Microsoft IT Inspires Employee Software Adoption Using Marketing Principles

Business Case Study

Published March 2013

The following content may no longer reflect Microsoft’s current position or infrastructure. This content should be viewed as reference documentation only, to inform IT business decisions within your own company or organization.

Microsoft continually deploys new software products, often in rapid succession, and employees may face competing demands. To improve adoption, Microsoft IT dedicated resources, refreshed its visual identity, and enhanced change management using marketing and communications principles.


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Customer Profile




Microsoft Corporation, the worldwide leader in developing software, employs more than 90,000 people worldwide and collaborates with more than 50,000 partners. Microsoft IT develops and deploys new software frequently, typically releasing several products annually.


Because of the nature of Microsoft's business, employees and partners frequently must adopt new software, from products designed for an external marketplace to internal line-of-business solutions. End users may be challenged by competing demands when multiple deployments occur simultaneously or in close succession.

Microsoft IT constantly innovates in how it engages end users during product development and deployment. Recently, Microsoft IT began substantially revamping its approach to improve end-users' experiences with Microsoft IT, better promote adoption, and modernize how it reaches its employees.

To promote software adoption, Microsoft rebranded and modernized Microsoft IT by building a dedicated marketing and communications system that employs principles Microsoft uses in its external marketing activities. This approach proved successful in the deployment of Windows 8.

  • Increased end-user satisfaction with Microsoft IT.
  • Streamlined, engaging, effective communications.
  • Improved adoption rates and timeliness.


The rate at which Microsoft Information Technology (IT) develops new products, coupled with the commitment at Microsoft to maintaining market leadership in delivering innovative software for business and personal use, make for a vibrant, dynamic workplace environment. Microsoft IT continually evolves its approach to engaging employees and partners in ongoing software development and deployment activities, but with this fast pace and constant change, end users sometimes feel overwhelmed with competing demands for their time and attention.

As technology lifecycles shorten and Microsoft IT expands into services and devices, the corporation, like many large enterprises, faces distinct challenges. It must promote and support timely software adoption internally in a fast-paced environment that finds employees already extremely busy meeting their daily responsibilities. End users also may be daunted by the constant flow of new information they receive on a daily basis, not just from Microsoft IT but also from colleagues involved in their core work and projects. This atmosphere of chronic time constraint can be especially challenging during product development and the testing, or the "dogfood" phase, as it is called at Microsoft, when end-user adoption and input are crucial.

At one end of the spectrum, Microsoft benefits significantly from its inherent ability to attract and retain individuals who are excited about and eager to help develop and pilot new technology. These employees willingly position themselves on the front end of the change curve. Like most enterprise organizations, however, Microsoft also has an extremely diverse workforce—one that includes employees and end users who may be less willing to adapt their work practices to accommodate and adopt new products or business solutions. Microsoft IT continuously strives to address this broad range of stakeholders effectively, and the company has evolved its practices to meet this ongoing objective.

End-user Centricity Focus

"We have the same audience profile as in many other companies—the super-excited people who are always eager to try the next new product; those who are interested, but will become excited if you nudge them; and those who say ‘I don't want to touch this thing,'" observes Justin Nelson, Senior Product Manager and Product Marketing Manager at Microsoft. "The challenge is to create a strategy to engage each of these audiences—and that is not a one-size-fits-all proposition."

In recent years, Microsoft IT has experienced particular challenges to broad-scale, timely software adoption. Employees have expressed frustration with frequent IT communications whose senders, messages, or calls to action are not always clear or timely. This situation, exacerbated by the lack of a cohesive change-management strategy, in some cases has led to below-optimal technology-adoption rates, and lower than hoped for employee satisfaction with Microsoft IT. The IT organization recognized that the tenor and structure of communications did not necessarily reflect its innovative and cutting-edge products.

"It was a bit of a Wild West model, and there was little consistency in the messaging," Nelson recalls. In addition, Microsoft IT wanted to tap its inherent resources more effectively, because that division houses and manages many of the channels that can be used to market products internally. Microsoft IT also has struggled with finding effective ways to motivate deployment managers to promote adoption through timely marketing efforts and communications, and with equipping IT site managers with the resources to prepare end users adequately for adopting new software.

Recognition of these challenges and shortcomings prompted Microsoft IT to launch a broad-scale initiative to revitalize its image and communications, increase participation during the dogfood phases, and promote wider software adoption throughout product lifecycles. These initiatives are well underway, and constantly evolve to accommodate both internal business custom solutions as well as new products destined for the marketplace.

"How do you get the attention of 140,000 people so that the conversation around IT adoption becomes like a natural act to them? To do that, you have to recognize how you want to show up—what is your brand, and what types of conversations do you want to embrace with the user? You have to integrate your natural evangelists and make them part of your communications plan."

