Following their acquisition of Nokia’s mobile device business in 2014, Microsoft became a leading player in the telecoms market overnight.  In 2015 they sold 164 million handsets generating a revenue of $7.5 billion.

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The challenge

Microsoft’s acquisition of Nokia had given them a strong beachhead into the mobile device market.  But this was just the beginning.  Microsoft saw great potential on the horizon in three segments – high-end device buyers, value phone buyers and business buyers.  The latter segment was a particularly exciting opportunity as Microsoft’s software offering meant it could offer a seamless experience across the Windows eco-system.

However, despite their heritage elsewhere, Microsoft had only been in the mobile market for a short time.  As such, they knew that they needed to invest in building their brand if they were to capitalise on this opportunity and had invested in a marketing campaign to do so.  Here enters Circle.  Our brief was to:

  • Establish brand perceptions amongst business buyers
  • Monitor any change in brand perceptions over time
  • Quantify the impact of marketing activity

On the basis of these insights, our role was then to make recommendations concerning where to focus activity in order to strengthen the brand.

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Our approach

The need to reliably monitor brand perceptions and make important strategic decisions on the back of this information meant that gathering hard numbers was critical.  So we embarked on a programme of research which would canvass the opinion of 2,400 device buyers in businesses across Europe through a quarterly online survey.

At the core of this survey were a series of direct questions designed to build a comprehensive understanding of brand performance, identify any areas for focus and generate a set of brand KPIs.  These metrics provided valuable guidance in their own right and also revealed the impact of marketing activity when performance amongst those exposed to the campaign was compared with those not exposed.

To provide a richer understanding of brand perceptions we complemented these core metrics with two further sources of insight.

A brand only has value if it increases consideration and purchase intent.  Furthermore, when asked about which brand attributes will cause this positive outcome, buyers have a tendency to over-rationalise and may lack insight into the true reasons for their behaviour.  So to look deeper we used Regression Analysis to identify mathematical correlations between outcomes (consideration and purchase intent) and a brand being associated with particular attributes.  The strength of correlation reveals the relative power of each attribute in driving supplier choice and therefore where greatest emphasis should be placed in the brand positioning.

We were also conscious that a ‘brand dominance’ effect often emerges when exploring perceptions.  This effect causes well-known brands to be more frequently associated with all brand attributes simply by virtue of their higher profile.  As a result it becomes hard to identify those attributes which most closely define the brand.  To account for this effect we used Correspondence Analysis to identify the level of association a brand would be expected to have with each attribute (mathematically speaking) and the score it actually received.  The level of deviance between these two measures reveals the small number of attributes which most closely define a brand.

The outcome

The research has been invaluable in managing Microsoft’s brand journey.  For example, it has identified that:

  • There is one key competitor for the mental space which Microsoft is seeking to own. Armed with this knowledge, Microsoft is better able to differentiate their brand
  • A small number of the brand attributes which make up Microsoft’s overall positioning are especially important in creating purchase intent. This knowledge allows Microsoft to emphasise these key points in their marcomms
  • The marketing campaign was strengthening the brand and some activities were moving the needle more than others. This knowledge has allowed Microsoft to maximise their marketing ROI

Microsoft has only been in the mobile market for a short time, but the early signs are that their careful brand management is having an impact with both brand awareness and consideration rising.

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