Rafe Ring
Aug 22, 2011

Innovation Insiders: Microsoft's Asia CMO Frederique Covington-Corbett

In the second of a regular series that goes inside global companies to see how they are grappling with the challenge of making innovation a central part of how they do business, Rafe Ring, CMO of Global Insights Group, sits down with Frederique Covington-Corbett, CMO lead for Microsoft Asia-Pacific.

Innovation Insiders: Microsoft's Asia CMO Frederique Covington-Corbett

Microsoft certainly has its work cut out for itself on the innovation battlefront - facing off against Google and Apple. Leading the charge in Asia Pacific is Frederique Covington-Corbett, recently appointed to drive Microsoft innovation across Asia Pacific. We talked with her about her views on innovation, Microsoft, her competitors, and the challenges she is grappling with head-on…

Rafe Ring: Every company we speak with has a different take on innovation. How does Microsoft define ‘innovation’?

Frederique Covington-Corbett: I think innovation is a derivative or a form of creativity – assembling old things in new ways that make impossible happen. I personally believe in three kinds of innovation: people innovation, product innovation and technology innovation. People have unlimited innovation ability, particularly together through collaboration, co-innovation and co-creation. Product innovation means that complex tasks can get done faster and simpler (take kitchen robots) and technology innovation can totally change how we live, work, play and learn.

Rafe Ring: Do you view Microsoft as an innovative company?

Frederique Covington-Corbett: Microsoft has plenty of great people, products and technology; so from that perspective I’d say we’re definitely an innovative company. It always makes me smile to look at surveys that only consider speeds and feeds – I think it takes a lot more than that. Combining aptitude and appetite is a good recipe for innovation.

Microsoft’s innovation is purposeful. It’s what I call “people-powered innovation” – it’s innovation with intent, with people in mind. Take a look at some of our “firsts” in the last year. Kinect for Xbox 360 is the first controller-free gaming console. Cool? Sure! But even better because it means you don’t need to bother with a remote anymore, you become the controller with your body! A five year old kid can fly like Peter Pan with his arms open, rather than have to clasp buttons. Bing is the first search engine to integrate Twitter and Facebook into search results, that means you can find what you want faster and better based on what your friends recommend. It’s making better use of the network and the wisdom of people. Windows Phone 7 provides the first Xbox Live social gaming experience on a mobile phone and a people hub – integrating all the people and social networks in your life into one place vs. different applications. Better, simpler. Internet Explorer 9 is the first browser to deliver full hardware acceleration, meaning in layman’s terms it gives people a more beautiful, immersive web experience. All these innovations are for, with, and about people.  That’s the Microsoft take on innovation.

Rafe Ring: So how are you being more innovative than Apple and Google?

Frederique Covington-Corbett: We’re certainly in a competitive environment. Every year, new technologies come on to the market. Today, we talk about Apple and Google. A few years back it was Netscape. Remember the web browser that was once dominant in terms of usage share, but lost most of that share to Internet Explorer during the first browser war? By the end of 2006, the usage share of Netscape browsers had fallen, from over 90% in the mid 1990s, to less than 1%!

The point is, there’s always new competition, and that’s the best engine for innovation. Microsoft embraces the challenge and the innovation from others; it’s what makes us resilient, what pushes us to compete and do better.

The stats speak for themselves: Xbox is the number one selling console in the US and over 10 million Kinect sensors have sold worldwide to date. Guinness World Records has officially named Kinect for Xbox 360 the fastest-selling consumer electronics device in a sixty day period. There are 20 million new users of Bing and we have struck a fantastic partnership with Yahoo! that we are in the process of rolling out. Together, the two search engines now command over 30 per cent of the market share in search.

IE9 received 2.35 million downloads in the first 24 hours of availability and IE9 beta was Microsoft’s fastest adopted browser beta ever, with over 25 million downloads. Windows 7, introduced in 2009, continues to be the fastest-selling OS in history, selling over 7 copies a second – very few if any can claim that.It’s no secret that we’ve made a concerted effort to listen more closely to our customers –   that’s being reflected in our products … more social, more elegant design, simplifying tasks… and our marketing and brand strategy.

Rafe Ring: Do you believe that innovation is completely intertwined with technology? What’s the relationship between the two?

Frederique Covington-Corbett: Intertwined? Well, more and more they are related. Technology is fueling innovation at a faster pace than ever before and helping more people benefit around the world. At Microsoft, what excites us is the opportunity to develop and harness technology in a way that has a positive impact on the world. Not innovation for innovation sake. We want to empower people with our technology. We don’t think it is good enough to have a cool idea. It’s about making a positive impact on the world. And it is this philosophy that defines our long-term view on the investments we make as a company for driving innovation – in our consumer business, in our commercial business, in entertainment, in education, etc.

