Windows Live Brand Confusion

I find the recent branding work by Microsoft interesting… especially as they seem to be falling — yet again — into the same issues I document in my book about Microsoft and what’s next. For starters, as Todd Bishop notes in his Microsoft Blog (available at Seattle PI Tech section), the company can’t make up its mind if it is going to promote MSN, Windows Live or Microsoft Live — and as the users comment note, no one can quite figure out the difference between these different services — even employees themselves!

Secondly, and less important, Microsoft hasn’t yet figured out what Apple knew years ago — that using one consistent naming convention, and one consistent metaphor — communicates better than any particular concept or even the depth or usefulness of the product. In a particularly apt example, Apple promoted and used its Sherlock Search facility for years as a core component of their desktop feature set. This promotion took place even though the feature wasn’t actually very good at all (and has since been replaced by Spotlight in OS X. However, the key point being CONSISTENCY. Um, and Microsoft — Sherlock was a core component of Apple’s OS… and you might not want to remind folks of that other, competing operating platform. Just a thought.

Here’s a further excerpt from Todd Bishop’s Blog:

The identities of Microsoft’s two online brands, MSN and Windows Live, have been a subject of confusion since the company launched the latter a few years ago. So it was interesting — and a bit perplexing — to see these billboards show up in Seattle recently.

Here’s why: Microsoft has positioned MSN as a destination for “programmed content,” such as the MSN.com portal, MSN Video and MSN Games. Windows Live, on the other hand, has been designated as a place for communications (Hotmail, Messenger), user-generated content (Spaces), and information retrieval/question answering (Live Search).

At first glance, the messages on these billboards seem more about retrieving information or answering questions: “Sherlock had Watson. You have us,” reads one, south of downtown Seattle. Of course, that puts the consumer in the role of the famous fictional detective, digging for clues … and MSN in the role of the not-nearly-as-sharp sidekick.

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