Is the Microsoft brand helping or hurting Windows Phone 7?

Windows Phone 7 is a modern and functional operating system, but adoption seems to be rather slow. What can Microsoft do to engage consumers?
Written by Matthew Miller, Contributing Writer on

Regular readers know I am a fan of the Windows Phone 7 operating system and after my post yesterday on a couple new WP7 devices I received an email from ZDNet reader Brandon Murray detailing why he thought WP7 is not selling well (his email is included below) and I have to say I agree with his opinion that it may be due to the Microsoft name and branding.

I remember years ago at a Mobius meeting with Microsoft when they told us that the Microsoft brand is a trusted, world wide brand and that this brand was one major reason they were going with the Windows Phone naming strategy. I personally enjoy using Microsoft products such as Windows 7, Exchange, Word, and Excel and since they are located here in Washington State I do have positive feelings about them and their contribution to our state. I have only heard friends and family slamming Microsoft for Vista, but otherwise people do seem happy with the brand. It seems that the Microsoft name is bashed in the press quite a bit to the point they make it sound like Microsoft is some evil entity whose only desire it to take over the world and that just isn't the case.

Back in 2000 when the first Pocket PC was launched we saw that Microsoft was trying to bring the desktop to a handheld device and for years we had devices with Start menus and a design like a small PC. The new Windows Phone 7 UI is completely different and I think Microsoft should have went with a totally new branding, as Brandon clearly points out too. Xbox is a very successful product for Microsoft, although their Zune is not so just having a different name for a product is not enough. Check out what Brandon had to say below:

In my opinion, WP7 isn't selling because of Microsoft. Specifically, the Microsoft brand. It's become so apparent the last few years that Microsoft might put out really cool stuff, but because they are Microsoft, those products are going to face a steep perception battle in the marketplace before they will be adopted.

Microsoft isn't sexy. Apple is smoking. Google is kinda sexy for geeks, but everyone likes what Google does for them. Microsoft is the old has-been who hangs around the bar talking about all the great things he did back in the 80s.

That's the perception. I think MS is doing great things even today--I'm a SharePoint architect and I love my WP7--but they have a significant branding problem because of that perception. I think MS recognizes this problem, and in order to combat it, they've lately been throwing the Microsoft and/or Windows name on their new, cool products: Microsoft Kin (big fail there), Windows 7, Windows Phone 7. With WP7 I think the idea is: make a cool phone OS that everyone loves, put the name Windows on it, and then the Windows brand will start regaining cool factor because of its association with the cool new phone.

The risk is obvious, though: when you try to resuscitate a declining brand by associating it with a cool new product, it's just as likely (if not more so) that the declining brand will drag the cool new product down with it and make it less cool.

As a final example, what's Microsoft's most successful new product (in the consumer space) for the past few years? Xbox. Not Windows Xbox or Microsoft Xbox. It's just Xbox in people's minds and it's sexy if you're a gamer.

Compare that to Windows Phone. A great platform with horrible branding. Apple is hot! Buy an iPhone. Google is cool! Buy an Android. Windows is XP! Buy a Windows Phone?

The current Windows Phone 7 devices are not on the cutting edge with specifications and many of the devices are modified 2010 hardware. Then again, many of today's modern smartphones are black slabs and consumers likely don't know or care about all of the internal specs so I think there is something going on more than just having Windows Phone 7 on last year's hardware.

If they handle the partnership with Nokia the right way they have a chance to reach millions of Nokia fans with a modern OS, but I think they need to market and sell it in a compelling manner to succeed without turning off all of these Nokia fans. So, what can Microsoft do to convince people to give Windows Phone 7 devices a try?

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