Sunday, December 21, 2008

MSN Brand Inventory

According to Keller (2008, p 129), an inventory is a “supply-side” view of the brand. He also notes that an inventory profiles competitors to understand points of parity and points of difference.

Products and Services Offered
From 1995 through 2005, MSN was the umbrella brand for all online services offered from Microsoft (see Rosoff, 2006, p 1). Beginning in 2006, the Windows LIVE brand was introduced and applied to certain online properties with a goal of reinvigorating them to compete more effectively through association with the Windows brand name. For example, MSN Hotmail became Windows LIVE Mail, MSN Messenger became Windows LIVE Messenger, and MSN Search became LIVE Search. However, Rosoff (p1) goes on to note that several of the MSN brand names are category traffic leaders so that Microsoft decided to also keep the MSN brand for many online services.

Tancer (2008, pp 1-2) works at Experian, and uses the Experian categories for segmenting online services. MSN has a point of parity in each Experian category, with the exception of Sports, Employment, and Personality. In terms of total share of Internet visits, MSN captures 2.4% compared with Google at 7.7% and Yahoo at 13.2%. Both MSN and Yahoo have portal services that Google does not. SiteSeeker (2008, p 1) characterizes search as the dominant service in the competition between the three giants. Rosoff and Tancer have a more balanced perspective that includes a complete set of online services that draws traffic to the site.

In its SEC 10-K filing (see SEC, June 30, 2008), Microsoft characterizes its Online Services Business as an online advertising platform. This platform offers personal communication services such as email and messaging, the MSN portal, LIVE Search, MSN Hotmail, MSN Mobile Services, MSN Premium Web Services, MapPoint and MSN Internet Access. Here is a list of MSN properties with sufficient traffic to rank in the top four sites by category.

Now I will review the MSN services that attract advertisers to the site. There is a parallel set of products and services to support marketing efforts to advertisers, the paying customers for the MSN brands. Sterling (2005, p 1) reports that the MSN AdCenter product is well liked by advertisers. It has advanced demographic and psychograhic mapping capabilities that allow them to better target communications. Marketing Vox (2006, p 1) commended MSN on the high quality of its AdCenter platform.

To help advertisers optimize their return on investment with MSN, Microsoft now offers a training program and a certification credential. The training program instructs advertiser staff on different strategies and tactics to use for different marketing communications to different publics. Zol reports (2007, p 1) that this is important and needed for point of parity in the category. Keller (p 110) notes that MSN’s service is not required to be equal to Google to establish a point of parity but rather just “good enough.”

Finally, Microsoft offers a community forum to assist advertisers with their Web marketing through commentary by Web analytics experts, software development experts who talk about the ability to customize AdCenter services through application programming interfaces, and a variety of other topics. A typical example is Brian Eisenberg discussing the Seven Biggest Mistakes of Web Analytics (see Ad Center).

Links to other aspects of the inventory follow:
MSN Competitive Environment Inventory

MSN Marketing Support Programs

MSN Brand Hierarchy

Evaluating MSN against Keller's Six Criteria

Chickowski, Erica (02/08/2008). Brand Identities After a Microsoft and Yahoo Deal. Baseline. Retrieved on November 22, 2008 from

Keller, K (2008). Strategic Brand Management. Pearson/Prentice-Hall.

Marketing Vox, (October 4, 2007). Ballmer Sees Ad Revenue as Microsoft's Future. Retrieved on November 19, 2008 from

Rosoff, M (October 23, 2006). The Future of MSN. Directions on Microsoft. Retrieved on November 22, 2008 from

Site-Seeker (2007). Search Engines. Retrieved on November 15, 2008 from

SEC (June 30, 2008). Microsoft Corporation Form 10-K. Retrieved on November 19, 2008 from

Sterling, Greg (March 17, 2005). MSN AdCenter. Search Engine Journal Retrieved on December 2, 2008 from

Tancer, Bill (August 3, 2006). Google, Yahoo! and MSN: Brand Association. Hitwise Intelligence. Retrieved on November 22, 2008 from

Zol, James (December 3, 2007). Google, Yahoo!, and MSN All Offer Accreditation Now. Semvironment. Retrieved on December 2, 2008 from

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