Microhoo “Post-Mortem Post” – Part 4: The patient is not quite dead yet

The Micro-hoo saga has been turning uglier in the last few days, if such a thing is possible:

The three-way "negotiations" between Carl Icahn, the Yahoo board, and Microsoft turned up another non-starter offer for MSFT to cherry-pick Yahoo’s search assets, which in turn led to much finger-pointing, and general acrimony.

The result is that Icahn may now be out of the picture, and that Yahoo will survive through its August 1 shareholder meeting. Unless Microsoft comes back with a last minute complete buy-out offer at a guaranteed, cash-equivalent price that is ($29 per share would seem like the absolute minimum in this regard).

But it all seems increasingly unlikely, leaving Microsoft without a strategy, and Yahoo desperate to get past the distraction of the entire episode, and its operation back on track.

Jerry Yang is apparently begging his troops to keep working (for the second time in two months), and as I previously pointed out, for good reason. And even though we don’t hear similar exhortations form inside the Microsoft bunker, there is little doubt that Microsoft is not similarly affected:

During the entire first half of 2008, the only news out of Redmond other than the Micro-hoo botched deal attempts, has been the announcement of the "Live Search Cashback" (LSCB) attempt to sort of buy search query share using a rebate gimmick (that had failed to work before). That MSFT and some commentators touted this as a "game changer" proves the depth of their dilusion.

I have been working on a detailed post for why LSCB was such a bad idea in many (technical) ways, but the end-result is much easier to ascertain through some simple tests: I occasionally have been checking LSCB price quotes against Google search results for identical items, and the FREE(!) product listings at the top of Google Universal Search beat the LSCB prices with the "discount" (that MSFT is kind enough to hold in escrow for you for up to 2 months) MOST OF THE TIME!

I expect ComScores due out this week to tell the tale that Live Search Cashback has caused nary a blip on the search share radar screen. Even Microsoft seems to not be talking about it anymore…

During the same time frame, Google has had major announcements regarding their OpenSocial, GoogleGears, Google App Engine, and Google Android (Google’s mobile phone) software kits, all the while honing their core search and search ad serve in the background. Even Yahoo recently announced a relatively substantial opening up of their search toolkit to developers for third-party applications.

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What the iPhone and Steve Jobs have to do with “The Magician”

Apple’s second-generation iPhone 3G is set to hit the market Friday to the by now customary camping lines and fanfare, and, more importantly, high sales expectations.

And while it’s fun to partake in all of the speculation and hand-wringing over specific features (iPhone App store, enterprise IT compatibility, battery-life), the truly important underlying dynamics can often get lost in the fray.

One such factor: The ingenious marketing employed by Steve Jobs and Co.

And it’s here that "The Magician", or more specifically, "The Magician" archetype comes into play:

As I first heard this pointed out by Rich Schefren and Jay Abraham in one of their "Maven Marketing" teleconference calls from earlier this year:

Steve Job’s is perfectly, and, we must assume, somewhat deliberately positioned as a "Wizard of Oz"-like character in the consumer electronics space, the magician who disappears behind the curtains and reappears with new, ever-more-amazing wonders of technology.

While I had studied archetype branding myself for a while, I must admit that I had never heard the Steve Jobs/Magician analogy used up to that point. And when the unveiling of the new iPhone 3G occurred June 9, Rich and Jay’s brief remark snapped right back into focus for me.

Here he was, Steve Jobs, "The Magician" on the stage of the WWDC (Worldwide Developers Conference).

Mind you there is a vast amount of orchestration going into this feat. From Apple design philosophies (their "clean" design could be seen to evoke "grail"-like associations!), to purposefully withholding detailed product information until the timed announcements at Mac conferences, to Steve’s own stage-craft in triumphantly unveiling the new gadget of the day.

Everything has to be just right to fully support the archetype. But in doing so, whether consciously or unconsciously, Apple and Steve Jobs are occupying a very valuable space in the minds of a fickle public. And "The Magician" image serves both an extremely useful guide-post (does this next action fit our archetype branding?), as well as a uniquely powerful marketing device in this respect.

It is a brand quite literally burnt deep into the neural networks of consumers world-wide, in a way that even the valuable Apple brand never will be:

Nothing sticks better in the mind than these largely unconscious, archetypal patterns, the original building-blocks of the human mind. At that level, you don’t have to explain very much at all. It’s simply understood, and universally so (archetypes hold true across all cultural contexts).

Many marketers and small business owners ignore this fact each and every day at their own peril, "leaving" the proverbial "piles of money on the table."

Photo: MacRumors

Microsoft’s Branding Mess Claims Another Victim: “Windows Live Expo”

News broke today that Microsoft is phasing out its Craigslist competitor attempt "Windows Live Expo". My goodness WLE, we hardly knew (of) you…

It’s no wonder this site failed so completely, Microsoft’s branding is 100% wrong and horrible: Meaningless, confusing, too long/not snappy enough, unmemorable, etc. etc.

They don’t get branding at all. I wonder if they’ll ever get off the "MS" and "Windows" train. If not, NOT A SINGLE ONE of their web properties thus branded will EVER have a chance to fully succeed. It cannot happen since it is against every principle of branding psychology.

There needs to be a simple answer to the question: "What’s a ____?"

Everyone and their dog knows the answer to "What’s a Craigslist?"

"Windows Live Expo"? Not so much. What does a classified ad site have to do with "Windows" (which presumably is an operating system)? Nothing. The entire "Windows Live" idea is horrible, but even if it had worked for anything else, this would only create brand dilution.

And "Expo"? What does an expo(sition) (i.e. a trade show or other exhibition) have to do with classified ads? NOTHING.

The idea that things can be subsumed under one’s current, possibly large and powerful brand is a very common mistake and self-deception with large companies. The logic is "our brand is powerful, why not extend it to this next project/product/etc.?" (And this is for obvious reasons very hard to argue against in internal meetings, as no one wants to appear to belittle the power of one’s "tribe"/brand.)

Here’s why it doesn’t work: Because the original brand if it worked at all was built up in the minds of the public as tied to the category that it competes in. Notice in this context that Microsoft’s other flag-ship, near-monopoly product, the "Office" productivity suite and even its sub-components, is named "MS Office" and NOT "Windows Office".

Microsoft would in fact have been better of naming the classified ad site e.g. "TheList by Microsoft" or some such thing, pretty much anything would have worked better than what they chose.

And notice that none of this has anything to do with the technology execution of the site. It’s just human psychology. Cheers!