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Microsoft research paves way for ‘People Ready’

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Microsoft Corp. had a big challenge for its business marketing efforts in 2006: develop a value proposition for the business segment that would encompass new products being rolled out, as well as an overall messaging platform for Microsoft's business customers.

"We've been talking about an all-out business campaign for a while at Microsoft," said David Hamilton, director of Marketing@Microsoft, an organization that is responsible for developing marketing best practices at the software giant.

"We were getting demand from our sales force, which felt that there were strong product messages and strong Microsoft messages, but there was a missing plank—what is the all-out value proposition for our business customers," Hamilton said.

In addition, Microsoft wanted to develop broad business messaging that would encompass new products being launched this year, including operating system Microsoft Vista, a new version of Microsoft Office and Microsoft Dynamics (formerly Microsoft Business Solutions).

So about a year ago, Microsoft launched a comprehensive market research project to define a business brand and messaging that would communicate its value to the business segment.

The company began with initial messaging research, in which it analyzed existing research it had already conducted with customers, as well as industry data, to learn which messages resonated with customers (attribute importance) as well as which messages were considered believable as coming from Microsoft (attribute association).

During this phase of research, Microsoft learned that the messages that resonated most with customers were those involving people, technology and ease of use.

"Because of Microsoft's heritage, customers thought of us as democratizing technology, particularly with driving broad usage of PCs," Hamilton said. "Another message that resonated was that of empowering people—that had a very strong attribute association with Microsoft."

Next, Microsoft conducted its first phase of primary research, using Penn Schoen & Berland Associates, a WPP Group research company.

It conducted the research in four countries—the U.S., Japan, France and Germany—testing messages with different target audiences, including business decision-makers and IT decision-makers.

"We tested how the various messages resonated with customers, looking at how important the attributes are when they are considering software from technology companies. How do business decision-makers rank them compared with technology decision-makers?"

Microsoft then took the preliminary findings from this research and held executive review sessions with marketing and sales executives across Microsoft's seven business groups, all the way up to CEO Steve Ballmer.

From the beginning of its research, Microsoft worked closely with its ad agency, McCann Erickson; its relationship management agencies, MRM Partners and Y&R; and its public relations firm, Waggener Edstrom.

Following the executive reviews, Microsoft developed four "pillars" that would form the foundation of its messaging: innovative software; being familiar and easy; widely used and supported through a range of partners; and easy to integrate and connect.

The company then created a second round of messages to test and conducted more thorough research, using focus groups, online surveys, phone surveys and its own panel of users on Microsoft.com.

Hamilton said the phrase "people ready" emerged sometime during the middle phase of research, following the first round of testing and during the executive review sessions.

"It tested very well, and people loved it internally," Hamilton said.

Once Microsoft had finalized this theme, it went through a "sanity check" round of research, broadening it to more than 20 countries, to make sure the messaging was not objectionable linguistically or culturally.

The "People Ready" vision was introduced by Ballmer on March 16 at an event in New York hosted by the Executive Council of New York's Executive Business Forum, and attended by more than 500 Microsoft business customers.

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