Talking B2B Tech with the CMO of Microsoft Germany
The CMO of Microsoft Germany has a lifelong passion for brands – and for the attention to detail and collaboration involved in building them.
06 Minute Read
- Started out in Marketing in 1998, as junior product manager for Camel cigarettes
- Joined Nokia in 2006, winning the brand’s Global Marketing Award and spending eight years in marketing leadership roles
- Moved to Microsoft as Marketing Director in 2014, becoming CMO Germany in 2016
- Has worked in Finland, Germany, The Czech Republic, and the UK
Plenty of children get excited about buying sweets or playing with toy cars. However, far fewer grow up appreciating just how important the brands behind those products are to them. Martin Grosse was different. Microsoft's Chief Marketing Officer Germany has an enthusiasm for the value of brands to their customers that shines through in any conversation. And it's a passion that started very young indeed.
"Before I even knew what 'brand' meant, I remember being aware of all the brands around me," he says. "Chewing gum brands, sweets, ice cream, the little chocolate eggs with toys inside, matchbox cars. Brands had me from the moment I was born – and even at five or six years old, I remember being aware of all the care and detail involved. For me, it was never just milk and sugar. It was always Ferrero, Nestlé and everything that made them what they were."
It's a sense of curiosity that's remained with Grosse throughout a 22-year marketing career, taking in some of the world's biggest consumer brands – and roles in Helsinki and London as well as Germany. And it ensures that, wherever he is, a trip to the supermarket gets his marketing instincts firing.
"I loved living in London – and Sainsbury's always felt like an exotic place to me," he says with a smile. "I loved walking down the aisle and looking at beer brands that you would never imagine in a supermarket in Germany: a Thirsty Ferret or a Bishop's Finger or an Old Speckled Hen. Wherever you are, within Europe or even within Germany, you find these differences – in humour, in personality, in what matters to people. It's exciting."
Building the Microsoft brand, one experience at a time
How brands are constructed in the minds of customers – and how this can vary from country to country – continues to motivate Grosse. His focus is less on the details of branding on a bottle of British beer or the wrapping on a bar of Italian chocolate. What matters are the details of customer experience that bring to life Microsoft's brand purpose: "to empower each person and every organisation on the planet to achieve more."
"The Microsoft brand isn't focused on ourselves – our dream isn't to be sexy or cool," says Grosse. "When you hear Satya Nadella talk about the brand mission, it's all about customer success. That's the opportunity. Every time we increase trust among customers and consumers, every good experience we deliver, every good solution we apply and every bit of success that people gain – that's what builds the brand."
Grosse's role, and those of fellow country CMOs such as Sébastien Imbert in France, testifies to Microsoft's recognition that these customer experiences must be delivered locally. They respond to local cues and local market context in the same way as the products cramming onto supermarket shelves.
"Some customers are very, very local in Germany – and they deal with very local problems," says Grosse. "You need a local flavour of insights, local connections and local understanding to run the show. The public sector is a great example. Germany's federal school system is very different from most other countries – and that creates a very different context."
The power of AI in modern marketing
When marketing Microsoft though, such local expertise never stands alone. It's backed by a global brand – and a global investment in marketing technology that is transforming how CMOs like Grosse can leverage that brand.
"Some things make sense if you do them once and do them centrally," he says. "You don't create big brand campaigns 150 times over in 150 different countries. The same applies to logistics and background technology – and the Artificial Intelligence (AI) systems that we use."
Those AI systems have become a defining feature of Microsoft's approach to demand generation. Built on its own technology, they provide Grosse and his fellow Microsoft CMOs' with a whole new canvas for designing customer experiences. It's what Microsoft calls 'modern marketing': digital, AI-enabled and fully personalised, with each audience member's customer journey adjusting based on intelligent analysis of their engagement.
"We're able to connect events, website touchpoints and other forms of digital engagement through a bit of AI that helps you, as a customer, avoid irrelevant information and experiences," says Grosse. "We can assess where you are mentally and suggest the next step. Suppose you've read this email and this eBook and scrolled down to this point in this article. In that case, you'd probably appreciate an exclusive seat at a webinar – but we need to know about that initial engagement before we know that it's the right moment to invite you."
Marketing that reaches the parts a search engine can't
It's a system designed for a changing tech buying journey. Buyers are actively seeking information on their terms – and brands earn engagement by providing a value and relevance that their prospects can't find for themselves.
"If you type in a search term like cybersecurity, you'll get tons of data – but the question is whether that data is relevant for your company," says Grosse. "If we can manage to put relevant information in front of you and then move you to the next relevant piece, then the chances are good that we'll keep your attention. Things go wrong when marketing tries to set the speed at which this happens. The customer needs to set the speed – and we need to find clever, digital ways to enable that to happen."
Multiplying the value of each interaction to customers also multiplies the value for sales – and makes that value more visible to the organisation.
"Proving ROI is never easy, but when more of your marketing is digital, it's a lot easier than it was," says Grosse. "The data on marketing is there, and you know so much more about the impact that you're having. When it comes to leads, it's no longer a question of just handing them over, and they are all treated the same. As a marketer, I can lead someone through the funnel to a certain point of engagement. I can tell you which products are of interest to a certain person at a certain customer account. When you hand all of that over, it's a lot easier to close a deal."
Tech marketing in a consumption economy
Microsoft isn't just building a more granular view of the consideration journey. It's also rethinking the scope of that journey. Grosse argues that tech buying no longer stops and starts, with prospects slipping out of the market after purchase before becoming in-market prospects again at renewal time. His vision is of a never-ending process that customers are engaged in whenever they decide whether to use a product.
"In a consumption-based economy, the after-purchase is the pre-purchase – it all blurs," he says. "Game passes with monthly fees have changed the way that we market video games, for example, so you're no longer thinking around big release dates as an opportunity to put games in people's hands. It's the same with Azure or Microsoft Teams or any of our cloud-based services. People only buy what they consume."
All of which repositions customer acquisition as the start of the marketing process rather than its objective. "With new, first-time customers, it has to be about lowering barriers, ease of trial, and arguments that can apply to a broader set of people," says Grosse. "However, once they try the product, we can't relax – we have to keep up consumption. That's an entirely different and less marketing-led world. It's about what we can deliver in combination with our service, technology and product teams."
Marketing as a partnership play
As Grosse sees it, the most important work that tech marketers do is in partnership with the rest of the organisation. A clearer view of tech buying through data and AI may make the value of those partnerships more apparent – but the truth of the matter is, they've always been essential to what marketing is and what it can create. "Good connections to product, sales and engineering are mandatory," says Grosse. "Why would you know everything that you do as marketers and then hand responsibility over to the next department? It's always been a partnership."
Interested in hearing from other tech marketing leaders, including the CMO of Microsoft France? Check out the Tech CMO Corner from LinkedIn.
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