I’m suffering from extreme jet-lag (14 time zones is nothing to laugh at) and woke up at 4 AM thinking about microprocessor architecture and wondering if Microsoft is going to mess up the Nokia device branding when the acquisition closes in the next few weeks. Yeah, sleep deprivation does weird things to you. The former is not something I have reason to write about, but the later is something we all should worry about. Microsoft has a poor track record on branding. And that is being kind.
At the heart of the problem for Microsoft is he name “Nokia”. It has real value, particularly outside the U.S., and Microsoft has to be very careful about how it transitions away from using it. I think there are fewer issues with the Lumia (and Asha) brands, but also no reason to move away from those. Lumia is a better brand for Windows Phones then “Windows Phone”. It’s not even close actually.
If you think about some of the previous dumb branding by Microsoft we could end up with the “Microsoft Nokia Lumia 666 Windows Phone”, in which case I’ll dump my stock. Microsoft has to be much smarter about how they do this.
I was thinking about alternatives this morning and decided my favorite was to initially keep the current Nokia Lumia xxxx branding scheme but in a very low-key way make it “Nokia by Microsoft”. You’d just say Nokia, but in writing there would be a small “by Microsoft” under the Nokia. Then over the course of 12-18 months you’d emphasize the Lumia name and reduce saying Nokia. By the end of two years you drop Nokia entirely and it is the Microsoft Lumia xxxx, but you still emphasize Lumia as the brand.
An alternative would be to make it Nokia Lumia by Microsoft (same subtle use of the by Microsoft) then slowly reduce the verbalization of Nokia until it just disappeared and you had Lumia by Microsoft. Again with the emphasis on Lumia.
The long-term branding is the Lumia by Microsoft the way Marriott has done with many of its brands. It is Courtyard by Marriott and Fairfield Inn by Marriott. Marriott loyalists will actually emphasize the Marriott part, but Marriott has increasingly emphasized the individual brands and what they stand for. Marriott Courtyard (as they were originally called) was very confusing because you knew what a Marriott was and had (unfulfilled) expectations when you stayed at a Marriott Courtyard. Today you know what a Courtyard is, and you know the Marriott affiliation brings certain benefits to Courtyard but doesn’t define it. Microsoft needs to do the same kind of things with its brands, starting with Lumia.
So there is an engineer’s view of branding and how Microsoft should handle the transition of the Nokia brands. Let’s see if the branding specialists can do better, or at least as well.