Corporate Eye

Microsoft, Bill Gates, Steve Ballmer, and the Story of a Brand Champion Successor

I’ve written about brand champions on the Corporate Eye blog before. While I think Hugh Hefner of Playboy is the ultimate brand champion, I also believe that Steve Jobs of Apple is an excellent example of a brand champion. You can read some of my thoughts about Steve Jobs as a brand champion in:

I also think that Bill Gates was a great example of a brand champion. His role in Microsoft’s success and his powerful advocacy and guardianship of the brand were two of the reasons Microsoft grew to be one of the most powerful brands in the world. However, when Bill Gates retired from his role as the leader of Microsoft and handed the reins over to Steve Ballmer, a big gaping hole was left open with no one to fill it.

For many reasons, Steve Ballmer is not the brand champion that Bill Gates was. One could argue that his demeanor doesn’t lend itself to the role of brand champion, but as Microsoft’s disappointing results and lackluster product launches over the past few years have shown us, he’s not getting the job done from the numbers side either.

In a recent article on, writer Renee Oricchio asks, “Is a Gates Comeback Inevitable?”  It’s actually a good question. Could a return by the Microsoft brand champion turn the company around? It certainly couldn’t hurt. While it’s unlikely that Gates would return to his prior role at Microsoft (but never say never), Oricchio makes a good point when she writes, “Microsoft is in a malaise. It needs more than a new CEO who looks good on paper with the right background in launching new products, trimming the fat, blah blah blah. There are plenty of folks around with that kind of resume. But, Microsoft needs to be inspired again. It needs to return to its take-no-prisoners swagger. It needs a return to its greatness.”

A strong brand is a focused brand and Microsoft has lost its focus. The company has stalled in the widespread consumer perception of the brand.

I still have hope for Microsoft. I want them to find a true brand champion successor to Bill Gates who can bring the company back to its days as an industry leader with innovative products that make people’s lives better and easier. Consumers want to have that emotional involvement with the Microsoft brand back again, but after years of failing to meet consumers’ expectations for the brand, the company has work to do to rebuild consumer perception, trust, and loyalty.

I think Microsoft can do it. Who will champion the brand? Many experts are calling for Steve Ballmer to be replaced. Let’s hope that his replacement understands what made Microsoft great, and let’s hope shareholders will allow his replacement to take the necessary steps to rebuild the brand.

What do you think? Leave a comment and share your thoughts.

Image: Flickr

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Susan Gunelius is the author of 10 marketing, social media, branding, copywriting, and technology books, and she is President & CEO of KeySplash Creative, Inc., a marketing communications company. She also owns Women on Business, an award-wining blog for business women. She is a featured columnist for and, and her marketing-related articles have appeared on websites such as,,, and more. She has over 20 years of experience in the marketing field having spent the first decade of her career directing marketing programs for some of the largest companies in the world, including divisions of AT&T and HSBC. Today, her clients include large and small companies around the world and household brands like Citigroup, Cox Communications, Intuit, and more. Susan is frequently interviewed about marketing and branding by television, radio, print, and online media organizations, and she speaks about these topics at events around the world. You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or Google+.