Last month, Microsoft Corp. rolled out a beta version of Microsoft Office 365. The latest edition of the software suite brings together Microsoft Office, SharePoint Online, Exchange Online and Lync Online in a cloud-based service.
In an interview with BtoB, David Webster, Microsoft's general manager-brand and marketing strategy, opened a window on the software giant's process for naming the product and some of its marketing plans for the official launch next year. For now, Microsoft is running a limited beta testing program for Office 365 in 13 countries.
Webster said Microsoft contemplated abandoning the Office name for this new product and used outside firms to come up with a list of hundreds of potential names. “It was an open-ended process, and some of them [the names] were quite silly,” he said.
In the end, Microsoft decided to stick with the Office name for the cloud-based product. “By using the Office brand, they [customers and prospects] know it's a productivity-oriented solution right out of the gate,” Webster said.
The Office brand is used by about 1 billion people worldwide, and Microsoft didn't want to throw away the familiarity that such a massive installed base has with the name, Webster said. “Any amount of work that the name can do is work you don't have to do in your advertising and marketing,” he said. “It allows us to focus our dollars on the story versus creating a brand from scratch.”
The marketing story is that Office will now be available in the cloud, which will deliver full functionality of the product to small and midsize businesses as well as enterprise-level customers. The cloud offers scalability without the downside of capital expenditures, Webster said.
In the end, though, Microsoft opted against using cloud in the Office name because of its expectation that the term will become ubiquitous in short order, Webster said. “It's like the word "electric,' ” he said. “Once everything becomes electric, it becomes redundant to make it part of the product name. The marketing will tell the story of how we bring the benefits of the cloud to this category.”
The Office brand typically has a number attached to it, such as Office 2007. “We didn't want to use a year [for the cloud-based version],” Webster said. “Part of the premium product is you always have the latest version. What day you're using it is the latest version.”
So Microsoft chose Office 365, which focuses on the 24/7 availability of the Office suite of products. “365 was a really easy way to encapsulate that,” Webster said.
Microsoft will begin advertising around the new product beginning next year. In the meantime, the company on Nov. 1 launched a several-hundred-million-dollar marketing campaign with the tagline, “Cloud power,” which promotes Office 365 and other cloud-based products. Print ads are running in the Financial Times, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and elsewhere. A TV spot ran on “Monday Night Football.”
The Office 365 name is getting mixed reviews. Al and Laura Ries, who run brand consultancy Ries & Ries, said Microsoft is trying to extend the Office brand too far. “They've used Windows and Office way too much,” Laura Ries said. “They put them on everything.” She said the move to the cloud requires a new brand name for Office.
“It's hard to have a revolutionary idea when you saddle it with a line-extension name,” Al Ries said.
Jonathan Paisner, branding director at CoreBrand, had a different view. “I think they got it right,” he said. “The intention is to suggest something new without being unfamiliar. That's what the name does. Office is a machine for Microsoft. It's a cash cow. You don't want to mess with that.”