Why Skype as a Cross-Over Brand is important to Microsoft

Everyone and their dog has reported on the acquisition of Skype to Microsoft this week, it even made the BBC 10 o’clock news, so I need not cover it here again in any detail.

What I will highlight is an important subtlety which strategically may be significant to Microsoft going forward but which I’ve not yet heard mentioned.

The world of social media has accelerated the blurring of lines between work and play, enterprise and home, business and personal.

Microsoft continues to take the bulk of it’s revenue from traditional enterprise software sales while it sinks millions into trying to keep pace with the future: mobile phone and internet, social (that wonderfully woolly catch-all) and Enterprise 2.0 (much as I hate that term).

LinkedIn and Facebook, plus the up and comings like Twitter and Huddle, are proof that the business world is in mid-collision with the personal web. Functionality like “Chatter” in Salesforce, and social CRM systems are the tip of the iceberg.

It is becoming harder and harder NOT to do business, or as a customer engage with brands, on the services which until recently were reserved for friends and personal pleasure.

Aside from MSOffice and possibly Bing search, Microsoft’s services remain pretty siloed. It’s Outlook and Exchange in the workplace and Hotmail at home.

MSN Messenger is not, generally, used in the office. Microsoft Windows Phones used to be a business device, but they took so long catching up many companies have switched to Apple iPhone or remain with RIM’s Blackberry.

Skype in contrast is a hybrid – one of the few big 2.0 web companies whose brand neatly straddles work and play. It is inherently social and is “acceptable” to use it in a business or corporate setting as much as if sitting at home on the sofa.

More and more services and brands will occupy this mongrel position of being cross-over brands especially as everything becomes mobile.

Happy Happy Joy Joy. Well, for now.

Are we really going to be carrying TWO mobile devices (one for work and one for home) in 2015? I doubt it. Blackberry have already begun to attend to this issue with their new O/S 7.0 devices due this Summer; it remains to be seen how successfully they’ll be aiding that separation on one handset.

Skype’s culture is pretty cool (Skype’s Estonian office is one of the funkiest I’ve ever visited) and happily hopefully for the recently swalled Skype workforce, many of the people I’ve met at Microsoft in recent years have none of the baggage and arrogance from yesteryear- in fact they are the abject opposite.

People talk about the corporate bureaucracy at Microsoft (and I’m sure it’s there) but as the old guard inevitably rotate out, change must be making root and spreading fast.

Microsoft remains on the back foot with Windows Phone 7.0 but they have a large war-chest of cash to play with – and a few more ballsey acquisitions of hybrid cross-over companies like Skype might be just what they need to keep pace.

Alternatively, the usual problems with integrating two very different companies, may just make the thing a premature Christmas turkey purchase.