One reason Microsoft’s many Internet initiatives have done so poorly over the years is that the company has been unable or unwilling to settle on a simple brand. Windows, Windows Live, Live, Hotmail, MSN, Windows Live Search–Internet users can be forgiven for just giving up and typing “Yahoo” or “Google.”
Thankfully, Microsoft knows this is a problem, and Mary Jo Foley and others expect the company to rebrand its search business in 2009. Unfortunately, it sounds as though Microsoft is just poised to make its usual online branding mistake all over again.
Mary Jo and LiveSide speculate that the new name for Microsoft’s search business will be “Kumo,” which means “cloud” in Japanese. “Kumo” is presumably designed to trigger subliminal cloud-computing connotations. We don’t much care for the name in English, and we don’t think the cloud-computing connotations will help, but there you have it.
The real problem, though, is the rest of what TechCrunch is hearing about Microsoft’s rebranding plans:
Over time, we’ve heard, Live.com will become a pure social network and personal productivity portal. You’ll go there to access email, calendar, photos, activity streams, etc. But search belongs somewhere else, and it definitely needs a fresh start.
Translation: Once again, in the interests of protecting its existing brands (Windows, Office, and, now, “Live”), Microsoft will create yet another online brand, this one to isolate search. Google and Yahoo, of course, long since stopped being just about “search” and have built many of the capabilities Microsoft apparently plans to house on Live.com alongside their search businesses (making them portals). And now Microsoft apparently wants to go the other way, creating another brand in the process.
The issue here isn’t what Microsoft’s new search brand ultimately is. It is Microsoft’s refusal to put all its weight behind a single online brand. Until it finally does so, in our opinion, the market position it holds online will the be same one it has held since 1995: a distant third.
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