February 8, 2006
@ 03:16 AM

I've mentioned in the past that Microsoft is generally clueless at branding. One of my worries about the entire MSN/Windows Live rebranding effort is that it is needlessly confusing to end users. It seems a bunch of Microsoft watchers have begun to point this out.

In the blog post entitled Is it Live or MSN? Greg Linden writes

I think there is quite a bit of brand confusion here.

With Microsoft slapping the Live label on everything and its mother and promoting the Windows Live brand as the future of Microsoft's web effort, I'm not sure what happens to the existing MSN properties and well-established MSN brand.

Will MSN Search become Windows Live Search? Will MSN.com redirect to Live.com? If not, will Microsoft try to maintain two brands, Windows Live and MSN? Where is the dividing line? What is the difference? Will users understand that difference?

Back in December 2005, I rashly predicted that "Microsoft will abandon Windows Live." After a bit of a ruckus about that, I elaborated by saying that there is "too much confusion between live.com and msn.com" and that "the MSN brand is too valuable to be diluted with an expensive effort to build up a new Windows Live brand."

Perhaps I am overestimating the value of the MSN brand. Perhaps, at the end of the day, it will be Windows Live that is left standing.

Either way, there can be only one. Few outside of the digerati know about Windows Live right now but, when Microsoft tries to promote this to the mainstream, the brand confusion is going to be severe. Something will have to be done.

In a blog post entitled Warning: Massive upcoming consumer confusion one of the creators of LiveSide writes

Over the last few days I've realised just how bloody the battle of Windows Live vs MSN rebranding is going to be.
Wakeup call #1 was when I tried to explain Windows Live to a regular home user. Thirty minutes later and my progress was minimal to say the least, though they had at least grasped that Windows Live Messenger was infact MSN Messenger with a different name. I hadn't even started on Live Favorites, Live Local, Expo and Live.com. Nor had I mentioned that MSN was still going to exist.
Wakeup call #2 was reading the responses to my post yesterday. Notably this and this. The general consensus seems to be one of confusion. These are technology bloggers, they should be getting Windows Live 3 months on from the original announcement and only a few months short of the first wave of launches. No wonder the marketing and advertising people I've spoken to have been commenting on the massive amounts of money that are being pumped into this transition.
Windows Live Sessions has been a good start in educating the early adopters, however much more needs to be done and quickly too.

I personally think that MSN is a pretty strong brand especially when it came to its communication assets (MSN Spaces, Hotmail and MSN Messenger) and we shouldn't be trying to replace it. On the other hand, I can see the need to reinvigorate the Windows brand especially in a world where "Web 2.0" and "AJAX" are the only buzzwords that seem to get analysts excited. The way I see it, the die is already cast and we now have to stay the course. It will likely be confusing for end users but at the end of the day they'll have a bunch of compelling online services which improve their Web experience. At that point, who really cares what they are named?


Wednesday, February 8, 2006 9:45:50 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Personally I think a compromise will be reached and the branding will be "MSN Live" in an attempt to preserve the value of the MSN brand while re-invigorating it with the Live offerings.
Thursday, February 9, 2006 12:43:14 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Seems like a flashback to the whole slap .NET on everything branding push. In the end they renamed the server line and now there's an obvious dividing line between the server and the framework/languages. Maybe MS is just prepping us for the upcoming Vista-which-version-do-I-need confusion.

Thursday, February 9, 2006 1:23:53 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Why not design Live as a big portal to integrate current services (Hotmail, MSN Spaces and MSN Messenger)? Later, when users will be familiarized, it would be possible to change the brand gradually.
Thursday, February 9, 2006 10:54:08 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Agree it's confusing. If you strip out all the popular software services of MSN, what's really left besides a struggling content play? Plus, if the decent brand equity MSN has managed to built up over the past decade gets wiped out, then MSN itself will have been a total failure (versus just a general business and financial one). Once again, the so-called brain trust of MSFT substitutes money for solid stategy/execution with the net result that billions of shareholders $ have been lost and a mess created. Meanwhile, YHOO and others have invested less and ended up with something successful, growing and accretive. MSFT is fighting too many battles on too many fronts and losing ground on virtually all of them as a result. In this case, they should admit obvious defeat and work out some strategic deal with YHOO whereby MSFT supplies the software/services infrastructure and YHOO supplies the brains/stategy/execution.
Sunday, February 12, 2006 6:02:21 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
This is an interesting discussion that goes far beyond the strategic naming of Microsoft products and services (important as that is). Brands are about delivering value customers can use. If you look at your customer roadmap (that shows Microsoft customers being advanced farther/faster than Google/Yahoo customers), there will be a vertical jump for each new platform introduced. Each one those has to be as intuitively obvious as an elevator pitch--to the customer. If there isn’t that sort of revelation, there’s more work to do.
Monday, February 20, 2006 3:24:41 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
"MSN" is a verb meaning to send an IM using MSN Messenger. You can't mess around with people's verbs. I still "hoover" the carpet.
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