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"Understand what's happening with your audience"

Skype's Elisa Steele explains her vision for integrated marketing and what it makes to be part of Microsoft's big plans.

Holmes Report

Skype CMO Elisa Steele joined the company last year at a pivotal point. While its VoIP technology has become so ubiquitous that, in some circles, 'Skyping' is a verb -- the company itself has undergone tremendous change. After being founded 10 years ago, Skype's ownership has skated between eBay, investors, and finally, as of 2011 Microsoft.

Amid Microsoft settling into its new buy last summer, Steele took over as CMO. Earlier this year she brought along her longtime deputy Eric Brown as GM of integrated communications, filling a vacancy left by Brian O'Shaughnessy. Brown worked with Steele previously at NetApp and Yahoo.  

Skype's marketing challenge is now preserving its popular brand as it cements its identity as a Microsoft division.  

O'Shaughnessy was head of communications but Brown is head of integrated communications. What’s the significance of this nuance?

In all of my experiences since Sun and NetApp, marketing and communications have been integrated into one organization. They are like hand and glove. When I got to Skype, I looked around at communications and marketing to see how we could have them work together.

How do you implement this?

It all starts with insights and deeply understanding what is happening with our audiences, from the media to all of the people who use our products. We have multiple audiences: consumers, enterprises and brand partners. All of marketing --  integrated communications, web properties, social and CRM --  supports these.

Once we have our insights, our product marketing team works with our product innovation team on to pull together an annual plan. From there, people like [Eric Brown and Angie Hill, senior director of audience marketing] work with product marketing and the head of Skype.com on how will they use the channels they own to execute on an integrated marketing plan.

So, what holds an integrated marketing plan together?

Knowing our users and knowing our audience. We spend a lot of time delving into this and learning what they like about us. 

Who should lead integrated teams?

Someone who understands the big picture, someone who knows business. I don’t have a preference on their background, in a communications versus marketing sense. But they should have a sales or customer-centric view and have driven revenue.

Skype has some longstanding agency relationships, for instance, Kaplow PR since its earliest days. How do you get your agencies onboard for this approach? Who comes up with the big ideas?

We work with a number of agencies across the globe because it’s important to be local and culturally relevant. It’s really about augmenting talent, so we have communications agencies and marketing agencies all part of the infrastructure to create an integrated ecosystem.

The big ideas can come from anywhere: agency, partner, employees, engineers, anywhere. And what's cool about taking an insights-driven approach, is a lot of our big ideas come from our insights. At the end of the day, if we see a great idea, it usually ends up getting funded.

Skype’s story is an emotional one, whether it’s families connecting while being apart or stories of employees getting hired or fired via Skype. How do you continue to own these stories with competitors like Google and Apple making inroads?

I’ve heard so many personal stories of how much people love Skype and have realized Skype should be all about storytelling. Now that’s become a business goal. We need to be, as marketing organizations, great storytellers. I start every staff meeting by telling stories about current event uses of Skype or [Microsoft's enterprise messaging platform] Lync. We don’t just share these internally, but also externally on our social channels, through media and events. 

What are the opportunities/challenges of being a sub-brand to Microsoft?

Microsoft is one of the best known companies in the world and adding Skype to the portfolio is a huge opportunity. It’s been over a year since the acquisition so we’ve been able to integrate Skype to many key consumer experiences from Microsoft – offering communications solutions that are broader and deeper for our users. The challenge is always to prioritize the right opportunities at the right time because there are so many of them.

What are your lessons learned from Yahoo and NetApp that you're applying to Skype?

I loved working at both NetApp and Yahoo. It’s the unique combination of both enterprise and consumer experience that is great to have for the new organization at Skype – which spans both globally.

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