Enough Branding Jokes: Why Windows Live Hotmail is a good name that’s bad

Really.  At some point this has just got to stop.  Someone has got to get enough Kahunas at Microsoft to figure out a branding strategy for Windows Live, stick with it, and get on with the business of building a brand that can compete in the marketplace.  Truthfully, calling it Windows Live Hotmail is not a bad move, in itself.  Hotmail is a familiar brand, one that is used everyday worldwide.  It makes a lot of sense to keep it.  But making another mid stream correction, another change of course,  shows us so much about the lack of a cohesive strategy for Windows Live.  Why wasn’t this done sooner?  Why was the Windows Live Mail name promoted only to be changed at the 11th hour (just call it Kahuna til it’s released, sheesh!). In a coincidence that literally made us laugh out loud, Microsoft corporate vice-president Soma Somesegar posted last week on strategy, and included this gem:

Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory…
Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”   Sun Tzu

We are not the only ones who wonder if there is indeed a strategy around the Windows Live brand.  Recently, Joe Wilcox posted on the Live branding issue, and offered some reasons why things are not going well (comments in italics are mine):

Clearly Live isn’t working out as well as Microsoft had hoped, and there are plenty of reasons:

  • Building a new brand takes time. Microsoft managers may believe in the appeal of the Office and Windows brands, but Live makes for something new. New branding requires lots of supporting marketing and time to build meaningful equity. (True, but it also requires some commitment to that brand.  Figuring it out as you go is just not good enough)
  • Live is too much MSN with a new label. The majority of Live products or services either existed under MSN or, if new, aren’t that original. Microsoft can only imitate Google for so long. When I survey the landscape of new Live products, the majority are knockoffs of something released by Google or another Web platform company. As for the stuff kicked over from MSN, a new label doesn’t make for a successful product. (And here again, Microsoft waffles on whether or not to brand products as Windows Live or MSN.  Soapbox only added to the confusion, and now we’re hearing of other Windows Live beta products being re-rebranded back to MSN) 
  • Microsoft fumbled at the worst possible time. The company chose to build its search technology and advertising platform, just as Google really gained momentum. Maybe if Yahoo had done better competing with Google, Microsoft would have had time enough to get its stuff to market. But Google greatly benefited from mistakes made by both its closest search rivals. In December, according to Nielsen//NetRatings, Google search share topped 50 percent, more than double Yahoo. Microsoft came in, even at No. 3, with a paltry 8.4 percent. (My old saw: all of the arrogance of a monopoly with almost none of the market share.  Coming into this market haphazardly without a razor sharp strategy simply isn’t going to work) 
  • Microsoft is paralyzed by organizational uncertainty. (All I can say here is AMEN!) Executive exits and changes coupled with a couple corporate reorganizations over the past 18 months have sucked some life out of Live. Some of the people responsible for the Live brand strategy are no longer involved in the process. Unless incoming chief software architect Ray Ozzie takes leadership and ownership for Live, it’s hard to see how the situation can quickly improve.

We’ve posted before too, about “where’s Ray?”, and tonite none other than Mini-Microsoft asks the same question, which tells us that Ray’s silence extends internally.  It makes us edgy, too, Mini!

What Microsoft has going for it of course is great wealth, the ability to withstand some otherwise deadly mistakes and flounder along like this without having to worry about folding up the tent.  MS, too, still has some cards to play, and even now Windows Live has not been fully revealed.  MS insiders tell us that there’s lots of cool stuff to come.  That’s all great, but in the meantime Windows Live is taking a beating out in the marketplace.  The brand is going nowhere.  Bill Gates at CES talked quite a bit about “Live Services”, but not much at all about Windows Live.  And of course Ray Ozzie was nowhere to be found (although he will be keynoting Mix07).

Certainly, in looking at the search numbers Joe Wilcox quotes, Microsoft is taking if anything a slow route to victory.  Let’s hope all this talk about the Windows Live brand is not the noise before defeat.