The Art and Science of Marketing

Ada Agrait shares her secrets for marketing in the innovative and competitive tech sector and why it takes more than just up-front efforts to succeed

ON MENTORING “I want to provide the chance for [those I mentor] to share experience and ask questions they might not be comfortable asking their boss,” says Ada Agrait, Microsoft’s director of brand advertising, and digital marketing—cloud and enterprise.

Marketing is science and art,” Ada Agrait says. “I’ve always been interested in answering one question: how do I quantify the return on investment (ROI) for my marketing investments to acquire and retain customers?” Today, Agrait answers that question for the number one software company in the world, whose annual sales top $70 billion.

Agrait, Microsoft’s director of brand, advertising, and digital marketing—cloud and enterprise, was born and raised in San Juan and moved to New York City in 1994. There, she completed her MBA at Fordham. Although she had studied public relations, Agrait entered the world of sales and marketing. “I wanted to understand the ROI for businesses’ outbound activities, and combining my PR experience with marketing put me in a great position to manage the entire marketing mix and the customer lifecycle. Suddenly, marketing became really exciting from this perspective,” she explains.

The move put Agrait in the position to land her dream job, and she never hesitated when Microsoft came knocking in 2005. She intended to add the company to her growing résumé and move on, but has decided the gig is too fulfilling to leave. “At each turn I get to do something new,” says Agrait, adding that Microsoft provides internal growth and a chance for an employee to move forward every 24 to 36 months.

In her current position, Agrait runs the outbound marketing function for Microsoft’s server and cloud platforms like Windows Server Systems, Windows Azure, and Microsoft SQL Server. Her team of 12 direct reports and their associates design the brand, advertising, and digital strategies for global marketing. Together, they drive demand for the products and shift perceptions in the marketplace through relationship marketing, with social-media experiences, and by addressing the end-to-end customer lifestyle.

To be effective, Agrait and her team must stay nimble. “Things change so quickly in our world, and the volume of work can seem overwhelming. I challenge those around me to think about how we can get better and continue to reach our customers and prospects,” she says.

A good marketer must know its customer inside-out and be driving towards the company’s business agenda. “We are here to drive the business forward, and all of our investments should have clear goals coupled with the right idea of what success looks like,” Agrait says. She frequently revisits her original question of how to best attract and retain long-term customers. Successful marketing must do more than simply reach a customer once. Advertising can help in early parts of the customer lifecycle, but one needs other elements of the marketing mix to get the customer further into the purchase funnel. “We need to enable the right experiences with customers to not only bring them in, but make them try, adopt, and become loyal customers,” Agrait says. Her marketing mix, therefore, is driven by Microsoft’s overall business goals. Strategies like enhancing digital engines and investing in relationship marketing across all portals, forums, social media, and third-party sites is building a 360-degree view of customers and leading to double-digit growth year after year.

At Microsoft, this marketing strategy is coupled with an inclusive company culture. “We want people who are empowered to be creative, collaborative, nimble, and who embrace and continually test and learn new effective ways to reach customers and love what they do. Because that yields great results,” Agrait says. She employs a “flat” style of leadership designed to diminish bureaucracy and knock down the walls between employees and senior staff. Team members are encouraged to think outside of their basic responsibilities and learn new things each day. Agrait finds herself under constant pressure to deliver and outperform her competitors. As digital and mobile channels continue to evolve, innovation can happen every day. “Things have changed significantly over the last five years,” she says. “We can reach new customers in new ways.”

Microsoft is using video in different ways to generate new content to attract new customers. Pre-roll video ads, which run before on-demand online content, can contain interactive elements. Mobile search is increasingly important, as potential customers searching for something with a smartphone are likely on the go, rapidly searching to make an immediate purchase. Maximizing these potentials helps marketers like Agrait ensure they are actually reaching their target audiences.

Mobile and tech-savvy customers want relevant content on-demand as they navigate their daily lives. “We’re successful if our content and services are available when the user wants to access it,” Agrait explains. Content should be both applicable and timely. An IT professional reading the tech section on an iPad app might get specialized content from Microsoft. The content, specifically catered to the user, comes in many ways from sponsored trending reports, to how-to videos.

One of Agrait’s most successful projects was the Windows Phone 7.5 launch, for which her team built a Facebook demo. Since many users prefer to buy phones at brick-and-mortar stores, Microsoft wanted to showcase in an attractive way to entice online buyers. The Facebook demo let prospective customers get a full view of the phone and its features (mail, people hub, text input, contacts, etc.) without ever going to a physical store. The award-winning project yielded more than three million Facebook demos.

In 2009, Agrait worked on Microsoft’s search engine launch for Bing. The Bing and Decide campaign looked to redefine search and take share from existing competitors. The effort, Agrait says, made MSN’s portal relevant as her team redefined the way Microsoft does search. Now, she’s focused on reinventing the company’s web experience and social-media platforms.

Agrait credits much of her professional success to her working parents and mentors who advised her along the way. Now, she’s paying it forward by mentoring six women at Microsoft. “I want to provide the chance for them to share [their experiences] and ask questions they might not be comfortable asking their boss,” she says. Additionally, she supports company diversity and inclusion programs that add women and minorities to the employee pool and bring value to the business. DigiGirlz, an early high school program, provides an opportunity for young women to interact with Microsoft employees and investigate careers in technology. The opportunities, Agrait says, are endless. She encourages young people to complete their college education, work hard, and ensure their work is delivering business results.

Industry Pulse

How has the image of Latinos changed in your industry? Do you see it evolving?
I think Latinos have become more mainstream in the business community in general. You have Latinos with leading positions across many industries. There are many more role models today.

What is your favorite news source?
New York Times, Wall Street Journal, El Nuevo Día, and MSN.