It should come as no surprise that Microsoft, the future owner of Skype, fired most of Skype’s executive staff last week because that is, sadly for the execs, often the ramifications of company buyout.

The surprise is that Microsoft wants to take over Skype in the first place. There’s something in the Skype brand that feels from an earlier era, as though it’s been passed by in the era of Facebook chatting, AIM iChat, Yahoo Messenger, texting, FaceTime and smart phones.

skype_4.2And that’s exactly how Microsoft feels too.

Brands involved in any merger or buyout should be related either by industry or, more importantly, brand promise. Otherwise, no equity is carried over from one brand or another – and the new company and its promise become less believable.

One that got it right: FedEx and Kinko’s. They were not in the same business, but they had a similar brand promise. Both promised “peace of mind.” (“If you have to get it there…” “We are your office away from home…”) FedEx Office emerged and made sense to the public.

The Microsoft and Skype brand promises fit well together too, but for all the wrong reasons. They both feel overly complicated, out of touch and outdated. The buyout is Microsoft trying to catch up in the technology race with a wheelbarrow.

Both can change that perception, of course, but it means an overhaul, not just of the brands, but also in operations, research development and business model. It must also start with Microsoft’s own brand because, however Microsoft uses Skype, the Microsoft brand will play into the success or failure of Skype – no matter what form it all turns out to be.

Will Microsoft simply dismantle Skype and make its product offerings part of Microsoft? Rebrand it altogether? Leave it alone?

Those are important decisions that must be dictated by market forces and the desires of target audiences. (And finding those things only comes from quantitative research that goes beyond measuring simple attitudes and usage.)

But those decisions alone won’t make the difference between success and failure. If Microsoft doesn’t fix its own brand first, Skype will continue to feel complicated, out of touch and outdated. Because that’s what Microsoft represents as well.