Recent reports that Microsoft intends to re-brand MSN as 'MSN Media Network' have kicked up an interesting discussion about Microsoft's branding and positioning. On the one hand, MSN is their established brand for content. But on the other hand, they've begun to re-name all their services products under the banner "Live".
Greg Linden points out that this is causing a lot of brand confusion, even amongst us tech bloggers. If we're confused, imagine what Joe and Jane Public will think. Some good points were made in the comments to Greg's post. Nathan Weinberg from the blog InsideMicrosoft explained the differences:
"...the value in the MSN brand is in the content network. Of the services, most, like Hotmail, are not associated at all with MSN, or not that closely. As a result, the services will become Windows Live, and the content network will be the MSN Media Network. Microsoft is not abandoning MSN, rather it is putting application development in the Windows division, allowing the full MSN budget and resources to be devoted to improving the content network."
(emphasis mine) To sum up, Live = services; MSN = content.
But is it Services and Content are becoming one and the same actually that simple nowadays? Greg's reply was: "Services, content, it's all just "stuff I use" to most people." I second that, because services and content are increasingly becoming one and the same. As I mentioned in my previous post, the media gadgets that will be available on Live.com are a prime candidate for inclusion within MSN. After all, we're in an era where the user is in control of their content experience. The Live.com site is essentially an interactive homepage for users, to add RSS feeds and other "live" content to.
This person (one of the bloggers at LiveSide.com) suggests there is internal confusion within Microsoft too:
"Windows Live Sessions has been a good start in educating the early adopters, however much more needs to be done and quickly too. Judging by what Phil Holden said to me about ideas.live.com, it seems as though not everything is crystal clear internally yet. This makes it impossible for bloggers and employees who do get the transition to explain it to others. Details are everything."
And Microsoft Program Manager Dare Obasanjo, who always speaks his mind, also says there is confusion:
"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."
So there seems to be general agreement that MSN and Live overlap somewhat. What to do about it?
In another post, Nathan Weinberg implied that MSN is a valuable brand and so why would Microsoft let it slip away. I actually echoed those sentiments in my previous post. MSN (The Microsoft Network) has stood the test of time and so will be very hard for Microsoft to drop. But they can't have it both ways - if they truly believe content is a two-way experience now, then Live services fall under that umbrella.
What's it gonna be - Live or MSN? My feeling is that they should extend the Live brand out to network content too. The MSN brand has served Microsoft (relatively) well, but if they're really going to commit to a two-way Web world - then the Live banner is probably their best bet. Especially given 'Live' is closely associated with the 'software as a service'/Web as platform approach that Microsoft is rolling out in a big way.