Bob's Gutsy Leadership Blog

Microsoft: Leveraging the Learning from Advertising Research?

When the current CEO of Microsoft took the job in 2014, the company stock price had been floundering for the past 13 years in the $25-$37 range.  He quickly moved into action to focus the company’s future on cloud infrastructure.  The task of getting the employee base and customers on board required constantly delivering the cloud message.  This single-minded focus and constant communication of the cloud direction was critical in the evolution of Office to the cloud service Office 365 and the emergence of Azure, an open, enterprise-grade cloud computing platform.  Today, Microsoft web services are a strong and fast-growing #2 behind Amazon’s web services and Microsoft’s stock price is in the $88 range.

The constant reinforcement of the cloud direction by the Microsoft leader reminds me of a fundamental learning from the world of advertising research.  Specifically, in the advertising business, effective frequency is the number times a person, on average, must be exposed to a message before it is well understood, and remembered, by the recipient.  The topic of effective frequency has been researched thoroughly over the decades, and the conclusion is that on average, you needed a minimum frequency of 3 before you could be assured that the message is beginning to be internalized by the recipient.

Interestingly, discussion of the frequency of exposure to a message emerged in the recent years in the world of management with the publishing of an article in the Harvard Business Review that summarized the results of a multi-year study which analyzed the messages of managers to their people.  The conclusion was that managers who deliberately repeated their messages, often in different forms (email, face-to-face, to a group, written document, etc.), saw a better understanding of the objectives and better and faster results.  Microsoft would be a perfect example of this.

Basically what we are talking about here is communications theory.  The learning from both the advertising world and the business world is clear:

1.) Make the Message Clear and Concise – You should be able to summarize the essence of the message in one lead sentence that is easy to understand and memorable.

2.) Create Opportunities to Repeat It Often – The advertising research is very relevant here.  People need to hear the same message over and over.  They soon will realize you mean it and importantly, they know what you expect them to help bring about.

3.) Create Measures that Accurately Reflect Progress Toward the Goal Communicated in the Message – The measurement results need to be published regularly so people know where they stand.  This also reinforces the message.

Getting the organization to march to one drummer is important, and the concept of effective frequency is worth remembering!

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