Lisa Merriam

Microsoft Brand Failures: 12 Brand Mistakes with High Costs

Microsoft brand failure rate is high. Analysts continue to criticize the once high-flying company and consider its prospects as cloud computing and competitive products dim the prospects for the company’s operating systems.

A History of Microsoft Brand Failures

Indeed, Microsoft has a long track record of failed brands. Here are a dozen examples:
Vista: This failure hurt the most. Microsoft is synonymous with operating systems, so a failed product in this category was a body blow. Released in January 2007, by April 2009, the software had only achieved a 24% share of PC operating systems. Most people still prefer to limp along using decade-old systems.

Kin Phone: It took years and billions of dollars to develop, but only sold 503 units after 48 days on the market. In terms of financial cost, this brand inflicted plenty of damage.

Tablet PC: The failure of this brand chipped away at Microsoft’s reputation as an innovator.  Ground-breaking when Microsoft first announced it ten years ago, the Tablet PC was surpassed by better design and better marketing of the iPad and Samsung’s Android.

Zune: An innovative reputation can’t be won with copycat products. Microsoft’s Zune portable media player has not been able to effectively compete with Apple and its iPod.

MSN: As Microsoft struggled with MSN Search, which became MSN (with the butterfly), then Live Search and now Bing, Google started, grew, and now dominates.

WebTV: The internet over television sounded like the holy grail of convergence. But the product never produced a revenue stream as its tech-averse customer base created an expensive customer service nightmare.

Passport: Microsoft demonstrated branding cluelessness by originally calling this “thing”  Microsoft Wallet, then Passport, then .NET Passport, then Microsoft Passport Network, then Live ID, then Windows Live as part of MSN. Phew! Moreover, entrusting sensitive information to a company known for operating systems with massive security bugs, Passport was a no-go. The service closed August 2009.

Encarta: Why pay for a limited and outdated encyclopedia when there is Wikipedia? This brand finally expired on March, 2009.

Bob: Bob was meant to be a user-friendly Windows interface, but turned into a laughing-stock that perennially makes the “worst of” lists. “Bob” appears to be an internal project name that somehow escaped as a public-facing brand name on an embarrassing product.

Money: Brand trust issues aside, Microsoft Money could not compete against online banks, free personal finance tools and more established and robust financial software products.

WinCE: Yup, this product made people “wince”. This personal digital assistant software brand represents years of trying, failing and eventually giving up.

“I’m a PC”: In answer to Apple’s successful “I’m a Mac” branding campaign came the inexplicable “I’m a PC” answer from Microsoft. In addition to adopting an “I know you are, but what am I” brand positioning, the campaign didn’t identify the brand Windows beyond a logo and said nothing about the “V-Word” (the failing Vista operating system). Why invest in advertising a generic like a PC?

Key Factors in Microsoft’s Brand Failures

  1. Poor design:  Apple’s brand is built on excellent, innovative design. Microsoft design is generic and old-fashioned.
  2. Inconsistency: The Apple product brands all support key brand attributes of the parent company: coolness and easy usability. Microsoft branding is all over the map, with some product brands having almost no association with the parent company and with no brands sharing a unifying attribute that would bring them all together as Microsoft.
  3. No jumping off point: Apple has always been about devices integrated with software, making it easy to create new products of all kinds. Microsoft was just an operating system, and a bug-ridden one at that.
  4. Problems with trust: Microsoft has been seen as arrogant and pushy. Its reputation has never recovered from the anti-trust lawsuit in the 1990s.
  5. Poor follow-through: Beyond a launch announcement and a few ads, many Microsoft products flounder unsupported.

Lots of money and really smart people are Microsoft brand strengths, but the company cannot reach its full potential without smarter branding. Little by little, newcomers like Google and old competitors like Apple will eat their lunch.