Last year Microsoft introduced the world to an up-and-coming technology called “Project Natal”, its Xbox appliance that enables gamers to interact with Xbox games without any hand-held controllers. This week at the E3 conference Microsoft is finally introducing it for delivery this holiday season. But as part of all of the fanfare, Microsoft officially named the device “Kinect”.
Now, “Kinect” is actually a good name for the product, and the device has the potential to be incredibly successful, but that’s not the point of this blog post. Rather, I’d like to muse about the strategy to use one name for the many months leading up to the actual launch, and then change the name just before the launch. Microsoft has always done that with its operating systems. For example, Windows Server 2008 was referred to as “Codename Longhorn” from early 2005 through August, 2007, when Bill Gates announced its official name in anticipation of its February, 2008 release.
Although that might be fine with operating systems, especially those designed for the corporate server market, Project Natal – er, uh, Kinect – is different. It is a consumer product, not a corporate one. And 2010 is not 2005. When Microsoft announced Project Natal in 2009, it released a video showcasing its capabilities. That video has been on the Top 10 viral video charts every month since then. It has received millions of views, and virtually every gamer has heard about it. Moreover, forums and social media sites have been abuzz over it non-stop.
In other words, social media is the name of the game in 2009/2010, for those companies who know how to use it well. Microsoft certainly did use it well this past year, getting the whole gaming world knowing about and discussing their upcoming product. But they didn’t hit a home run because of their naming tactic. Some of that branding value will now disappear because the word “Natal” no longer exists for Microsoft. They absolutely can – and will – spend lots of money to imprint the new name in people’s minds, but a more nimble and cost-conscious company might have come up with the final brand name a year ago. Then they could have gotten their branding done for them without a massive advertising campaign (allowing that money to be used more effectively elsewhere).
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