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Microsoft's 'Surface' -- a really bad name for a really good product

  • A fold-out keyboard clevelry integrated into the Surface's case -- combined with a "kickstand" in the back of the tablet -- turns this tablet into a full laptop.Microsoft Corp.

  • The new Microsoft Surface, the company's answer to the iPad?Microsoft Corp.

Apple can be counted on to surprise, inspire and delight; Microsoft can be counted on to trip over its own feet when it comes to marketing.

And they’ve done it again with Surface.

What was Microsoft thinking? I’m not sure they were.

The name Surface is bland and forgettable. It’s unlikely to drive brisk Apple-like lines around the block. 

Will people really say “I love my Surface.” 

Moreover, they are actually using the name from an earlier launch of a different Microsoft product. That’s right. They didn’t brainstorm a fresh name for a fresh product, they went back to a product release from 2007 aimed at a corporate market and tried to make it fit a consumer market.

That product was also a touch-screen device. The difference was it was the size of a coffee table (see for yourself) not a feather-light marvel of engineering.

Nothing says we’re out of creative solutions than this kind of lazy repurposing of old thinking. But this brings us to the real problem of the name. From almost all the technical reviews so far, Surface is actually really good and might even transform the tablet market. 

In other words, Microsoft isn’t out of creative solutions, but it has failed to express this fact.

Getting a product’s name right is critical. Samsung’s Galaxy range of tablets both inspires and informs. Put the name together with Samsung’s great advertising and a potential buyer instantly understands that there is a “galaxy” of possibility in the device Samsung is offering. 

You have to wonder how a company like Microsoft with so many resources including a CEO who was a top marketer himself could make this kind of mistake. But it’s been done before by big companies that should have known better. Hydrox comes to mind, a great cookie – the original “Oreo” in fact— whose name sounded like a detergent. 

Fact is, Microsoft has always been clunky when it comes to reaching consumers and in this case there might be another focus for the company that caused it to overlook the importance of the naming process. The most likely reason Surface exists is because Microsoft, a software manufacturer, thinks it is high time that hardware manufacturers start making tablets that runs Microsoft software, so things like Office have a chance. It just might have wanted to give the market a nudge. 

Microsoft beat Apple long ago by picking the PC as the platform that would rule the world. Maybe Microsoft is doing the same thing with the tablet.

And, who knows, with Microsoft’s great distribution, even Surface might catch on with consumers despite the name. Still, they ought to have tried harder to get the name right. 

John Tantillo is a marketing and branding expert who markets his own services as The Marketing Doctor. He writes frequently for Fox News Opinion and is author of the book "People Buy Brands, Not Companies."Links

John Tantillo is a marketing and branding expert who markets his own services as The Marketing Doctor. He writes frequently for Fox News Opinion and is author of "People Buy Brands, Not Companies."