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MSN Aims To Seduce AOL Users

By Elizabeth Millard
May 22, 2002 9:13 AM PT

In an effort to entice customers away from America Online, the largest Internet service provider (ISP) in the United States, Microsoft is readying a new campaign that targets users who are unhappy with AOL's services.

MSN Aims To Seduce AOL Users

The Redmond, Washington-based software giant is determined to make leaving AOL easier than dropping first-period Latin. Toward that goal, Microsoft has introduced a new suite of applications called TrueSwitch, which is designed to simplify the ISP switch for users wishing to leave AOL. The company plans to sweeten the offer by giving users US$50 when they switch from AOL to MSN.

Even more compelling for some AOL customers could be Microsoft's willingness to do the paperwork. Consumers can fill out a cancellation form on the MSN site, and TrueSwitch will e-mail the form to AOL.

Although TrueSwitch tools currently work only when switching from AOL to MSN, a wave of users abandoning AOL in favor of MSN could have ramifications beyond this single campaign.

Marketing Blitz

Presenting a much higher profile than the tools alone, during the next few months Microsoft intends to bombard consumers with an aggressive $10 million marketing campaign -- and the software behemoth will not mince words when trying to lure people into the fold.

"Over the past year, more than 50 percent of MSN's new subscribers have switched from AOL because they were tired of the over-simplified, over-commercialized and low-quality experience they were receiving from AOL," MSN product manager Lisa Gurry told the E-Commerce Times.

Bait for Switch

With TrueSwitch, consumers can set up e-mail forwarding from their AOL accounts to MSN and can send a message to everyone in their AOL address book informing them of the change.

The TrueSwitch tools were developed by New York-based Esaya and were designed to work specifically with AOL's system. Microsoft said it is not concerned about other ISPs, such as third-ranked EarthLink, because it wants to go after the biggest fish in the pond.

However, Microsoft said it also will offer a limited service for non-AOL customers who want to switch to MSN, allowing them to import Outlook Express contacts and Internet Explorer favorites.

Take My Customers, Please

Microsoft insisted that if the tide were to turn and AOL were to adopt technology that encouraged MSN customers to drift away, the company would not try to stop them. But the software giant does not believe that is going to happen.

"If an MSN customer chooses to switch to another ISP who is offering similar tools, we would not try to block them from that choice," Gurry said.

Microsoft even suggested that its move should be seen in a positive light by AOL. As Gurry put it, "We hope that AOL would approve of a service that is good for customers."

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