To build media anticipation for the new Surface RT tablet in October, Steven Sinofsky, then president of Windows, and Panos Panay, general manager of the Surface Team, welcomed 20 or so bloggers and journalists to Microsoft's Redmond, WA, headquarters. As a welcome gift, each reporter received a Willy Wonka chocolate bar - complete with a golden ticket.
By staging a behind-the-curtain press event that likened Micro-soft studios to a magical candy shop, the company clearly wanted to position itself as innovative, says Ina Fried, senior editor of All Things Digital, who attended the Wonka-themed tour.
"Microsoft has taken a beating on the coolness factor going back to the Mac versus PC commercials that Apple ran through to the rise of the iPhone and iPad," says Fried. "To help change the perception consumers have of them, Microsoft has been doing things we haven't seen before to showcase some of the real, serious tech work they're doing."
On October 26, Microsoft simultaneously debuted Surface and its Windows 8 operating system - its best chance to duplicate the company's strength on the desktop to tablets and smartphones. A few days later, it launched the Windows Phone 8 phone, and later Halo 4 on Xbox. Sinofsky then abruptly left the company on November 12.
- July 16
A webcast with Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and launch events worldwide preview the updated Microsoft workplace
- October 26
Both the Surface RT tablet and Windows 8 operating system debut midnight at stores nationwide.
- October 29
A Windows Phone 8 event in San Francisco – with actress Jessica Alba as a special guest – officially introduces the latest version of the mobile operating platform.
- November 6
Halo 4 is available worldwide with launch events that feature creators of the game and private screenings of the live-action digital series, Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn..
With so many product launches in the run-up to the holidays, Frank Shaw, VP, corporate communications for Microsoft, says it has been important for the company to link its various hard- ware and software offerings back to the Microsoft name.
So while each business unit within Microsoft deployed different tactics, Shaw says he worked with unit heads to help determine messaging that best sells the product as well as builds and protects the organization's brand.
"We have this saying, 'We have to sell the product, but also the company.' The products have to be good on their own, but there also has to be a connective tissue that runs through them," he explains. "That tissue, innovation that matters, is a key part of our brand so showing someone a phone or a PC with Windows 8 and how we got there is important for us."Focused messaging
A coordinated across-unit approach is also used for media relations outreach, says Shaw. "Instead of having a bunch of disaggregated approaches, where you would have someone from Xbox and someone from Windows pitch their specific thing, we've done a better job of showing up as a company to say, 'Here are new phones, PCs, games, new Office features, and here is what Surface looks like.'
"We did that early for long-lead engagement," he says, adding the strategy has appeared to pay off. Oprah Winfrey endorsed the Surface on her revived Favorite Things list for the holidays, and Microsoft products have landed on other gift guides.
The addition of 34 holiday pop-up stores in the US and Canada - in addition to 31 existing retail outlets in the US, Canada, and Puerto Rico - has also given Microsoft added scale to communicate its product line up.
"The retail stores have been a great enhancement in our ability to tell the story," notes Shaw. "It is a place where people can see and hold all of the hardware."
In addition to its store events, Microsoft also staged important launches aimed at distinguishing its products from those of rivals.
"We partnered closely with Microsoft across their back-to-back launches - Surface and Windows 8, Windows Phone 8, and Build, their developer event," says Dawn Beauparlant, EVP, Waggener Edstrom Worldwide.
"We made sure to look at these events collectively in terms of how the Microsoft story would unfold across each moment, but also individually to make sure that we tuned the story in the right way for the event's audience."