Branding Microsoft


You are driving down a country road with a friend. A few hundred feet away, on the right-hand side, is a billboard. It doesn’t grab your attention, breaking the cardinal rule of billboards.

As you edge closer, still unable to make out the message, you spot a suit-wearing crocodile chewing on a keyboard. To the right of this strange croc is a question: Trouble with your computer? Below that is the exhortation: Fix common PC problems in a few easy steps on your own.

Now, almost passing the billboard, you notice the Microsoft logo in the upper-left-hand corner. Across the top, on the billboard’s other corner, is the registered trademark Your Potential. Our Passion®. What does that mean? Quizzically, you look at each other, shrug, and continue driving.

Is Microsoft, a $67B corporation, now a self-help center for diagnosing PC problems? What is Microsoft? You and your friend, based on this billboard’s messaging, are clueless about the Microsoft brand and will remain so — one, 10, and 1000 miles later. This is a gargantuan branding failure: a brand they can’t understand is no brand at all.
Wasting Branding Dollars

I created this billboard from Microsoft’s homepage to illustrate a key point: the same rule applies to a homepage and a billboard — it must be crystal-clear in 15 seconds. Is Microsoft’s brand unique? No. Crystal-clear? No. Compelling? No. Gut-grabbing? No. Concise? No. Memorable? No. Repeatable? No. Yet, there it is, in plain view, for the world to see.

At and in my other articles, I stress that a company’s homepage is its primary branding platform and must be treated as such. If the brand is weak there, it’s weak everywhere.

According to Alexa, 45.4% of traffic to lands on its homepage and drops off precipitously from there. Microsoft is wasting branding dollars, meaning that it needlessly increases its cost of sales.

In “Branding a Behemoth,” I discuss the challenges huge companies face to maintain their brands as they grow and diversify. In “Never Rest on Your Brand’s Laurels,” I caution against presuming that customers know what your company does. In today’s issue of the San Jose Mercury News, columnist Chris O’Brien explains that Google has expanded so rapidly that it now suffers from the same disease: murky brand.
Rx from The WhiteNoise Doctor

Message to CEOs: Treat your homepage like a highway billboard. If you wouldn’t display your message at roadside, knowing that passersby won’t grasp it, don’t put it on your homepage, either.

Microsoft has one stock symbol (NASDAQ: MSFT) to represent its value to investors. It also must have one brand to represent is value to customers. What is it?


About the Author

Marc Rudov is a branding advisor to CEOs,
producer of MarcRudovTV, and author of the book,
Be Unique or Be Ignored: The CEO’s Guide to Branding.


© 2009 Marc H. Rudov. All Rights Reserved.


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