Microsoft: Marketing Strategies, Branding, and Expansion

Microsoft was founded in 1975, when Bill Gates left Harvard at age 19 to work with high school friend Paul Allen on a version of the BASIC programming language. After moving the company from Albuquerque, New Mexico, to Seattle in 1979, Gates and Allen began writing operating system software. What happened to the company since its founding is a well-known and often-told story. Here are highlighted a few of the key strategies that enabled Microsoft to achieve such remarkable growth in the competition-laden computer industry:

Product Innovation: Microsoft achieved early success because of a single product innovation. In 1980, IBM contracted Microsoft to write the operating systems for its new PCs, which led to the creation of Microsoft Disk Operating System (MS-DOS). Since other PC manufacturers desired compatibility with IBM machines, Microsoft was soon adopted as the standard PC operating system. Another, even bigger innovation followed. In 1983, the company introduced the now-ubiquitous Windows, based on a graphical interface common to Apple’s Macintosh system. Since it was the first “windowing” software to work on PCs from any brand, Windows – like DOS before it – became the standard for personal computers.

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While Windows enabled the company to vault to unforeseen heights, it continued to develop innovative software and other products. Microsoft’s current big project is a next-generation operating system called Microsoft .Net (pronounced “dot-net”), designed to merge Windows with the Internet directly. Microsoft .Net will allow multiple devices – PCs, wireless phones, pagers, digital cameras, PDAs, and other “smart devices” – to work together over Web connections with unprecedented ease.

Brand-extension strategy: Microsoft uses its strong brand name to launch new software products. Some examples include Microsoft Word, Microsoft Office, and Microsoft Internet Explorer. In 1989, Microsoft passed Lotus to become the world’s largest seller of software worldwide. At that time, the company boasted the broadest array of software products and applications as well as the highest profit margin in the industry, at close to 25 percent.

Launching a new product under a strong existing brand name gives the new brand instant recognition and credibility with much less advertising outlay.

Heavy advertising: In the early years, Microsoft used advertising sparingly. In the mid-1990s, however, it began to advertise aggressively. In 1994, the company made two major moves: it hired the head of marketing and advertising from Procter & Gamble and developed its first global advertising campaign. The campaign doubled the company’s ad budget to $100 million, and the following year that figure ballooned to $200 million for the Windows 95 launch. Today, it is common for the company to spend $50 million marketing a single product. Its global marketing budget for 2001 exceeded $500 million.

Competitive Toughness: Microsoft’s aggressive competitive practices enabled the company to establish a leadership role in many product categories, but also led to legal battles. In one of the most publicized antitrust suits ever, the US Justice Department filed antitrust charges against Microsoft, claiming that it had limited consumer choice and stifled competition in part by bundling software, such as Internet Explorer, with its operating system. The presiding judge ruled to split Microsoft into two separate companies – an operating system company and an applications company, but the company continues to operate as a whole while its appeal is pending.

Product Expansion: Microsoft was quick to expand its business beyond operating systems into software applications for home and business PC users, educational software, and computer games. The company also expanded its operating system business. In 1993, the company introduced its Windows NT operating system, which was designed to compete with UNIX as the operating system of choice for large networks. After overcoming initial reluctance to embrace the Internet, Microsoft developed the Internet Explorer Web browser as an answer to Netscape, and developed the Web portal Microsoft Network (MSN) to compete with the likes of Yahoo! and AOL. MSN was not successful and endured major alterations before being reborn as MSN.com. The company also expanded into media development in the 1990s. It formed a joint venture with NBC to create the cable station MSNBC, which featured news, financial, and talk show programming. The company added another television venture in 1997 when it bought the set-top box system WebTV (later to become UltimateTV). The company rolled out a video game console called Xbox intended to compete with advanced game systems from Sony and Nintendo.

(Sources: Rebecca Buckman, “About Advertising: Microsoft Ad Campaign Touts Its Software for Big Business.” Wall Street Journal Europe, January 23, 2001; “Windows of Opportunity.” Marketing Week, December 9, 1994; “Microsoft Hires P&G Marketer.” Marketing Week, November 18, 1994; www.microsoft.com;)

1. Could Microsoft be considered one of the best and worst examples of marketing success in America during the 1980s and 1990s? Discuss.

2. The Marketing Spotlight notes some of the effective competitive marketing strategies that Microsoft has exhibited in a short but very successful history. Could a similar firm entering the market today operate in the same manner?

3. Do any of the Microsoft strategies belie future issues that Microsoft and other technology-oriented firms should prepare to deal with in coming years?

Solution Preview
Could Microsoft be considered one of the best and worst examples of marketing success in America during the 1980s and 1990s? Discuss.

Yes, Microsoft can be considered one of the best and worst examples of marketing. Consider its product development. The Server and Tools segment has overall responsibility for integrated product development and marketing of Windows Server System products, including building and marketing Windows Server operating systems. The Server and Tools segment consists of server software licenses and client access licenses (CALs) for Windows Server, SQL (structured query language) Server, Exchange Server and other servers. It also includes developer tools, training, certification, Microsoft Press, Premier product support services and Microsoft consulting services. Windows Server delivers a platform for powering connected applications, networks, and Web services from the work group to the data center. Microsoft servers provide capabilities ranging from messaging and collaboration to database management, and ranging from e-commerce to mobile information access.

Developer tools focus on coordinating the overall programming model for the client and server, creating tools for developing Microsoft .NET-connected applications and services, and fostering synergies between Windows and the Windows Server System offerings.
Microsoft Corporation’s competitors include IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Sun Microsystems, Oracle and Computer Associates.
Microsoft has segmented the IT market in a unique manner. The Information Worker segment is responsible for developing and delivering technologies that transform information into impact for people and organizations that create, analyze, communicate and use information every day. It consists of the Microsoft Office System of programs, servers, services and solutions. Microsoft Office System is the successor of Microsoft Office XP Microsoft Office has evolved from a suite of personal productivity products to a more comprehensive and integrated system of products for information work designed to increase personal, team and organization productivity. The Microsoft Office System features integration with Microsoft intranet collaboration technologies, Information Rights Management and support for industry-standard extensible mark-up language (XML). The Microsoft Office System includes the Microsoft Office 2003 Editions, which include (depending upon the edition): Microsoft Office Outlook 2003; Microsoft Office Excel 2003; Microsoft Office PowerPoint 2003; Microsoft Office Word 2003, and Microsoft Office Access 2003. …

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