Rebranding a global beacon of ingenuity and diversity

How deeply-rooted principles and a versatile design system unified one of the most important teams at Microsoft.

INTRODUCTION

When Satya Nadella became CEO of Microsoft in 2014, he brought an entirely new perspective to the company, one that would transform the software giant’s rigid corporate culture into a hotbed of innovation. He called it a “growth mindset” based on a belief that “anything is possible for a company when its culture is about listening, learning and harnessing individual passions and talents to the company’s mission.” So when it came time for Satya’s first all-company meeting, a broadcast to more than 130,000 global employees, he chose to deliver it from the office of a relatively small group that epitomized his growth mindset, the engine of cultural change he envisioned—The Garage.

BACKGROUND

The Garage is Microsoft’s center of carefree, untethered innovation and experimentation—a place where employees and customers alike can collaborate on passion projects. Under Satya’s leadership, what originated in a small lab in Redmond Building 4 has become a global movement with 14 state-of-the-art locations across the globe, and more being added each year. But for an organization with highly autonomous offices around the world, this explosive growth posed obvious risks to brand adherence. Through a globally-minded rebranding effort, we united The Garage’s many locations around collective passion and local community, expressed by a single, dynamic brand identity.

APPROACH

Building consensus

With any rebranding effort, building consensus is important. But with 14 stakeholders spread across four continents, each running a semi-autonomous office, it’s absolutely essential. Leveraging data is critical to gaining alignment, so our engagement began with primary research, including a variety of 1:1 stakeholder interviews. From those conversations, we identified common challenges and opportunities and also learned what makes each instance of The Garage unique.

A brand audit followed, along with strategy workshops to clarify and articulate the purpose and promise of The Garage. That collaborative effort resulted in the creation of a new messaging framework that unified all of the global offices under a single story—one that every stakeholder could rally around.

VERSATILITY

Inclusivity at its core

The Garage rebrand came with a unique mandate: develop a visual identity system that was focused primarily on individual locations, and secondarily on the organization. That’s essentially backward branding, but our strategy and creative teams worked together to devise a novel visual system that provides a cohesive framework for individual expression. Select imagery reflects the local customs and community, but the underlying structure would tie everything together. The result is a rich and versatile visual system—one that celebrates the culture of each global office.

Once the brand identity was complete, it was applied across the organization’s on-site environmental and digital experiences. A custom toolkit was built for every office, each containing templates and a library of images unique to that city and country. Because global stakeholders were included in the process from the beginning, adoption was seamless and immediate.

The Garage is the catalyst of cultural change at Microsoft. It serves as an example of what’s possible when people from varying backgrounds and experiences come together to do good. By building on that foundation of deeply-held beliefs and unchanging principles, we were able to create a brand identity that magnifies the inclusive spirit of this global team.


Let’s move things forward.

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