Microsoft's new logo doesn't tell the whole story

Last week, I asserted that "Microsoft's new logo is branding fail". Seventy comments later, there is fierce debate among readers. But a branding expert's response catches my interest most of all.

"This is clearly a company who is afraid to take a big step forward -- be bold and innovative", Jason Cieslak, Siegel+Gale managing director, tells BetaNews. "The mark is fresher and more contemporary, yet at the same time, conservative and a bit dull".

Recap: On August 23, Microsoft unveiled its first major logo change in a quarter century, adding the four-color Windows square to its name, which gets a new font. Cieslak's advice: "Pick a logo that represents all of Microsoft, not just the one group that makes all the profits today".

Hold on there. Windows doesn't make all Microsoft profits, not even most. Office holds that distinction today. Also, with Windows 8 there's a new blander, one-color four-rectangle, rectangle logo. The new corporate brand image actually aligns more with the Microsoft Store logo. That's actually sensible.

Still, Cieslak's point shouldn't be lost in my nitpicking. The four-color shapes are associated with Windows, because of its previous flag logo. "What new story is this logo telling?" he asks, and that's the right question. "That Microsoft is about Windows?"

"I have to think it’s as unclear to the outside as it is to employees", Cieslak continues. "That has historically been the biggest problem with Microsoft: its primary sub brand was as strong as the master brand. So now they've fused them together -- at the expense of all the other businesses that are the likely growth areas for the company going forward".

Again, the new Windows 8 logo is different, but true enough many people will associate with the old one.

Cieslak slaps Microsoft branders harder than I did last week. "If you're going to change your logo -- make sure you know why you are doing it", he charges. "What's the shift and the story you are trying to communicate to the world?"

His point is important. Branding is all about storytelling -- telling a story that people remember and that generates good feelings. For all the emphasis about tech specs, most people make purchase decisions because of emotions.

"Think long term", Cieslak advices. "Changing a logo is only one aspect of your story, but it’s an important one. You have to think about how this mark will hold up 10 years from now. Which is why I'd be so critical about this mark -- will we all be using Windows 10 years from now?"

Given how fast the post-PC era -- what I call the cloud-connected device era -- advances, that's a good question. No company should want to be Kentucky Fried Chicken when "fried" is suddenly unhealthy -- although the rebranding to KFC succeeded, I must say.

Perhaps there's wisdom to keeping "Microsoft" part of the brand. Windows may be shuttered in a decade, but I'd bet a Canadian penny the company will be around then. Yes, I do know Canada is doing away with the cent coin. :)

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