With the Death of Internet Explorer, Microsoft Faces One of Its Greatest Branding Challenges

A new browser could end (or extend) the era of scorn

During the recent Microsoft Convergence conference, marketing chief Chris Capossela confirmed what has been rumored for months: The tech giant will finally ditch its long-standing default browser, Internet Explorer.

Instead, Microsoft has developed a new, unnamed browser—its code name is Project Spartan—to include in Windows 10. The company hasn't announced a release date yet, but there's speculation it will reveal more at the Microsoft Build 2015 conference in April.

While the company confirmed to Adweek that Internet Explorer will continue to exist in some Windows 10 versions for consumers who require legacy support, this move essentially closes the book on the Internet Explorer brand. 

Given the baggage that is now associated with Internet Explorer and its declining market share over the last decade, the decision is a logical if not overdue one, according to marketing and branding experts. As Internet Explorer fell out of favor, browsers like Firefox and Chrome hit the market and introduced new product innovations in faster, sleeker, easier-to-use browsers. 

"Tech brands are inherently different than nontech brands," said David Gaspar, managing director of brand consultancy DDG. "We cherish the history of Coca-Cola—it harkens back to youth, great times with friends and family, etc. Tech brands suffer from the exact same nostalgia, just in a negative way."

In recent years, people have forgotten that Internet Explorer pioneered many of the innovations—including Ajax or Java Script—that made the Internet what it was and what it is today. Instead, they've focused on the product's lackluster user experience, according to Roy DeYoung, svp of creative strategy for PM Digital. 

The flawed core functionality of Internet Explorer has clouded the brand's perception, drawing so much vitriol that Microsoft addressed this in a 2012 ad campaign. "It isn't just the name that has baggage, it's the product," said Matt Houltham, managing partner at Naked Communications. "Anyone that has used IE knows it's historically slow."  

By retiring Internet Explorer and starting anew, Microsoft has the chance to shed the user expectation attached to Internet Explorer and entice consumers with product innovations and new offerings, according to marketing and branding experts. While details about the new browser are sparse, Capossela did reveal that Microsoft is currently researching what the new brand or name for the browser should be and whether or not Microsoft should be a part of that name. 

"Naming is a great way to articulate a relationship between a product and a parent brand," said Tom Sepanski, naming and verbal identity director for Landor North America. "If they want to include Microsoft in the name, then whatever name they are pairing Microsoft with technically shouldn't compete, it should be complementary." 

But Microsoft has more to do than pick a name. The tactical realities of this move are enormous—securing trademark rights, picking a name that resonates globally, using focus groups to test the brand, securing URLs—but Microsoft first has to prove to consumers that the new browser will be markedly better than Internet Explorer. 

"What will be crucial for Microsoft to get right is the user experience," said Sepanski. "They can name this thing in whatever strategic way they want but if the product doesn't live up to expectations, if they can't deliver on the new promise, it's not going to be successful."  

Houltham agreed: "If they want people to reconsider Microsoft's browsing capabilities, then they need to be thinking of this as a new product. It isn't just putting lipstick on the Internet Explorer pig." 

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