Will Microsoft Get Search Branding Right With ‘Kumo’?

Is Microsoft about to rebrand Live Search as “Kumo”?

News reports on Monday had the software giant buying up domain names such as “Kumo.com,” “Kumo.net,” “Kumo.jp” and the like from CSC Corporate Domains, a domain registrar with which Microsoft often does business.

There are two prevailing schools of thought regarding “Kumo” — Japanese for “cloud” and “spider” — at the moment. One, Microsoft wants to rebrand its search engine. Two, Microsoft will use “Kumo” to brand its new cloud computing products.

The latter might seem more obvious, given one of the English translations of “Kumo,” but Microsoft watchers have their doubts.

The End of Windows Live Search?

Live Search was once known as “MSN Search.” Then, in 2005, Microsoft began to rebrand many of its desktop applications and online services in an attempt to show developers and users that it was tying its traditional business with the next generation of Internet services, according to Matt Rosoff, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft.

“MSN Search got caught up in Microsoft’s latest online strategy shift to Windows Live Search in 2005,” Rosoff said. “It was bad branding. It didn’t make sense for MSN Search to be part of Windows Live, because search is more of a portal function.”

Then, Windows Live Search became just “Live Search.” Is “Kumo” the next step in the evolution of Microsoft’s search engine brand? Rosoff thinks that is likely.

“It sounds to me like this is more than just a project code name,” he said. “When they use code names internally, you see Microsoft buy up domain names in case news about the code name leaks. But the fact that they’re buying up domains all over the world — it looks like this is some sort of a product.”

That said, adopting yet another brand name for Live Search may not be wise.

“Microsoft execs have said publicly that they have a confusing brand strategy,” Rosoff said. “I don’t know if adding another brand into the mix is the right way to go — unless they rebrand everything online.”

Cloud Computing

“Kumo” could also be a new name for Microsoft’s cloud computing initiative, but that seems a less likely possibility.

“It seems like where they really need a brand strategy is around Live Services,” Sid Parakh, an equity analyst at McAdams Wright Ragen, told the E-Commerce Times. “They already have a named picked for their cloud platform — ‘Azure.'”

Several “Kumo” domain names are actually registered to Live Search, Directions’ Rosoff pointed out.

“It seems to me, just looking at the fact that it was registered to Live Search, that [Kumo] is a consumer-facing product,” he said.

What About Yahoo?

Microsoft has often been criticized for throwing huge sums of marketing dollars at its products in an attempt to drive adoption instead of working on making the products themselves more compelling.

It’s important for Microsoft to get the branding around Live Search right, though, and spending a ton of money to do so might not be a bad idea, Parakh said. “If it works out, it’ll be money well spent.”

Another open question is what would happen to the “Kumo” brand if Microsoft were to acquire rival Yahoo’s search assets?

“Who knows where the whole Yahoo thing ends up?” Parakh asked. “What we can say is that independent of Yahoo, Live Search needs to be successful. If Yahoo happens, great, it’ll expedite that whole path — but if it doesn’t, they have to be ready, and that’s what they’re gearing up for.”

If a Yahoo Search acquisition does take place, that could be the end of “Kumo.”

“If they keep Yahoo Search,” Parakh said, “they would most likely keep the ‘Yahoo’ brand, and ‘Kumo’ would go away.”

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