Moving Toward "Openness": Microsoft


Microsoft’s software transformed the world with Bill Gates’ vision of “a PC on every desk.” But over time, the company's aggressiveness and ubiquity provoked fears of monopoly dominance and lock-in. It got so bad that people took to the streets protesting a Microsoft file format.

...[Steve Ballmer’s speech is] a lightning bolt into the very heart of the company... a chance for Microsoft to become once again a leader: a fearsome competitor, a valuable partner, a trusted supplier, and a source of inspiration and market leadership across the industry.
— Information Week, March 2010

Microsoft had a serious reputation issue, and it was growing. The company turned to GQR to help it understand the situation and to partner with them to create a strategy to change the course.

Our research with IT purchasers, technology elites, policy influencers, and government officials showed that by pledging to commit to greater "openness," Microsoft could unlock the latent positive feelings most people hold for Microsoft as a result of its transformative role in society. It was counter-intuitive to take the open source community’s chief complaint about Microsoft – its lack of openness – and make it the center of a new reputation strategy. But the bold insight proved effective. The result was to increase people’s comfort with the company’s market share and decrease anti-Microsoft sentiments.

GQR armed Microsoft with new messages that co-opted the most powerful attacks used by Microsoft’s competitors and critics – “open” as the antidote for “monopoly” – and provided Microsoft a new narrative about the direction of the company that thought leaders, policy influencers, and journalists found novel and compelling. We integrated this message end-to-end across company roles—from wallet cards for salespeople to advertising to speeches by top company executives. The strategy made a measurable impact among the tech media and other key audiences.