Microsoft's new logo is branding fail

Would someone please call the branding police and have them arrest Microsoft's entire executive team. The charge: Indecent logo.

Today the software giant introduced its first major corporate logo change in about a quarter century. I'm all for a brave new look, except there's little brave or memorable about this one. Apple should call a holiday and give out champagne to celebrate. This is one big branding frak up.

Gone, finally, is the sole us of Microsoft's name as brand identifier. The typeface is bolder -- not in posture, but quite literally -- and flatter (keeping with the 2D perspective oh-so prevalent in Windows 8). "The new Microsoft logo takes its inspiration from our product design principles while drawing upon the heritage of our brand values, fonts and colors", Jeff Hansen, GM for Microsoft brand strategy, says. "For the logotype, we are using the Segoe font which is the same font we use in our products as well as our marketing communications".

Microsoft marketers modestly redeem themselves by adding the oh-so recognizable four-color square alongside the name. "The symbol is important in a world of digital motion", Hansen says. "The symbol’s squares of color are intended to express the company’s diverse portfolio of products". That's where the branding story ends and really should begin: With the four-color logo standing alone, without "Microsoft".

The first consideration, and really only one in branding, is two-fold: Make it recognizable, keep it simple. Microsoft's new logo, like the old one, is neither. Generally speaking, company names spelled out make the worst logos. There are good reasons why businesses spend so much money developing graphic logos that identify them. People remember images better, and they are universal -- regardless of language.

Logos have a long legacy, too, going back to families' coats of arms. That picture has been a way of identifying an entity -- whether a family or business -- for a long time.

Apple does it Right

Apple is the classic example of logo done right and executed brilliantly. The logo is recognizable, easily placed on products and put on all the hardware. You know when someone uses Apple gear. That's a way of broadcasting the brand; essentially it's free marketing from the users.

Years ago, the Apple logo appeared upright when laptop lids were closed, which put them upside down to everyone else. Then some Apple brainiac reversed the logo, so that it's upright with the lid open, illuminated and visible to anyone passing by. That's sheer branding brilliance.

Microsoft passed up a big opportunity to redo its logo right. That four-color square is highly recognizable because of Windows' success. Why not take something familiar, let it stand alone and represent Microsoft?

I personally find the new logo visually appealing. But the issue here is branding and what people recognize. Names don't stand out.

What's in a Name?

Absolutely, there are successful companies without recognizable picture logos, using just company name. Google is great example this century. But Google also benefits from its name being a verb synonymous with search. Meanwhile, in the Android robot, Google has established an iconic subbrand, which stands alongside other recognizables like Google+ and YouTube logos.

I wonder why Microsoft chose its name way back when, and how much is about the early days. Microsoft inherited the computing mantle from IBM, which is solely identified by name. But IBM stands for International Business Machines. Someone at the computing giant had the sense to turn the abbreviation IBM into a logo, by assigning each letter a color -- red for I, green for B and blue for M. It was a brilliant maneuver, which made the abbreviation a recognizable logo.

"We’re excited about the new logo, but more importantly about this new era in which we’re reimagining how our products can help people and businesses throughout the world realize their full potential", Hansen says. I sure would like to share his enthusiasm, but acknowledge the new logo is better than the old one. If that's Microsoft's idea of reimagining, well...

Perhaps with the four-color square standing alongside the name, Microsoft will someday transition to just the graphic logo. There's sense to that, and the only long-term good that can come of today's branding change.

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