Way back last February, when Microsoft first made a public offer to buy Yahoo!, part of what they were after was the brand. Microsoft executives have been almost happy to point out that they have a brand problem, especially, according to them, with Live Search. At the time, rolling the two search products into one under the Yahoo! brand looked like the way forward.
Jerry Yang put a stop to that, which may have been the best thing to happen to Microsoft all of last year. However, those pesky search share numbers have continued to go nowhere fast, with Live Search losing grip on what little share it has. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer hints at every chance he can that he’s ready to do a search deal with Yahoo!.
But to fix the branding, why not just promote Live Search? Some good hard pushing marketing (ok, and some serious work on core relevance) is what’s needed, but that could be accomplished just as easily by pushing Live Search as it could by pushing Kumo, or some other name. If anything, this quasi-leaking of Kumo, at least in the short term, is just confusing the branding even more.
But then as I was looking at the Kumo home page screenshot we came across the other day, it hit me. Live Search is an ok name as long as it’s a Microsoft property. You’ve got the Windows Live connection, you’ve got the Windows Logo, you’re all set. But what happens if you do a search deal with Yahoo!? Granted this is pure speculation, but suddenly a name change seems to make more sense. In competition with Microsoft over mail and messenger services, they wouldn’t be too happy to find themselves promoting Windows Live Hotmail and Messenger, even by association. Given the almost manic efforts of Yang and the Yahooligans to escape the clutches of the evil empire from the north, almost any Microsoft branding on a Yahoo! site might be near unbearable.
Enter Kumo. Wipe the slate clean, promote a new brand without an overt Microsoft connection, and a search deal might be a bit more palatable. Yahoo!/Kumo, it’s almost fun to say.
Of course renaming Live Search isn’t going to be the make or break issue concerning a Microsoft/Yahoo! search deal, but it just might be an important concession. Truthfully Microsoft has a lot of hard bargaining to do with Yahoo! and new CEO Carol Bartz. A search deal probably means a lot more to Microsoft than it does to Yahoo!. But Microsoft wants the Yahoo! search business, needs it, more like. Introducing Kumo might just get them closer to the prize.