MSN has media network plans, but brand confusion still reigns

The new head of Microsoft's MSN division, John Nicol, has been calling the company's MSN portal "MSN Media Network" internally, according to reports. However Nicol says that Microsoft has no formal plans to rebrand the site.

The new head of Microsoft's MSN division, John Nicol, has been calling the company's MSN portal "MSN Media Network" internally, according to reports. However Nicol says that Microsoft has no formal plans to rebrand the site.

In a CNET article Nicol talks about wanting MSN to be a "media network", which immediately makes me think of Lloyd Braun's role over at Yahoo. Users won't see the distinction between MSN content and Live.com content Nicol mentions the buzz-phrase "user-generated content" a couple of times, also that they want more video and multimedia content in general. This suggests to me that MSN is following Yahoo's lead and trying to become a similar media portal. Which gets them into the same 'Hollywood' territory that Yahoo has been flirting with - tv over the Web and so forth.

Then there is the brand confusion, which as the LiveSide blog notes - continues to brew. I think it would be very difficult for Microsoft to drop the MSN brand now, after all they've been through with it and the power of the brand. But there seems to be too much crossover between the MSN and Live strategies. Microsoft has tried to make the distinction that MSN is about content, whereas Live is about 'software as a service' (their new Internet rallying cry ever since the Live platform was launched). So in line with that, e-mail, IM and Web search products are now part of "Live".

But for the user, services and content are increasingly becoming one and the same. The Live.com site is essentially an interactive homepage for users, to add RSS feeds and other "live" content to. Users won't see that much of a distinction between 'media network' content that they can get on MSN and content they can access via Live.com - such as RSS feeds. Indeed it might be the same content, just accessed from different places!

So you begin to see where the confusion is for the user. It would be best to wrap content and services up into one brand, however as mentioned Microsoft has the dilemma of having a strong older brand (MSN) and a new brand which they've invested a lot in already (Live).

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