Where’s Microsoft going next in the ‘prosumer’ space?

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Credit: Microsoft

In 2018, Microsoft execs told its reseller partners that it had a plan to try to win back consumers, starting with “Modern Life” Services, the complement to its existing “Modern Work” business productivity services. Microsoft had set its sights on “professional consumers,” or prosumers: people who already know how to use technology but want to use it better to make themselves more productive.

Since then, Microsoft has rolled out a number of products and services aimed at prosumers. It announced its Microsoft 365 Family and Personal subscriptions and its consumer-centric Teams functionality. Microsoft also has been selectively adding features to the new Edge browser, its Bing search engine and Windows itself (with the coming News and Interests popup), to target these prosumers.

While M365 Family and Personal seems to have gained a considerable amount of traction, Microsoft’s other prosumer efforts don’t seem to be making any big waves. But Microsoft isn’t giving up on trying to win over prosumers. In fact, it seems to be redoubling its efforts based on a number of recent job descriptions.

For years, Microsoft has been looking for a way to make its products more appealing to families, not just individuals. Almost a decade ago, Microsoft officials already had decided that building products and services with families in mind could give the company some differentiation from the other big consumer tech vendors. Most recently, Microsoft introduced “Kids Mode” for its new Edge browser as yet another way to try to make inroads with families.

According to another Microsoft job posting: “Microsoft’s family services are cross-platform and touch every consumer product that Microsoft creates (including Xbox, Windows, and Office apps). We are dedicated to helping families stay organized and keep them safe in a world full of digital devices, phones, game consoles and access to any type of content.”

Its Modern Life Experiences (MLX) team, which seems to operate largely out of Vancouver, B.C., is all about “new customer experiences for families (safety, learn, grow and quality time together).”

In the coming months (I secretly love that I got to incorporate this oft-used Microsoft spokesperson lingo here), Microsoft seems to be planning to add a learning component to its Modern Life effort. The company’s “empower every person” tagline is getting an update: “Empower every learner, family and educator on the planet.”

I’m not sure which of its learning assets Microsoft will pull together for this. It has a bunch of educator-customized software and services, including the Microsoft Whiteboard; its Microsoft Learn portal; and LinkedIn Learning. There’s also a learning app being built into Teams which Microsoft could customize for prosumers, not just business users. Microsoft wants to highlight how its products and services can help users educate themselves for future jobs; find jobs; retrain for new jobs; and continue to learn once in their jobs.

Microsoft also is working to build out the consumer finance niche it targeted with its Money in Excel offering. A recent job post mentions that Microsoft is building a “trusted daily financial assistant which empowers users to grow financial knowledge and make intelligent decisions for financial well-being.” So some kind of chatbot, likely, which may or may not use Cortana AI under the covers?

Microsoft’s alleged acquisition interest in TikTok and Pinterest show the company isn’t content to be only a huge player in the enterprise and SMB space. Microsoft officials seemingly believe they already have a $20 billion-plus consumer business — if you count the non-commercial revenues from Windows, Microsoft 365, OneDrive, Outlook, Teams, Bing, MSN and Edge. Its Modern Life Planning team, a collection of “former consultants, investment bankers and corporate finance professionals” are working on the pricing, business model, strategy, partnerships and acquisitions that Microsoft brass think can help them build this business further. 

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