While Windows, Office, and server tools pull in billions of dollars in profits for Microsoft, its "Entertainment and Devices" division is barely keeping its head above water. Why? One reason - poor branding.
Before we look at Microsoft's branding or devices and entertainment products, let's take a trip down memory lane and look at how the company fouled up the branding of its flagship Windows line.
When Microsoft announced that it was naming XP's successor "Vista," tech pundits the world over when "Eh?" and "What does that mean?" and "That's a stupid name!" Rather than continue to capitalize on the "Windows" brand, the marketing folks at Redmond decided to pave new ground by trying to rebrand Microsoft's flagship OS product. Sure, it was still called "Windows Vista", but the emphasis was on "Vista" rather than "Windows."
When it became apparent to Microsoft that people didn't really like "Vista" the company carried out an experiment where it renamed the OS as "Mojave" and introduced this OS to those who said they disliked "Vista" despite the two operating systems being the same except in name). The same people who'd expressed a dislike for "Vista" seemed to like "Mojave."
As soon as Microsoft accepted that the "Vista" name was tainted, the company then had little choice but to return to promoting the "Windows" and "PC" brand (the "PC" branding was, at least in part, a response to Apple's endless "I'm a Mac, and I'm a PC" ads). Not only did Microsoft accept that its "Windows" brand needed advertising to consumers, but that it was far more effective to push "Windows" as a brand rather than focus too closely on individual editions or versions.
Note: It's interesting to note that Apple's "I'm a Mac, and I'm a PC" ads seemed to have dried up in the wake of Vista's release - there hasn't been a new ad campaign since Windows 7's launch day on October 23rd 2009.
Now let's look at Microsoft's branding when it comes to entertainment and devices. I don't make it my job to keep up with every new name that Microsoft comes out for things, but I'm painfully aware of a number of brands that Microsoft is trying to push - "Xbox," "Live" and "Zune" are three of the biggest, but there's also "Windows Mobile," and "Windows Phone 7 Series" and "Kin." There's probably a few that I've missed out.
Conclusion: Microsoft likes names. What's worse, Microsoft likes to choose silly names. Seriously, how many martinis did it take before people started thinking that words such as "Zune" and "Kin" were catchy? These random words tell you nothing about the product. As daft as Apple's "iPhone," "iTunes," and "iPad" might be, they do at least tell you right from the start what you are dealing with.
Personally, I think that Microsoft might be onto something with names like "Windows Phone 7 Series" because if nothing else, it pushes the view of a unified platform of devices that can coexist, rather than disparate entities. "Windows Phone," "Windows Search," "Windows Gaming," "Windows Music" and so on makes a lot more sense to me, and I think it would make a heck of a lot more sense to users than the current jamboree of names. Heck, even adding something as crazy as the "MS" prefix to the services would help pull them together.
Thoughts? Is Microsoft branding a mess, or do you think that there sense in separating out all the products into elements with their own individual names makes sense?