MSN Aims To Seduce AOL Users

In an effort to entice customers away from America Online, the largest Internet serviceprovider (ISP) in the United States, Microsoft is readying a new campaign that targetsusers who are unhappy with AOL’s services.

The Redmond, Washington-based software giant is determined to make leaving AOL easierthan dropping first-period Latin. Toward that goal, Microsoft has introduced a new suiteof applications called TrueSwitch, which is designed to simplify the ISP switch for userswishing to leave AOL. The company plans to sweeten the offer by giving users US$50 whenthey switch from AOL to MSN.

Even more compelling for some AOL customers could be Microsoft’s willingness to do thepaperwork. Consumers can fill out a cancellation form on the MSN site, and TrueSwitchwill e-mail the form to AOL.

Although TrueSwitch tools currently work only when switchingfrom AOL to MSN, a wave of users abandoning AOL in favor of MSN could have ramificationsbeyond this single campaign.

Marketing Blitz

Presenting a much higher profile than the tools alone, during the next few months Microsoftintends to bombard consumers with an aggressive $10 million marketing campaign — and thesoftware behemoth will not mince words when trying to lure people into the fold.

“Over the past year, more than 50 percent of MSN’s new subscribers have switched from AOLbecause they were tired of the over-simplified, over-commercialized and low-qualityexperience they were receiving from AOL,” MSN product manager Lisa Gurry told theE-Commerce Times.

Bait for Switch

AOL has had to fend off Microsoft before, when the software giant offered free access andlower monthly fees to AOL subscribers. That tactic did not work, but this new move couldhave different results.

With TrueSwitch, consumers can set up e-mail forwarding from their AOL accounts to MSNand can send a message to everyone in their AOL address book informing them of thechange.

The TrueSwitch tools were developed by New York-basedEsaya and were designed to work specifically withAOL’s system. Microsoft said it is not concerned about other ISPs, such as third-rankedEarthLink, because it wants to go afterthe biggest fish in the pond.

However, Microsoftsaid it also will offer a limited service for non-AOL customers who want to switch toMSN, allowing them to import Outlook Express contacts and Internet Explorer favorites.

Take My Customers, Please

Microsoft insisted that if the tide were to turn and AOL were to adopt technology thatencouraged MSN customers to drift away, the company would not try to stop them. But thesoftware giant does not believe that is going to happen.

“If an MSN customer chooses to switch to another ISP who is offering similar tools, wewould not try to block them from that choice,” Gurry said.

Microsoft even suggested that its move should be seen in a positive light by AOL. AsGurry put it, “We hope that AOL would approve of a service that is good for customers.”

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