Microsoft will fix its 'Live' branding problem, says exec

With Google entrenched at the top of the search industry, and a deal with Yahoo looking less likely, a Microsoft division president said yesterday it's time for his company to deal with the confusion spawned by its own multiple online brands.

"There's an opportunity for us to fix those brands. We acknowledge that we need to get that fixed," admitted Kevin Johnson, president of Microsoft's Platform & Services Division, during his keynote speech on Tuesday at the Search Marketing Expo in Seattle.

Microsoft's launch of its Live Search engine in 2005 spurred the creation of a number of other online brands. Today, Microsoft offers MSN Messenger, Windows Live Messenger, and Office Communicator; it offers Windows Live Hotmail and Windows Live Mail; and it offers Live Search Mobile, Live Search for Windows Mobile, Windows Live for Mobile, and Windows Live for Windows Mobile. In each category, each product plays to a different customer...but it's hard to tell which goes with what just from the name alone.

Meanwhile, Microsoft's Live Search (which during its initial beta was going to be just "live.com") remains a distant third behind Google and Yahoo in industry rankings compiled by companies such as Comscore.

"Google is already entrenched, so [we] need to have disruptive ways to change the paradigm," Johnson contended on Tuesday. "The brand, Google, is a very strong brand. People think that Google equals search. We need to differentiate the product experience. We need to get users to try [Microsoft's search] so that the user experience can create a brand perception. Then we need to do marketing that reinforces [this] brand perception.

"We're going to be thoughtful about the fact that we have an entrenched competitor, but we need to deliver [on] innovation to grow our share and to build our value in the market," he continued.

Google's "weakness," said Johnson, is that "the user experience hasn't changed much, and they're used to those ten links," referring to the first ten textual search results that an ordinary Google search turns up. "That's their Achilles heel."

Microsoft, on the other hand, needs to "be different and innovate," according to the keynoter. "I think there's a new paradigm that consumers will want and will embrace -- and it's up to us to deliver on this."

Microsoft has already innovated by adding image search and "voice-related search," according to Johnson. "[But] we want to get more publishers and inventory. That inventory has been related to display and video. We need to strengthen search. That's a reflection of search query volume and share."

Johnson also suggested that, although Microsoft has pulled its bid for a full buyout of Yahoo, some sort of other relationship with Yahoo is still possible for the future.

When asked by a moderator about Microsoft's now-tabled acquisition bid for Yahoo, Johnson replied: "We need to discuss alternatives that are not a full combination [but] that have some positive attributes...and we'll see where that dialogue leads."

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