Two approaches to technology platform and network branding—Microsoft and Google

As part of a recent client assignment, we were asked to consider the different ways that technology companies brand their operating systems and network offerings.
We took a look at Microsoft and Google. It’s interesting to see how their branding approaches are similar and how they are different.


In 1985, Microsoft created the Windows brand for its operating system. Windows became the foundation for the company’s branding practices for years to come…and is still their model today.

First of all, note that the Windows logo has little in common with the Microsoft corporate logotype. Instead, Windows takes the role of a sub-brand with a distinct identity and soft parent endorsement. This sub-brand approach creates a balanced and somewhat non-proprietary presence for the company’s operating system on countless computer products.

Microsoft extended this sub-brand approach to its software suites with the same branding strategy in mind. For example, Microsoft Office adapts the Windows brand and again includes the Microsoft endorsement.

Clients always ask is Microsoft what we would call a masterbrand? I believe it is. The company consistently reinforces the parent brand on its wide range of offerings. But this is also a powerful sub-brand strategy, creating a seamless presence for its key OS and software offerings. These approaches are not necessarily exclusive of one another.

Bing represents a strategic departure from Microsoft’s masterbrand approach—the belief being that the more separation from the struggling MSN brand, the better this search engine could compete with Google.

This takes us to Google
Google took some plays from the Microsoft branding playbook for its platform and product brands and then decided to run a different set of patterns. Initially, in the 1990s, Google only needed to identify a new search engine. It created its playful name and identity that soon became iconic in this space.

Yet, like so many successful brands, the opportunity presented itself for masterbrand extensions. Google Mail came next, which became Gmail to reflect how it was commonly referred to. As in the case of Microsoft, the familiar “capital G”, the primary colors, and a parent endorsement, maintained a strong masterbrand connection.

Chrome also followed a branding approach similar to Microsoft’s Office branding—that is, an extension of the core elements of the identity.

But then a funny thing happened on the way to the “network.”
Google decided on the name Android for its mobile operating system (accompanied by a number of interesting trademark issues—perhaps for another blog).

Why the radical departure from the Google masterbrand?

It was undoubtedly a strategic decision to create community and excitement for its open platform—maybe in a way that the Google brand would fall short. The buzz among geeks at the moment is obvious.
Which approach is better?

You have to wonder whether so much separation from the Google brand makes sense in the long term. However, the ever evolving technology environment and the multichannel issues it creates raises new branding challenges and perhaps defies common branding wisdom.

Jeff Lapatine is the group director, naming and brand architecture, for the Siegel+Gale New York Office.

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