Chris Capossela, Microsoft’s chief marketing officer, has his hands full. As steward of the company’s roughly $2-billion-a-year advertising budget, he’s the executive behind the ubiquitous ads for Microsoft’s new Windows 10 operating system, as well as the push to spread the word about the company’s Surface tablet line and cloud-computing infrastructure.
This week brought a new wrinkle with the launch of the Office 2016 productivity suite, the latest version of Microsoft’s most profitable product.
In an interview, Capossela spoke about the health of Microsoft’s brand, the Office push and the ways in which the new software and Windows 10 are designed to bolster the links between Microsoft products. Here are edited excerpts.
Q: Where does Office sit in Microsoft’s array of products?
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A: When [Satya Nadella] took over as CEO, he took a little time to think about the mission of the company. We came up with three big bold ambitions, one of which was reinventing productivity. We really put Office at the core of that.
Office is a great success, [but] the reality is, it’s still pretty hard to work together. And [changes in] the way people are getting their jobs done means there’s a great opportunity for us to improve our tools and help people change their old style of working to what we think is a more efficient way. It doesn’t get much bigger for Microsoft than Office.
Q: Microsoft had some heavy lifting to do to change the perception of Windows after the not-so-well-received Windows 8. How different is that from getting the word out about Office, a product seen as the gold-standard?
A: With Windows, digging out from the past and really establishing Windows 10 as something valuable has been a fun challenge.
For things like global television advertising, we’ll continue to focus on Windows and Windows devices as our consumer story. The big marketing dollars for consumers are very much about Windows devices.
It’s definitely different than a new Office 365 release, because we’ve been on this cloud-subscription path for a bunch of years now. For our corporate customers, we have this advertising campaign that’s very focused on the Microsoft cloud. Our marketing for Office is more focused on the commercial side.
Q: Microsoft has been pushing Office sold as a subscription, rather than a one-time purchase. Will the old-school, one-time purchase go away?
A: We can do a lot through marketing the [product] that we think is the most valuable without removing the choice for customers.
I’ll give you an example of a good corollary to this: I think most people don’t realize you can still buy a stand-alone copy of Excel. For years we’ve been essentially promoting our Office suite without actually removing the ability to buy a copy of Word or PowerPoint.
I don’t know that we have to be in this massive rush to stop selling the traditional way. I don’t want to turn anybody away from being an Office customer just because they don’t want to buy a subscription. There will be customers who want to give us $150 and not buy another thing for six years. But the growth is on the subscription side.
Q:At a conference this year, you showed a slide mapping the products offered by Microsoft, Apple and Google, and the links that lead users from one to another. Windows and Office lacked some obvious connections that would introduce users to other Microsoft tools. How do the new versions of Office and Windows address that?
A: [Office 2016] makes it far easier for you to use Office apps with Skype and with [cloud-storage service] OneDrive and OneNote. We built these apps in the new release in such a way that one naturally leads to the other.
You look at sharing in Word, being able to do a Skype instant-messaging session or video call from within the Word user interface is very natural. Immediately a Word user is using Skype. That’s a new connective tissue that didn’t exist before. Office lifts other boats in ways that it didn’t before today.
In the early days of Windows 10 use, Microsoft Edge share is excellent. [Digital assistant] Cortana is leading to far more Bing queries on a Windows 10 device than Bing queries on Windows 7 devices. Windows 10 is lifting Bing, lifting our browser share, and hopefully it lifts Office.
I think we’ve built a better mousetrap with these products to help people use more of our stuff together in a way that feels natural and delightful. Not in a way that feels like marketing.
Q: Is the feedback you’re getting from Windows 10 better than prior versions?
A: It’s better. We didn’t release a number yet, but we certainly feel like we have a more satisfied customer base. It just feels like a much stronger reaction.
Q: More than a year into Nadella’s tenure, and more than a decade after antitrust concerns were making headlines, how do you think people view Microsoft’s brand?
A: The brand has always been quite strong in the enterprise, but one of the really nice things we’re seeing in the last few years with consumers is we’re seeing core brand metrics trending very positively.
I think Satya is a huge reason why. When we go on to college campuses to recruit engineers or marketers, his name is very prevalent. The HoloLens product, even though you can’t buy it, brings a lot of consumer credibility with college kids who are technology-oriented. Those are sort of early indicators of how you’re trending with consumers in general.
We still have a long way to go; there’s no doubt we can still make a lot of improvements.