Microsoft’s top marketer on being a ‘more human and approachable’ brand

Microsoft’s Kathleen Hall believes we are seeing a “new Microsoft” focused on how technology can help people.


Microsoft’s top marketer Kathleen Hall is on a mission. She wants people to stop seeing Microsoft as the goliath of the tech world and instead see it as David, a challenger in the rapidly shifting space.

When we meet her at Cannes Lions, it is almost a year since Microsoft launched Windows 10 with a new more emotive campaign. It was, Hall admits, a risk to launch a new tech platform using a campaign featuring children but she believes the move has paid off and revealed a more human side to the brand.

“The idea of humanising [Windows 10] really resonated with people. We look at recall, the message landing, branding metrics and all that was the best we could have hoped for. And the upgrade data is all where we want it to be,” she claimed.

The campaign was part of a wider move by Microsoft under CEO Satya Nadella to reposition all its marketing around this strategic idea – that it is not about the device but what it can do for people.

“In all our campaigns it is real people doing real things with our products. It’s about the people and what they do, not so much about the product.”

Kathleen Hall, corporate vice president of global advertising and media, Microsoft

“In the tech category right now that is pretty different because it’s not ‘how hot is this device’ but ‘how cool is what you can do with it’,” she explains.

Taking responsibility

Microsoft is also taking a bigger role in society, using its position as a tech leader to take responsibility for getting more girls interested and involved in the tech industry. That came off the back of research which found that the industry is losing girls when they reach senior school and liking science becomes “socially unacceptable”.

“We are a tech leader so it is our responsibility if there is an issue with the composition of the workforce we are in a position to change it. We have a lot of really committed women in Microsoft who want to see it change, as well as our management,” explains Hall.

Phase one of the campaign involved getting the message out as to why girls stopped doing science through a ‘Girls do science’ campaign. The next step is about finding girls the role models they need to see science as a career path for them. Microsoft also has a patent programme coming up that will encourage girls to invent and seek patents.

Hall is very keen on promoting diversity at Microsoft, whether that be gender, race, religion or sexuality. She is the executive sponsor of diversity and inclusion for the marketing group at Microsoft and says her approach (and that of Microsoft) has been to influence partners to improve diversity.

“We want to influence partners and try to attract talent. Through that, it’s called the ‘lighthouse effect’ – when you bring a diverse person in and they are successful it attracts other diverse people because they have someone to look up to. That is our goal,” she explains.

Hall’s 70-strong marketing team is already 73% women but she says she found that her agency, IPG, would come to meetings and consistently bring a team of men. So she encouraged them to think about the make-up of their team and says she saw a 9% shift in diversity in one year, while 50% of the senior creative team is now women.

“We can push for change and then it’s a ripple effect. Other clients are talking to us about how they can learn,” she says.

Hall admits that tech hasn’t always been the most inclusive industry for women but she think that is changing, both generally and at Microsoft. She describes CEO Nadella, who took over from Steve Ballmer in 2014, as the embodiment of that change.

“I consider this to be a new Microsoft. I don’t diminish what Steve accomplished but Satya brought a new era of Microsoft and you feel it. That is what great leadership is, you can immediately feel a difference in tone, manner, appreciation, expectation,” she comments.

“Satya is all about the growth mindset. The old Microsoft was about being right, the new is about learning and admitting sometimes we don’t know everything and listening to diverse perspectives as opposed to being the smartest person in the room and dictatorial. That is what I mean about the male/female shift. I don’t mean men and women. I mean female style of management and male.”

The data opportunity

One of the other big shifts at Microsoft is its acquisition of LinkedIn, announced just a few weeks prior to Cannes. Hall admits to being “as in the dark as anyone else” on the deal but says she can see the opportunity.

“[The LinkedIn acquisition] represents the intersection of two very important strategic frontiers for us. One is enterprise and the other is social.”

Kathleen Hall, corporate vice president of global advertising and media, Microsoft

“If you put enterprise social with the enterprise data capability we have and the cloud, it’s a pretty strong suite of capabilities and data. It’s a super smart strategic move, we’ll see how it plays out,” she explains.

Data is already key to Microsoft’s marketing. The brand shift to be more human and approachable was based on data analysis and insights, while Microsoft runs what Halls calls a “war room” where every couple of weeks she shows everyone in the company the response to its advertising.

“We have a huge team of engineers so we have to be data literate or they go into subjective land telling me how their wife didn’t like an ad and that is why we should pull it. And so we have forecasts for recall and brand metrics and we’ll show how the ad is performing and how its performing versus Apple and Samsung. We have that ammunition. It’s not like we are on the defensive all the time but it means we don’t become subjective,” she comments.

Microsoft used data to come up with Rembrandt's next painting
Microsoft used data to come up with Rembrandt’s next painting

Data is also something she wishes some media formats would make more use of. While she recognises the challenges in digital marketing around issues such as viewability and ad fraud, Hall says she wishes broadcast media would “get its act together on the data side”.

“[Broadcast] can’t give me the specificity that digital can give. But digital can’t give the quality traditional can. The perfect marriage will be when they come together. Each of them could benefit from learning from the other,” she says.

Data will also be key to its future marketing direction. Microsoft highlighted its Rembrandt project, which used to data to analyse his work and then predict what his next painting would have looked like.

“This idea of meshing art and science for human benefit is what I love. Where we’ve always been is tech that enhances the human experience, not replaces or diminishes it,” she concludes.

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