Rich Reynolds: The marketing of Microsoft Canada

Rich Reynolds has the message. Now he just has to choose the medium.

As the business and marketing officer at Microsoft Canada Co., Reynolds’s role has recently been expanded to include responsibility for branding and broad global marketing

campaigns. It’s an area he knows well, having previously worked for the software giant as director of marketing and corporate communications manager.

Reynolds and his team will be put to the test later this year, when the company releases Office 2003. It’s a process he describes as “”putting the wheels on the car — connecting marketing with sales, services and partners to have really the big impact in the marketplace.””

Reynolds recently spoke with IT Business Pipeline about how he hopes to bring all those elements together over the coming year.

Pipeline: I understand Microsoft Canada has gone through some restructuring within the marketing division recently. Can you outline how things have changed?

Rich Reynolds: We’re standardizing the marketing organization globally. In the last quarter, not just in Canada but around the world, we’ve made significant changes. The way the organization looks now is that my title is business and marketing officer, if you like. There’s two key pieces to that. One is central marketing, which includes things like marketing communications from a broad perspective, a centralized events team, a centralized corporate communications — things like PR and community affairs.

In addition to that I have what’s called the Business Group Leads, or BGL, and that’s a new role which is the business side of the organization. Essentially my and their role is to orchestrate the business around things like forecast meetings with the sales team and report back to the U.S. It’s really a liaison role as well between the subsidiary as the U.S. corporation as well.

Pipeline: So the idea is tighter integration between marketing and the sales side?

RR: The whole transformation project is about us getting closer to the customers. In order to do that, what we need to do is achieve a predictable and consistent customer experience, which is why it’s a global thing. Essentially the adage is to build products that are more relevant and meaningful to our customers by having greater connections to the subsidiaries. These BG Leads work very closely with the sales teams and the customers so they can report back what customers want from their perspective, and vice-versa, from Microsoft Corp., the head office, the direction that we’re headed as well.

Pipeline: Marketers seem to be moving away from activities that simply expose the brand put actually put sales people in contact with customers. Does Microsoft have any strategies in this area?

RR: We have a bunch of different initiatives. One of the challenges that we have, obviously, is not only the breadth of products but a breadth of audiences. In the commercial business, which is the area I’m primarily responsible for, there’s several different audiences that we talk to. One is IT. There’s going to be developers that we talk to, and also with things like Microsoft Business Solutions it’s business people. The thing we’ve done traditionally well and that we’re kicking into gear is connecting broadly with customers. And that’s things like TechNet events, where we touch several thousand people a couple of times a year. MSDN is a similar thing to developers. On the business or enterprise side, we have very high-touch events, things like CIO Summits where we fly CIOs down to Redmond.

As we move marketing from being focused on IT and platform to be more relevant and business-focused, it’s much more high-touch events. So maybe 30 or 40 people in a room and going deep on a business solution and talking about the business benefits rather than the IT benefits. This is in addition to the broad advertising and PR activity that we do.

Pipeline: There’s obviously been consolidation in the publishing industry where titles like (Rogers Communications’) Channel Business have closed and daily newspapers have cut back tech sections, but there are also more TV shows interested in IT coverage. How has that changed your strategy?

RR: It depends on what we’re trying to do from a marketing perspective. If it’s IT people that we’re trying to talk to, then obviously we’re going to go into very focused IT publications, and then also use other media that makes sense. With IT and developers it’s online activities as well, whether that’s electronic newsletters. From a business perspective, again we’re trying to be more relevant, so it will tend to be the more vertical focused publications, or functional-focused publications. So if we’re talking about portals, instead of it being a generic message as we get more relevant in terms of customers, maybe it’s HR publications or it’s marketing publications, and talking about the value from an HR or a marketing perspective.

Pipeline: When you’re choosing media, what kind of metrics are you applying? For online, obviously, there are things you can track, but with others it might be more intangible.

RR: If we take the very broad advertising that we do on TV, what we’re trying to do is impact perceptions, so the metrics are going to be around reach, reaching the right audiences. If it’s more targeted or response-oriented — we mentioned online — it’s going to be click-throughs, and then how many of those click-throughs actually responded and bought something. The ultimate aim is obviously to get end to end — to be able to track a campaign not only from initial response but through to the sales teams. We’ve got this term called “”marketing qualified prospects,”” which is basically demand generation, where we hand it off to the sales teams. We’re in the process of figuring out actually how we track that through to sales and measure that from the full end-to-end marketing spectrum.

Pipeline: A lot of companies seem to be developing some form of marketing qualified prospects, but it seems to be a long way from becoming an exact science.

RR: Yeah, I’m not sure if you ever get a perfect science. There’s some things you can track very, very well — you can track responses very well — but once you hand it off to the sales teams, it’s going to be dependent upon the tools and the systems and tools and processes. Certainly we are going through that. As you evolve as a company and you’re putting more processes in place, you get better traction and that’s the stage that we’re at.

The other challenge being predominantly a platform company is how you actually track it through to revenue. You may have an opportunity where a sales rep took that opportunity and worked with a customer to understand their needs but it may be a long time — it could be up to 18 months — before there’s any revenue as a result of that. Or they may be in an agreement where they’re already signed up for that software, and the sales rep is simply working with them to get an application in place or get greater business value out of that customer.

Pipeline: Microsoft reshuffled its PR agency relationships last year, where some business went from Hill & Knowlton to High Road and Media Profile. How often do you reevaluate that?

RR: I’m not sure if it’s unique about Microsoft, but we tend to empower people very far down in the organization. Largely the corporate communications team ran that exercise. They’re the experts in that discipline. I think it was a good exercise, and the results of fusing High Road for broader activities has been very successful.

Pipeline: We’re seeing much more integrated events were a print campaign is tied to an event, which is complemented by an e-mail newsletter. Is that appropriate for Microsoft when you’re going after unique audiences?

RR: The more integrated activity you can do the more impact you’re going to have. If you do a broad advertisement and someone gets a direct mail piece or e-mail or even a direct telephone call — if you can tie all of those media, you’re going to have greater impact.

We’ve come from a situation where we’re obviously a very innovative company, not just on the technology side but also part of the culture. In some cases that can lead to not a very great customer experience, because it can be inconsistent. We’re trying to be much more consistent, especially from a marketing and sales perspective.

Pipeline: When a new version of Windows is being launched, everyone is looking at Microsoft, but how do you build momentum when it’s a more focused launch?

RR: Certain of the platform products have been around for many years and have a high market share. While we continue to innovate in a very rich way, one of the challenges we face is communicating that innovation out to customers. One of the key things for us is that we do it well in advance. For example, the Microsoft Office system launch started six or nine months ago when we started talking to partners. For a product that’s 15 years old or whatever it is, it’s trying to convince those audiences that there’s something innovative about it. With Microsoft Office, the innovation occurs not only in the individual products but in integration within the Windows service system, Exchange and the other applications. It starts to get complex in the messaging as well.

We’ve got this concept of “”rolling thunder”” as well where not only will we have a large event in October where we talk to press and core customers such as IT and developers but we’ll continue that communication on an ongoing basis as we launch other products that are part of the Office system that can reinforce the same kind of messaging.


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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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