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Brand Repositioning to Inspire and Refocus your Culture


Dawn Hagen, Senior Leader at Microsoft for Innovation, Culture and Stories, Corporate Communications was the second speaker on Day One of the Strum Executive Innovation Summit.

She talked at length about taking big, complex, purpose-driven ideas and turning them into simple, powerful experiences that delight, inform, change perceptions and inspire action… especially inside large organizations.

Microsoft’s success and reputation ebbed and flowed throughout the years, but in 2012 it was suffering mightily. It had lost its mantle. No longer was it a respected source of innovation and as she pointed out, “industry doesn’t respect history, it respects innovation." Additionally, Internal infighting and competition were creating silos, and in fact, created a very toxic and dysfunctional corporate culture.

In 2014, newly appointed CEO, Satya Nadella, announced a sea change for the behemoth and said that Microsoft must “rediscover our soul”. He began the journey by leading with empathy and humanity. And he executed by repositioning the Microsoft brand to “empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more”.

The culture needed to recapture a growth mindset, become customer-obsessed, needed to be diverse and inclusive… all with the idea to make a difference in people’s lives, and all coming from “one” Microsoft. One organization expressing intellectual humility.

To take this new outward-facing brand of empathy and turn it inside, Dawn and her team relied on a solid framework for success. One built on 4 primary activations: behaviors, systems, symbols and storytelling. Examples of all 4 include:

  • Behaviors – repurposed “company day” and turned it broader, making it a week-long event focused on experiences instead of products

  • Systems – made it about the impact of individual contributions instead of anonymous teams

  • Symbols – Microsoft moved to open-source (unheard of in previous regimes), brought the outside in and established learning events corporate-wide

  • Storytelling – built on inspiration, humanity, empathy… yet grounded in innovation… and all converging at the intersection of branding + analytics

Hagen showed powerful examples of bringing all of this to life, and the evolution of the internal communications and programs that unequivocally connected culture and brand.

The measurement of success? 130,000 employees world-wide now feel connected, accountable and personally responsible to deliver on Microsoft's mission to empower every person and organization on the planet to achieve more. That’s quite the accomplishment.

Her final advice to the group of credit union executives? Tell your stories internally first. Provide radical accessibility for inclusion and integrity. Align your culture and brand around the same principals and ideals before going public to ensure greatest success. And, whenever possible, co-create. Your story (brand) needs to become their story (culture).

— John Mathes, Director of Brand Strategy, Strum