I used to know what Google stood for. The brand was so clear, that the company name even turned into a verb that means “To Search”. No longer. Google could mean search, email, instant message, book search, rss reader, the list goes on and on.
Whenever a company stumbles into a really popular brand, they go through stages. The first involves building the brand, making sure that customers know what to expect. The next is to protect the brand. Here a company rejects uses of the brand that don’t meet the original brand image. After a while, companies start viewing the brand as an asset to be exploited. That is where Google appears to be now. I’ve even stopped paying attention to their never-ending stream of beta service releases. I don’t know what Google stands for anymore.
Microsoft, in their apparent desire to “beat Google at something” has taken the fast track to brand dilution with their Live.com services. Live.com meant something when it was just and RSS enabled portal. I was still on board when they decided to bring search, mail, and IM under the header too, but a recent flurry of Live.com announcements has left me wondering “What does Live.com really stand for?” I thought Microsoft would have known better after they all but buried the .Net brand, but they are making the same mistakes again.
If you have a brand that means something to consumers, the worst thing you can do is attempt to leverage the brand for something that doesn’t mesh with the original image. This erodes the understanding and trust that your customers have in your brand.