Justin Nelson
Senior Product Manager
Microsoft Corporation


Microsoft recently embarked on a comprehensive and centralized team approach to revitalize Microsoft IT, with the objectives of building greater trust and credibility, and improving software adoption and proactively engaging end users. That initiative included bringing in senior marketing professionals, developing a broad array of marketing and communications materials and templates, and creating a new visual identity for Microsoft IT. Three key goals drove the design of these new resources: ensuring consistency in message and images, providing a gratifying and exciting user experience, and enabling users and deployment managers to customize the templates and communications materials to meet their needs.

Microsoft IT templates are available in formats ranging from simple emails to newsletters and marketing posters. In this ongoing process, the organization continues to enhance the adoption of self-service resources for IT site leaders and end users throughout the enterprise. Microsoft IT is also strengthening its adoption-readiness assessment and its change-management support.

Employing the same sophisticated marketing and communications principles internally that Microsoft uses to promote its products to the external market is core to the initiative to revitalize Microsoft IT. "Our goal is to approach marketing and communications holistically, coherently, and consistently, as a first step, not last-mile effort," Nelson explains. "The benefit of this, whether it's in the products and services space or internal line-of-business applications, is that you are using the same principles of marketing and audience management to drive change as effectively and rapidly as possible. That means that whatever you do must be user centric." In the past, Nelson explains, the message in the pre-deployment period was generally: Here is a summary of the new service, according to the service manager. Now, he notes, the tone is: Here is a summary of the new service for you, the customer.

"That was a significant shift that we had to go through at Microsoft," Nelson says. "Because what we understood was that we really have to align our IT brand with our company brand. We also evolved our strategy because we were not just trying to find a new way to push adoption; we were developing a new way to drive a change in behavior."

End users expect to access productivity guides and a wide range of other support documents available on ITWeb, Nelson explains, and already use these self-service resources intensely. ITWeb houses the robust resources of Microsoft IT, including the recently developed marketing materials, and hosts a dynamic communication forum. ITWeb is a single repository of all productivity-related information from Microsoft IT, and it is the second most visited internal portal within Microsoft after MSWeb, the company's internal digital newspaper.

Despite the effectiveness of ITWeb, Microsoft IT is working to fine-tune this existing balance by facilitating end users' more proactive engagement with technologies and products during the development and adoption phases. The new marketing and communications strategy is helping to achieve that objective. "We are trying to get employees and end users to own some element of the last mile, and that is happening now," Nelson says.

Figure 1. Windows 8 portal page on Microsoft ITWeb
Figure 1. Windows 8 portal page on Microsoft ITWeb

Windows 8: Brave New World

Although Microsoft used this scaled-up marketing approach internally in several recent product releases, it took on a completely new dimension with the 2012 move from the Microsoft Windows 7 operating system to the Windows 8 operating system for two reasons. The new operating system is markedly different from its predecessor in how it works, how it looks, and how users interact with the product. For example, Windows 8 uses touch and tiles. In addition, access to several popular features that were familiar to users of previous Windows operating systems changed substantially with Windows 8.

This new product direction put additional pressure on the team during the testing phase, to ensure broad end-user involvement in product development, testing, and adoption. To facilitate this objective, the Windows 8 internal marketing and communications team developed an array of new materials to create excitement about the new product. Among the materials and efforts that helped spur interest in Windows 8 were:

  • Eye-catching dogfood participation invitations.
  • T-shirt giveaways and contests.
  • A well-planned email cascade campaign that became increasingly image focused as the project continued.
  • Sophisticated Windows 8 self-service resources to both support site IT managers in their efforts to engage employees and, ultimately, to facilitate faster adoption by end users.
  • A joint promotion with the computer manufacturer Lenovo.

The team also developed a way to engage employees across the 112 countries in which Microsoft operates, using the Windows 8 Installation Fair Kit. This kit enabled IT managers in international sites to gather their employees, laptops in hand, at a central site to install the new operating system in groups. Sixty-four percent of IT site managers used the kits, and 85% of those who used them deemed the kits useful.

Microsoft IT Work Smart Guides, a longstanding and highly valued internal resource provided for all new Microsoft products and product upgrades at the time of launch, were especially helpful in boosting Windows 8 adoption (see Resources). Based in part on the Work Smart Guides' popularity and high internal usage, Microsoft IT has begun adapting some of the guides for external use.

The most effective tools—those most requested in the field—were the marketing and instructional videos that the team developed, according to Diana McCarty, Senior Marketing Communication Manager for Microsoft. "We did a major focus on video for Windows 8, and the videos were a highlight of the program. They were very well received," she says. Most earned very high ratings from users, from 3.5 to 5 stars on a 5-point system, McCarty noted.

