Microsoft: The Value of Purpose Driven Marketing

Kathleen Hall
Chief Brand Officer, Microsoft

In the dynamic realm of technology, few brands command the stage with the enduring influence and gravitas of Microsoft. Beyond software and hardware, Microsoft has become synonymous with transformative innovation, setting an indelible mark on the digital landscape. From Windows to Azure, each product bears the authority of a brand that has seamlessly woven itself into the fabric of our technological evolution with deep integrity. A number of bold moves in 2023, such as the acquisition of Activision Blizzard and a new deal with OpenAI, kept Microsoft well ahead of the pack. This solid brand performance means its brand value has risen strongly in 2023. 

Reflecting on the state of Big Marketing today, Kathleen Hall, Chief Brand Officer of Microsoft, believes that ever-mounting pressure to demonstrate immediate and measurable returns has shifted the marketing needle firmly in the direction of performance tactics. “We’ve lost sight of the benefit of broad reach and communal experience,” Hall said. “There’s almost no part of the marketing challenge today that isn’t about desire for immediate return and what we’re losing is that broader experience of creative and messaging that moves people and brings them together. We used to have these huge cultural moments when people came together and experienced events collectively. We don’t have that common ground anymore and that’s a big lever that’s missing for brands.” 

At Microsoft, one of the most powerful brand levers continues to be its purpose. Guided by the visionary leadership of CEO Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s purpose is articulated with precision: to empower every person and organization on the planet to achieve more. This simple yet profound mission is more than a slogan—it is a guiding philosophy that permeates every facet of the company. The potency of the purpose lies in its unwavering commitment to societal impact, fostering innovation, inclusivity, and positive change. This purpose is not just a statement but an internalized credo, shaping decisions and driving transformative outcomes. Microsoft’s 2022 campaign, Tech for Good, highlights the role of technology in positive societal impact, and emphases responsible tech usage and innovation for social good.

“I’ve lived the evolution of our purpose, and I would say thank goodness for Satya and his focus on culture,” said Hall. “Satya didn’t become the CEO and say ‘I’m going to fix this business’ or ‘I’m going to reap this financial benefit’; he said I’m going to change the culture and I’m going to start with a very clear mission. It gives focus and impact to the work we do.” In business, even in a business that’s famous for the impact of its purpose, there’s still a dynamic tension between the two.  

Navigating business success involves demonstrating the relationship between purpose, brand and the bottom line.  

“I believe purpose and brand are strong drivers of positive financial results. But I do think that we marketers have to continually re-educate people on that. You can almost never prove brand value to the satisfaction of most CFOs. To them it’s still an amorphous thing that is very hard to quantify in financial reporting. But as marketers, we know it’s like John Wanamaker says: ‘Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.’ I think Microsoft has come closer than most companies in connecting brand and financial outcomes, because we have our own measures in place, and an architecture we’ve created through AI, that enables us to analyze our brand pillars and their performance. We are an engineering and data-driven company, so we have undergone this exercise in modeling, causality and predictability between variables that often are not connected.” 

As we look ahead to 2024, Hall leaves marketers with a rallying cry, “I think the environment right now continues to be volatile, unpredictable and tense. But my position last year was one of more caution than I’ve ever exercised before. Going into this year my attitude has changed a little bit. You can’t let worry about what might happen stop you from doing what you believe is good. Fear is not a strategy. Be Bold. Be Iconic.”

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