I don’t think a lot of people know that Microsoft invests more than any other company in the industry - US$9.5 billion dollars a year in R&D – so yes, we believe technology and innovation go hand in hand. That’s why, for me, it’s incredibly exciting to work for this company. Microsoft’s researchers are pushing the boundaries of today’s possibilities, which ultimately leads to new insights for the industry and innovative products for consumers.

Rafe Ring: You say your researchers are pushing the boundaries…does that involve any specific defined process or methodology you use internally to approach innovation?

Frederique Covington-Corbett: We’ve developed a healthy internal ecosystem that enables us to quickly leverage the internal work being done by Microsoft Research and incubation groups. That means we can tangibly apply things like “NUI” (Natural User Interface) born in a lab and turn it into a better way to play games and into empowering people with disabilities for example.

Conversely, new technology born in one of our business units - like Bing - can also be enhanced by outside technology. The initial work the team is doing now around mapping applications and augmented reality is a precursor to a deeper mapping experience from both a PC and mobile perspective.

So I’d say, it’s not a process per se, but a sustainable approach to creativity and invention and balancing internal and external ideas. You know, you can feel the buzz on the floor when you come into work. People are excited, people are proud, people are eager to show others all the great ideas that we know are coming…When Windows 8 was previewed to the market, I personally couldn’t stop looking at my tweet feed. Innovation is contagious, it’s not just a methodology or an outcome, it’s a feeling and a belief in the future…

Rafe Ring: How are you applying this feeing, this belief, across Asia specifically?

Frederique Covington-Corbett: Asia has been described as the new center of gravity for the world so there’s lots to take advantage of! Great people – we see a talent war driving up in Asia with more local and foreign talent being attracted to this part of the world. Schools in Asia are also becoming increasingly competitive producing top quality young talent. And Inspiring technology firms – Asia is leading the charge with some of the largest and most inspirational OEMs coming out of Asia at the moment Microsoft Research Asia, Microsoft’s research arm in the Asia Pacific region, has grown into a world-class research lab.In its twelve-year history, over 300 technologies from the lab have been transferred to Microsoft products, including Xbox, MSN, Windows Live, Bing, Windows 7 and Office 2010. Researchers at Microsoft Research Asia have filed more than 1,200 patents.

Rafe Ring: As a marketer what’s the biggest single challenge you face in actually bringing Microsoft innovations to market?

Frederique Covington-Corbett: Resisting the urge to talk about our innovations from a pure technology stand-point and instead making them palatable and meaningful in human terms. As Einstein said, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.”

So in this regard, the marketing done for Kinect by our Xbox 360 team was brilliant. Kinect is a complex innovation; it’s a motion sensing input device for the Xbox 360 video game console. Based around a webcam-style add-on peripheral for the Xbox 360 console, it enables users to control and interact with the Xbox 360 without the need to touch a game controller, through a natural user interface using gestures and spoken commands. How did we bring this innovation to market? With just 1 line; by explaining to people that now “You are the controller.”

Rafe Ring: Finally, have you any advice you would offer senior managers who want to create a culture of innovation inside their own organisation?

Frederique Covington-Corbett: Yes. The operative word would be to stay “Open”…Open to new ideas…Open to new people…Open to competitors…Open to customers re-inventing your technology…Open to paradoxes…Open to what sounds silly, dangerous, impossible. And to remember … control is the death of innovation.



Campaign Asia

Related Articles

Just Published

1 day ago

Tech On Me: Is Apple renewing its focus on ...

In a busy tech week, Apple unveils new ad tools, Oracle exits from ad tech, Amazon makes a big Taiwan bet, and Musk launches a war on Apple devices, and other weekly highlights.

1 day ago

Campaign Global Agency of the Year Awards 2023: ...

New Zealand's Special repeats as Creative Agency of the Year while The Weber Shandwick Collective was named Asia Pacific Network of the Year.

1 day ago

Agency Report Cards 2023: We grade 31 APAC networks

Campaign Asia-Pacific presents its 21st annual evaluation of APAC agency networks based on their 2023 business performance, innovation, creative output, awards, action on DEI and sustainability, and leadership.

1 day ago

Agency Report Card 2023: Publicis Media

Starcom shone brightly for Publicis Media agency in 2023, and the Groupe decision to award staff bonuses was well received.