CAMPAIGN DIRECT: PROFILE - The Microsoft man in the street who looks to preach to the unconverted/NEIL THOMPSON couldn’t use a PC when he joined, but he oversaw the Office 97 launch

Microserfs, a novel by the American author and cultural commentator, Douglas Coupland, outlines the lives of a group of geeky twentysomethings in California’s Silicon Valley. It’s a surreal world dominated by junk food, computer jargon and mysticism. Much of the action is centred around the bright young things at Bill Gates’ Microsoft empire, the most intense of an intense bunch of researchers and programmers.

Microserfs, a novel by the American author and cultural

commentator, Douglas Coupland, outlines the lives of a group of geeky

twentysomethings in California’s Silicon Valley. It’s a surreal world

dominated by junk food, computer jargon and mysticism. Much of the

action is centred around the bright young things at Bill Gates’

Microsoft empire, the most intense of an intense bunch of researchers

and programmers.



So it comes as some surprise (and, indeed, relief) when Neil Thompson,

Microsoft’s head of customer communications and online marketing in the

UK, admits that he’d lied about being able to use a PC when he joined

six years ago. He quickly learned, but he still reckons he’s one of the

least technical at Microsoft’s Reading offices, a status he regards as

an asset rather than a failing.



After all, his mission is to ’develop a relationship with mass

consumers, as well as the more defined groups such as IT managers and

decision-makers’.



He also believes that Microsoft’s success is largely due to the efforts

made to ’humanise’ its products. ’A lot of investment has gone into

defining how people interact with gadgets and technology,’ he says.



Thompson, a 31-year-old Welshman, is responsible for orchestrating

Microsoft UK’s substantial direct and online marketing drive. After

studying economics with marketing at Loughborough University, he joined

Sea Containers as a graduate trainee and then spent three years working

for the Scandinavian ferry operator, Stena. After six years at

Microsoft, he heads a unit of 17 specialists (there are some 75

marketers in total, but they are affiliated to different sections of the

company).



At his disposal is a multi-million pound communications budget which, he

calculates, accounts for 55-60 per cent of the company’s communications

spend.



’We’re in the business of developing strategies to talk to specific

audiences,’ he explains. To this end, Thompson has pulled together what

he describes as a ’core team’ from the Euro RSCG group, including Evans

Hunt Scott, Mediapolis and Euro RSCG Wnek Gosper. The only

representative from outside the network is Ajaz Ahmed, managing director

of AKQA, the new-media consultancy, who advises on online strategy

’This way we can produce integrated campaigns without losing specific

skills,’ Thompson believes. In practice, there tends to be a lead agency

which sets the tone and strategy.



His contribution to the launch of Microsoft Office 97, ’the

fastest-selling software in the history of the world’, remains one of

his proudest achievements.



A cross-media blitz, it involved the tactical deployment of a press

sponsorship deal with the Daily Telegraph, a barrage of direct mail, PR,

point of sale and the production of a CD-Rom, whose aim, in part, was to

lead consumers to the Microsoft Website where they’d be subject to

further persuasion and inducement. Television advertising was spun off

the below-the-line work.



’We are victims of our own success,’ Thompson says. ’Once they’ve bought

it, people tend to stay with our technology ad infinitum. We had to

persuade them that (Office 97) can move them on and make their lives

easier.’



The other notable campaign he points to is the Microsoft ’Welcome Pack’,

which customers receive when they return their registration forms after

purchasing Microsoft goods. This includes a CD-Rom containing demos,

hints and tips, trial versions of upcoming software, clip art and a

certain amount of cross-selling of other Microsoft products. Most

significantly, though, it also offers discounted rates for Internet

access, and pushes customers to the Microsoft Website. This is a telling

move - Thompson and, indeed, Bill Gates firmly believe the future of

commerce will be online.



’The Microsoft brand is already well known,’ Thompson says. ’The

challenge is to build credible relationships with customers, to

establish a dialogue.’ Does he enjoy such a relationship with Gates?

’I’ve met him, but I doubt he remembers,’ laughs Thompson, who is,

understandably, more concerned that people remember his advertising.



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Digital marketing executives oversee the online marketing strategy for their organisation. They plan and execute digital (including email) marketing campaigns and design, maintain and supply content for the organisation's website(s).