windows Phone and Windows 8, which allow users to edit Microsoft Office documents seamlessly between the platforms via the cloud. As for Xbox Live, gamers can play a game on their Xbox console and then pick it up on their phone. "If you care about Xbox, you really care about Xbox," Sullivan said.

Sullivan said Windows Phone has an advantage over Android in the entry-level smartphone segment. He pointed to the Nokia Lumia 521, which is a mid-range Windows Phone 8 device available through T-Mobile US (NYSE:TMUS). The phone goes for $30 down followed by $5 a month in monthly payments, or customers can buy the phone outright for $150. Sullivan noted that many entry-level Android phones run older software such as Gingerbread 2.3 and will not be updated to take advantage of the latest software updates and apps, unlike the 521.

"What we'll highlight and contrast is the difference between our $129 phone and their $129 phone," he said, noting that, according to the NPD Group, prepaid smartphones sales represented 32 percent of total U.S. smartphone sales in the first quarter, which is an 11 point increase year-over-year.

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