Right before Microsoft launched Windows 7 they did a very expensive WW multi-channel marketing campaign (ending in the “I’m a PC” response to “I’m a Mac”).

I’ve often heard people discuss why this was done the way it was…it did not make sense to many marketers.  I was part of some of the corporate image work that was going on in parallel for the Microsoft Office business and here are some of the tactics that helped drive this campaign.  For who’s interested in this kinda stuff…

– Definition of ‘Incumbent’ : An individual that is responsible for a specific office within a corporation or government position. This person has an obligation to the position or office he/she holds.  This is an official or regime currently holding office or a post. For example, in politics, “The incumbent governor was defeated in the elections.”.   Also referred to as a company that is powerful and has a large amount of market share, as in, “the dominant incumbent software company.” In business, the incumbent is typically the largest player in a given industry. –

When some of us marketers at Microsoft were pondering the question “Why does nobody listen to us, but only to Apple/Google etc.” (Fill in your favorite market challenger) they decided to try something different.  We turned to a well-known political campaign strategist, whose track record was to get some well-known incumbent presidents and other public officials re-elected. We were trying to find best practices that would be applicable to marketing a software company that had developed significant market share and was showing signs of the “incumbency challenge”.

Here’s what we learned a typical incumbency campaign comes down to:

1. Grab their Attention.

Attract the attention of your audience. Since they are by default not interested in you anymore (they have heard you to long, and are filtering you out) you need to come up with something clever to do this….

2. Empathize with your constituents.

After you get their attention, you have to show empathy to their needs. Make sure they know and remember you care. That you still are connected to what’s important for them.

3. Remind them of what you did for them.

Now that they are open to your voice, and feel you still care about them, it’s time remind them of why they elected you. And more importantly, what you have done for them since they elected you. Remind them of some of the results you achieved for them.

4. Share your new ideas. Now that you have their ear, it’s time to talk about what’s next on your agenda. About what you need their support for.

The above is basically how you re-elect an incumbent. How you try to get people to listen again.

But we were always skipping steps 1, 2 and 3.  Microsoft was starting at step 4. And we realized that especially for our incumbent business (Windows, Office etc.) we needed to change this.

Here’s how the Windows 7 Campaign tried to follow this new approach:

1. Grab their Attention. The Seinfeld Shoe Store Add:

The main effect was that people talked about this. They mainly discussed that these ads made no sense. But did that really matter? People talked. Microsoft had grabbed the attention.

2. Empathize with your constituents. Jerry and Bill go live with a blue collar family

After people were wondering what the heck these adds were about, chances were the next set of adds would at least get some attention.  These two videos were mainly about showing Microsoft’s connection with real families, the common man. And in the end the comment “Bill, you connected about a Billion people” was the prelude to step # 3:

3. Remind them of what you did for them.

Windows and the PC were a big accelerator of the Internet. And brought it into people’s homes across the globe. The “I’m a PC” campaign was both targeted at reminding people how Windows and the PC brought down the world’s walls and how it has enabled countless new possibilities for all kinds of people across the globe:

And some cool localized versions, longtime before similar adds from Google last year:

Adding some viral “upload your own” campaign components to it added credibility:

4. Share your new ideas.

After these 3 steps Microsoft was now going into “share what’s new” mode with the multimedia Windows 7 launch campaign, with:

–         Print, bill boards, PPC campaigns etc.

–         Launch parties

–         And still a lot of fun videos

Did it all work? Did this drive the right results? This is always hard to measure, but it sure got people wondering and talking.