IF you own a Windows-based PC, you may like the operating system well enough. Or you may merely tolerate it, if you give it much thought at all. But whatever your feeling, “love” probably isn’t the word that immediately comes to mind to describe it.
I bring this up because Microsoft acts as if its customers have a strong affection for all things Windows. For the last seven years, it has tried to make Windows the anchor brand for software that is not an operating system.
An array of products, with no natural connections to one another, have received the “Windows Live” moniker. Windows Live Essentials, for example, was the name for a suite of software products that could be installed on a PC, and included photo management, video editing and instant messaging. Windows Live Mesh provided file synchronization among one’s personal computers, including Macs. And the list went on: Windows Live Mail, Windows Live Search, Windows Live Toolbar, Windows Live Family Safety, Windows Live Writer, and others.
It was folly.
Windows Live Essentials turned out to be less than essential after all. The company is effectively leaving behind the Windows Live brand name as it renames the products that currently feature that two-word phrase.
This strange marketing episode originated in the success that Microsoft enjoyed with its Xbox Live service, which was introduced in 2001. It allowed players of Xbox games to use Internet connections to play one another in real time, so adding “Live” to “Xbox” made perfect sense.
In 2005, however, Microsoft executives decided that “Live” could enliven its core Windows and Office brands, too. In a news briefing in 2005, Bill Gates said the goal of the company’s newly announced Live-branded services was to “make Windows, Office and Xbox further come alive for our customers at work, home and play.”
What its customers were doing was spending more and more time using the Internet, and not giving much thought to the operating system that ran their PCs. But Microsoft executives apparently thought that “Live” was so powerful an adjective that it could make the Windows brand suitable for extension in all directions.
In 2006, Microsoft unveiled Windows Live Messenger, a new version of what had been MSN Messenger. The company said it was the first of more than 20 Windows Live services that were being beta-tested. The message of the new brand, however, was not easily understood. “ ‘Windows Live’ — what does it mean? I can’t figure it out,” says Susan Fournier, an associate professor of marketing at Boston University. “I see no evidence of planning around a brand strategy.”
Professor Fournier says Microsoft’s executives seem to have “assumed they had a brand” that could be extended to other products, “but you can’t extend something that doesn’t have resonance in people’s lives.”
Rajeev Batra, a marketing professor at the University of Michigan and a co-author of a scholarly article titled “Brand Love,” says Microsoft failed to notice a basic principle: “When the same brand name is used on multiple new products, those new brands should be all similar in key ways,” he says. Trying to extend the “Live” from Xbox to Windows, with a bewilderingly diverse set of unrelated products and services was a mistake, in his view.
Even if the services had been closely tied to Windows, the public didn’t perceive the brand as having the attributes that would serve associated products well. Professor Batra says, “Our brand-love research shows that loved brands reflect and symbolize deeply held personal values, such as Apple does for creativity,” he says. “Windows and Live each lack this type of brand strength.”
After so many years of pushing the Windows Live brand in so many products, the company couldn’t easily drop the branding, even if executives had come around to the idea that it was misbegotten. But the imminent arrival of a new version of its flagship PC operating system, Windows 8, seems to provide cover for the change.
Microsoft declined my request for an interview. But writing earlier this month on a company blog, Chris Jones, Microsoft’s vice president overseeing the Windows Live group, said: “Windows Live services and apps were built on versions of Windows that were simply not designed to be connected to a cloud service for anything other than updates, and as a result, they felt ‘bolted on’ to the experience.”
With the new version of Windows, many of the Windows Live products and services that had been packaged separately will be installed as a part of the operating system. “There is no ‘separate brand’ to think about or a separate service to install,” Mr. Jones wrote.
Most important, Windows 8 customers will be free to substitute non-Microsoft products and services in place of the re-branded Windows Live successors. “You’re welcome to mix and match them with the software and services you choose,” he says.
“Windows Live” is disappearing. But “Live” will continue where it began, at Xbox — though the company has insisted on supersizing its rendering to “Xbox LIVE.”
And if Microsoft executives wonder what kept the Windows brand extension from taking permanent hold, they should be told ever so gently that it’s a matter of the heart: the brand love just wasn’t there.
Monday, 28 May 2012 16:55