When my wife and I first found out we were having a baby many years ago, the hardest part was coming up with the name. We started by making lists and eventually narrowed it down to one we could both agree on. I'm leaving out quite a bit of the stress associated with giving someone something they'll be stuck with forever, but all four of our children ended up with pretty normal names.
It turns out, names are hard, and not just when it comes to humans. Companies often have the same problem. And it's not just first-time entrepreneurs. Big companies have their own challenges. Take Microsoft, for example.
In a blog post, the company announced Monday that it was renaming its Bing search engine Microsoft Bing, in a rebranding effort the company says "reflects the continued integration of our search experiences across the Microsoft family."
Microsoft is a really big company, one of the most valuable in the entire world. It makes a lot of different products, including laptops, gaming consoles, and the most ubiquitous productivity software anywhere. Some of them are really good, in fact.
Bing, on the other hand, isn't necessarily bad--it's just that everyone uses Google. In some cases, an objective observer could argue that Bing returns more helpful responses to search queries. But none of that matters.
Why not? Because Google is the default search engine for almost every web browser that doesn't also have Microsoft in the name. Google pays Apple billions of dollars a year to be the default search engine on the iPhone. Most websites are optimized for Google. Google is also a verb. Bing is the last name of the most awkward character on Friends.
OK, I guess I can see why Microsoft might want to rebrand the service. Except--and this is important--changing the name doesn't change the reality.
Microsoft's mistake here is pretty common, really. Brands often think that changing a name can change the trajectory of a company or product. Microsoft isn't the first company to mistake a name for a brand. But there's a difference, and it's an important one.
A name is what you decide to call something. That's not your brand. Your brand is the way people feel about your company (or in this case, your search engine). A name is simply the piece that a user associates with that feeling.
However, just because you change the name, that doesn't change the feeling.
Facebook tried the same thing with Instagram and WhatsApp, adding its own name to make sure everyone knows who's in charge. Of course, in Facebook's case, it was more likely an effort to get some of the coolness-factor of those apps to roll up to the top. It doesn't work that way.
It won't work that way for Microsoft either, though I suspect the software giant is hoping the credibility flows in the opposite direction in this case. Microsoft certainly has an extremely strong brand, especially among corporate users. Its Windows operating systems still powers the vast majority of the world's PCs. It makes genuinely good hardware, like Surface laptops and Xbox gaming consoles.
I suppose there's some argument to be made that this isn't as much about rebranding the consumer-facing search engine you access from your browser as it is an effort to unify the company's search products behind one single brand. In that regard, there's a pretty good chance that most people feel more positively about Microsoft than they do about Bing.
Still, most people who have heard of Bing don't use it, and the ones who do probably do so because it's set as the default on their Windows device and they can't be bothered to change it.
But none of that means that people who have grown accustomed to searching for everything using Google will start using Microsoft Bing because it suddenly has "Microsoft" in the name, and a new logo on the website. Oh, yeah, they changed the logo to the standard Microsoft squares.
It's not like it comes completely as a surprise. The move represents a continuation of a recent trend by Microsoft, to stick its name in front of various services. For example, it changed the name of its Office suite to Microsoft 365 earlier this year.
Except, it takes more than a new name to get people to change their feeling, or more important, their behavior. When you confuse those, you make the mistake no brand should ever make.