Microsoft and the reinvigoration of a brand

After more than 30 years in business, Microsoft is a company we all know and have an opinion about.

We have witnessed its incredible growth followed by a long period of stagnation where the stock price was frozen and the media started to write the company off as a dinosaur.

However, in the past two years, Microsoft has enjoyed nothing short of a resurgence. A reinvigorated brand with a reinvigorated stock price, the company is once again considered a driving force of innovation.

What happened?

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The appointment of Satya Nadella as CEO in 2014 signaled a new direction. A marked contrast in tone to larger-than-life former CEO Steve Ballmer, Nadella represented a break from the past. Softly spoken with a fondness for t-shirts and poetry, the media was intrigued. And what followed was one of the smartest campaigns – in my opinion – in recent years.

To be clear, Nadella made a number of smart business decisions under his leadership: galvanizing the company around a single operating system – Windows 10; creating the Universal App platform – where a developer can write an app once, sell it in the Windows Store, and have it run on any Windows 10 device; making the tough call to largely-divest from unsuccessful businesses; and perhaps most importantly, learning to play nicely with competitors across the industry.

But the company has made many smart decisions in the past and launched great products – none of which shifted the perception that the Microsoft brand was old and tired.

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Through the art of focused storytelling, the company drove a sustained and integrated communications campaign that capitalized on the natural pivot its charismatic leader provided. The smart and tough decisions mentioned above – as well as the product launches that came in that time too – were anchored by Nadella’s presence, and the story always reflected the new era of the company.

From a marketing point of view, that is a risk. Hinging so much on the perception of a single person could easily go wrong – but in Microsoft’s case, it was a smart and necessary move to signal a break with the past. And a 40% jump in the stock price in two years would suggest it paid off.