Microsoft Personalizes Guest Experience to Introduce Smartphone Assistant

To showcase what Cortana—its answer to Apple's Siri—can do, the tech giant built individualized guest experiences for an event in New York using R.F.I.D. badges.

By Anna Sekula June 10, 2014, 8:30 AM EDT

Inside, the first step for guests after receiving their credentials at check-in was a tour of Cortana's capabilities. The space was surrounded by curved walls, leading attendees in a circle around the perimeter of the venue.

Photo: Courtesy of Microsoft

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In a saturated marketplace, marketers want to forge personal connections between consumers and brands. For Microsoft, a June 4 event in New York provided the opportunity not just to build individual experiences for the 150 or so attendees, but to also demonstrate the capabilities of Cortana, a digital personal assistant for smartphones designed to, over time, learn a user's preferences and favorite places. The event itself was dubbed the Inner Circle, a nod to the blue circle that represents Cortana on-screen and one of the functions that allows users to identify certain contacts.

To craft an environment that would communicate this messaging, the tech giant tapped Relevent Partners. Key to the production of the event was gathering data, which could be stored in R.F.I.D. chips that were then embedded into credentials each guest received at check-in. To collect the information, the organizers devised a short quiz that attendees filled out to R.S.V.P. For instance, one multiple choice question asked, “It's cheat night. What are you most likely indulging in?” for which responses included “a juicy burger,” “fresh sushi,” and “piping hot pizza.” Attendees could also write in the song that would make them get out on the dance floor.

The answers provided content for an interactive tour, the first part of the event at west Chelsea venue 545. Surrounded by curving fabric walls, the tour led guests to a series of freestanding screens placed around the perimeter. As they tapped their badges to the stations, screens showcased how Cortana tailors reminders, schedules, and other features to personal preferences and location, and displayed names and responses to the questionnaire through lighting and projections on the walls. For example, one station was programmed to play the music a guest preferred and another displayed images of food they would treat themselves to. Logistically, it meant a technical director worked closely with the sound and lighting teams to program how the stations and surrounding environment reacted to the information embedded in the R.F.I.D.s.

In the center of the circular tour was the reception space, which held a circular bar, device displays, and other activities to show off Microsoft technology. The producers specifically chose to use plants and woods as accents to soften the look of the area and subtly reference the idea of technology being more human. (To create Cortana, Microsoft interviewed real personal assistants and looked to make its digital version relate to users in a more naturalistic way.) In addition to trying on outfits using a virtual dressing room program called Swivel, guests could also sit for portraits by an artist using a Surface tablet.

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