Metrics Approach Tackles
Vista Launch Issues
May 1, 2007
BY MICHAEL KRAUSS
something different is going on in marketing at Redmond, Wash.-based
The 1995 rollout of Windows 95 was a landmark product launch.
The New York Times called it a “computer age milestone.”
Microsoft founder Bill Gates relied on a compact, consumer-focused
burst of $300 million in promotional spending. Gates spent $12
million to secure the rights to use the opening chords of the
Rolling Stones’ hit Start Me Up, which became synonymous
with Windows 95. It was a masterpiece.
The 2001 launch of Windows XP was powerful. Microsoft spent a
reported billion dollars on the launch, but as Wired
magazine commented, the Windows XP launch was “hot, but
not Windows 95-hot.”
Today the company that launched shrink-wrapped software with sizzling
blasts of promotional media is singing a new song. The rollout
of Microsoft Vista, Office 2007 and Exchange Server 2007 is an
ambitious, sophisticated and calculated effort that will someday
be a model case study in integrated marketing at the world’s
leading business schools.
Where the Windows 95 launch relied principally on consumer-focused
broadcast media for impact, the present rollout is modular, highly
targeted and tightly integrated. It reflects the transformation
in the world of marketing and media and uses best-of-breed tools
for optimal effect.
“Microsoft has been evolving its marketing approach in a
pretty substantial way,” says Jon Roskill, U.S. business
and marketing officer for Microsoft. “We used to be launch-driven.
We’re thinking about the launch not as a point in time but
as a continuum. We’re focusing on having a continuous conversation
with the customer.”
Microsoft’s challenges are scale and complexity. “We’re
the world’s largest software company,” says Roskill,
who estimates Microsoft will achieve $50 billion in revenue in
this fiscal year, ending in June, with companywide growth near
12% to 14% year-over-year.
“We’re growing about $6 billion a year,” Roskill
says. “There are only two software companies in the world
that are bigger than $6 billion dollars. We’re basically
building the No. 3, the No. 4 software company in the world every
year.” That’s a far cry from the days when Microsoft
products were sold out of Egghead software stores.
Roskill describes multiple challenges to the marketing effort.
There’s breadth of target audience. “We go all the
way from consumers and end-users to the biggest businesses,”
There’s the product perspective. Clearly, Roskill is pumped.
“We’re excited to have such a great set of products.
This is the richest, most phenomenal set of products that we’ve
Another challenge is the release climate. “In an ideal world
you pick a date and say all of the products will release that
day. We have an eight-month window of product delivery,”
There’s the competition. Microsoft has competition in operating
systems and applications from the open source movement. But the
biggest competitor is existing Microsoft products and buyer inertia.
“The challenge is our prior versions,” says Roskill,
who strives to give end-users a reason to switch to the new products.
Microsoft partners add to the complexity. “From a partner
standpoint, the scale we work with blows my mind. We have hundreds
of thousands of partners. We start off with the chip manufacturers,
Intel and AMD; the PC manufacturers, Dell, HP and Gateway. You
also have folks we call system builders that serve small business.
We have about 28,000 in the United States.”
Roskill also has a powerful set of channel partners to consider.
Best Buy and Circuit City reps needed merchandising and training
to sell Vista and Office 2007. “If you’ve been to
Best Buy lately you have probably seen some of the materials my
team built,” Roskill says.
There are market perceptions to contend with. “It has been
five years between releases; that’s clearly a perception
out in the marketplace,” Roskill adds.
To address the complexity, Roskill defined granular, metrics-based
objectives for the rollout. “There were metrics by channel
type or partner type,” he says.
Unlike the Windows 95 launch, the Vista, Office 2007 and Exchange
Server 2007 launch was broken into phases. The initial phase focused
on getting ready and building advocacy for the products among
technical audiences. Creating enthusiastic advocates was critical.
“Microsoft has a history of focusing on developers. We had
a goal of getting 15 million enthusiastic advocates rolling in
the United States,” he says.
The next step was trial. “We had 5 million people trialing
Vista and Office in the pre-release cycle,” he adds.
The November focus was on business enterprises. Microsoft coordinated
marketing efforts with their enterprise sales organization to
drive the sales pipeline. There were concurrent efforts in the
midmarket and small-business areas to “drive that partner-customer
connection,” Roskill says.
In early January, Bill Gates gave a keynote at the Consumer Electronics
Show in Las Vegas describing the broader Vista environment.
At the end of January, Microsoft rolled out a multifaceted global
consumer launch. “There was over $100 million of advertising
on television, some really neat things outdoors as well as a substantial
presence on the Internet,” Roskill says. There were special
events in major cities across the United States and around the
world. Vista balloons and climbers rappelling down buildings in
Times Square with Vista flags were just the tip of the iceberg.
Following that, Roskill says Microsoft invested in a major effort
to transform leads into revenue, relying heavily on Web-based
Product delays spawned intense marketing thinking. Microsoft instituted
the Tech Guarantee program to compensate for the lack of product
availability for the holiday season. “That gave people who
were buying computers the option to get a free copy of Vista through
their OEM,” Roskill says. “It exceeded our expectations.
We had about 12 million customers in the United States.”
“There was a lot of public relations,” he goes on,
and efforts in consumer-generated media. “We worked hard
with the bloggers. We did a scavenger hunt over the Internet that
was called ‘The Game.’ ”
For Roskill, the highlight came at midnight on Jan. 30. “I
was at Best Buy in Washington. They turned everything on. We had
500 people rushing in. All of our retail partners, CompUSA, Office
Depot, they were geared up.”
Microsoft marketers once joked about the muffin-eaters. “We’d
get people to come to conferences and special events to launch
a product. They would show up and eat the muffins. We weren’t
sure whether they actually did anything else,” Roskill says.
“Now we’re hard-core about looking at our ROI.”
Krauss is a president of Market Strategy Group, based in Chicago,
and can be reached at Michael.Krauss@Mkt-strat.com