These videos typically featured either key Microsoft IT personnel or Microsoft executives touting the evolving product and encouraging participation in dogfood phases. Later in the campaign, an avatar hosted an Xbox LIVE teleconference focused on drumming up interest in the new operating system. "We had fun with it. It wasn't just a heavy, draconian ‘you must go do this' message," recalls Robert Van Winkle, the Principal Project Manager who led the Windows 8 deployment. "It was new content and a new, modern approach, which really helped adoption."

Because participation in the Windows 8 dogfood phase was voluntary, and because the product was extremely high profile for Microsoft, the messaging had to be especially compelling and targeted, Van Winkle explains. The tenor of that call to action was this: Be the first and best to drive product quality, and help us validate some areas, and address product issues early on. "We took the messaging approach that early adoption is the right thing to do," he says. "And in that approach, marketing and IT and the Product Group came together in harmony for a great user experience."

Other videos provided hands-on guidance for prospective end users. The campaign's flagship video for product adoption and marketing purposes was the IT Easy Installer video. This colorful, tightly composed video walked end users through a Windows 8 installation using a simple click-through experience, and even enabled them to move their individual data in the same operation, rather than in a separate one. "You can't just say, ‘We have this great new tool.' You have to show them. This video allowed us to easily show the users that anyone can do it," McCarty says. "It was the most watched video we put out."

Numbers Underscore Effectiveness

The marketing messages were also visually compelling within the written communications. The focus, McCarty explains, was on concise communication, supported by fresh images, delivered in frequent succession, to maintain momentum.  The new style is brief, friendly, and modern, a sharp contrast to the adoption messaging used in the past, which was copy intensive and "official" sounding. Over the lifecycle of the Windows 8 campaign, promotions and reminders became increasingly brief, and were more often images with very little accompanying copy.

The marketing team also leveraged managers throughout the company to push the adoption message locally with Windows 8, McCarty notes, in a strategy that has been successful in other deployments. With Windows 8 and other recent deployments, the marketing team has intensified this effort by providing more easily customizable communications. This approach is now a part of all product deployments.

"We really used our site managers to promote and push the messaging. Instead of it being an email blast from corporate, we put together emails for site managers to disseminate," McCarty says. "It gives more credence, and we got much better reception."

Figure 2. Sample Windows 8 adoption request developed by the dedicated marketing-communications team
Figure 2. Sample Windows 8 adoption request developed by the dedicated marketing-communications team

To measure awareness, the Windows 8 marketing team created unique campaign identifiers and a mechanism for tracking click-throughs to new-product and program web pages or adoption resources. The team also prepared a simple transactional survey to gauge the communications' usefulness. That survey asks respondents to indicate "yes" or "no" when asked if the communication is helpful. New custom program email signatures, including My Order Business Intelligence (Mobi) tags, also enabled Microsoft IT to measure the traffic to Windows 8 dedicated ITWeb pages and resources.

In addition to the improvements to the user-adoption experience that the Windows 8 virtual team accomplished, this multifaceted approach to adoption is clearly having an impact. With Windows 8, the adoption rate significantly exceeded expectations, Van Winkle reports. Actual end-user adoption rates handily topped the goals set for the February 2012 consumer preview, the May release preview, and August release to manufacturing of 26,000, 46,000, and 56,000, respectively. By March 2013, 80% of all Microsoft employees had adopted Windows 8. Expectations are for the remaining employees to adopt rapidly with the issue of new laptops for all Microsoft employees.

These figures from Windows 8 post-launch marketing report show the effectiveness of the new marketing and communications tools:

  • 499,937 ITWeb page views. This represents 20% of all ITWeb traffic during the Windows 8 deployment period.
  • 166,407 ITWeb page views directly from campaign emails.
  • 5,381 Video views and overall 3.5- to 5-star ratings.
  • 18,490 ITWeb page views from online promotions.
  • 13,925 ITWeb page views from Product Marketing Group channels or advertisements.
  • 10,658 Work Smart Guide downloads.
  • 88% Positive sentiment for adoption-campaign communications and emails.

Optimizing Line-of-Business Technology Readiness and Adoption

Microsoft IT now uses the same robust marketing and communications approach to increase adoption of the line-of-business software and applications the company is developing. Adoption programs and targeted communications are under development for use in a handful of the major business-transformation initiatives currently underway, as well as in transaction-platform improvements.

Whether the audience is three power users or 30,000 employees, statements and guidance for internal software and applications under development are being tightly targeted to discrete end-user groups. This realignment of messaging is similar to the retargeting of external product messages. Looking at the tools employees are using and the business processes the tools support should play a key role in the design of the marketing strategy for the new program. "The marketing platform and messages, ultimately, must be tailored to reflect the state of the state, following an in-depth assessment of employees' readiness to adopt the new software, application, or program," explains Dave Whiteside, Senior Readiness Project Manager.

That assessment process is a comprehensive undertaking, and it is an activity whose findings ultimately drive the communications to various stakeholder groups. "We look at two things—understanding where the end users are and where they need to be," says Ann Jas, Learning and Readiness Manager at Microsoft. Microsoft IT then modifies the change management approach given the competitive environment for people's time and attention. "The challenge is this: How do we get them there, reduce time to competency, and get employees as productive as possible, as quickly as possible—the universal goal of any readiness organization," she says. In promoting adoption, Microsoft often modifies the messaging for certain stakeholder groups when it is aware that those employees or partners are or will be affected by two overlapping programs.

"You have to keep in mind, whenever you're planning to deploy new programs, that you're always an adjunct to the employees' or end users' core job—and then adjust the messaging accordingly," Jas says.

As a testament to the important role dedicated marketing and communications will continue to play in how Microsoft IT and the corporation as a whole design deployment and support adoption of new software or applications, each program is now afforded a defined budget for both marketing and communication support. In the past, the approach was generally centralized across the organization rather than tailored to meet individual departments' or business units' needs. In addition, each deployment initiative now has an accountability chain and designated responsible manager for the caliber, reach, and effectiveness of marketing efforts tied to the program. 

To improve communications throughout development and deployment, the Microsoft Application and Program Readiness team is introducing a new way to conduct product review cycles with stakeholders. Currently, reviews take place in a variety of disparate and sometimes inefficient ways, including emailing documents and sharing links. These exchanges bloat employees' inboxes and tax the company's servers by virtue of the repeating nature of the communications, and sometimes cause valuable feedback and intellectual property to get lost in the flow. Now, content reviews are being directed in a more centralized, collaborative, and digital "lite" way through SharePoint Online Communities.

"This enables us to not only capture and share every remark and idea for improvement, we can also curate, index, tag, and optimize feedback and content to leverage on future projects," Whiteside says. "It also drives friendly competition through platform recognition and reputation building, so it makes the experience more compelling and fun for our core team." The expectation is that this evolving approach will decrease mail by 25% and review cycles by 50% over time, Whiteside noted.

Finally, as part of this overall evolution within Microsoft and Microsoft IT, the very definition of deployment success is changing. Rather than having a metric that is based solely on whether the initial deployment schedule was met and the target end-user adoption numbers achieved, the actually quality of the experience is now the endpoint. "Success is being defined by the user experience, not just in the end product but also in how we got them there," says Jas.


Microsoft IT has reaped numerous benefits since it substantially changed the way it markets and communicates internally about its new software or technologies, whether those products are for external users, internal users, or both. These benefits, to date, have included the following:

  • Net scores on satisfaction with Microsoft IT among employees and partners have improved significantly—increasing 10% from fiscal year 2011 to fiscal year 2012; net satisfaction with IT communications improved as well, increasing 8% from 2011 to 2012.
  • The new templates and marketing materials are both popular and heavily used because they are readily available, scalable, and customizable.
  • Software adoption rates and time to adoption are improving steadily, as is participation in the dogfood development cycle for new products. As an example, fully 80% of Microsoft end users had adopted Windows 8 within the first six months of the deployment initiative.

Best Practices

  • Assess end users' readiness to adopt the new software, and adjust the deployment schedule and related marketing and communications accordingly.
  • To support large-scale software deployments, establish a dedicated marketing and communications team as a stakeholder early, not late, to promote the initiative, drive and maintain interest, and increase adoption.
  • Consider using the same marketing and communication strategies internally that the organization uses externally, and brand the initiative to give it an individual identity yet align it with the larger corporate brand.
  • Allocate an appropriate budget to the marketing and communications effort for the deployment. These efforts are a vital component of the project that can boost both adoption and overall long-term return on investment.
  • Plan the communication stream and elements well in advance of the deployment to drive interest, report progress, and share successes. Maintain regular email communication that keeps people tuned in; if the drumbeat dissipates, people may tune out.
  • Tap into existing communication vehicles or mechanisms to save on resources and potentially increase visibility. Identify any gaps in communication and fill them.
  • Create a stakeholder map to show the various groups affected by the deployment. Work through these groups methodically to identify the important individuals, teams, and organizations that need information. Then, determine the appropriate communication frequency and level of detail for the deployment.
  • If there are known issues with the software, be transparent about them and let users know which solutions are in the works as well as the timeframe for putting them in place.
  • Avoid communicating too soon, before there is something compelling to offer or too early to maintain momentum. False starts hurt credibility and can negatively affect adoption in the long run.


Microsoft IT Work Smart Guides

Related videos:

Products & Technologies

  • Windows 8

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