Are You Trying to Sell us a Search Engine?

June 11, 2009

comparisonI read an interesting post by a good friend of mine, Kevin Pruett over at  He poses the question, are we more inclined to use a product or service based on word of mouth or consumer advertising?  Using the recent launch of and subsequent mass marketing effort by Microsoft as a basis for argument, Kevin asks if we are supposed to be persuaded by ads to use a new search engine.

This is an interesting question.  Up until the release of Bing, close to 70% of US searches were done on Google.  And Google, even at its inception, never advertised their search engine to consumers.  In fact, a majority of the services that we have come to grow familiar with online never advertised to us.  We either read a good review and decided to give it a try, or we found out about it from a friend of ours.

It was much more popular to advertise online services during the dotcom boom.  Yahoo and Ask both spent millions on commercial advertising campaigns to try to dominate the search market, and a lot of good that has done them in the long run.  So why now, does Microsoft think we will be that much more responsive to a $100 million campaign?  Do they believe their product is that much better and that if I use it just once I will be hooked?

You’ve heard of first mover advantage, but what about last mover?  Because although they market Bing as a decision engine (the “evolution” of the search engine), in many ways it is just another Google.  They are so late to the traditional search game that its hard to imagine they can make much noise in the space.

So lets turn our attention to the nature of the ad campaign.

Using the tagline, “Bing and decide”, Microsoft is trying to sell us on the fact that traditional search is too difficult, too time consuming, extremely confusing, and in need of a makeover.  We have “search overload”, and need a “decision engine” to help us find exactly what we are looking for.

Not a bad idea.  Except that the content of their ads, though creative, does not hit on those points very strongly.  They use generic search terms, terms that Google users will most likely say are not confusing, and they exxagerate the type of responses you would get from a traditional search engine.  Instead of highlighting the major differences between Bing and Google, such as the travel and health category searches that seem to be very strong, they basically accuse everyday searches of being broken.  And in fact, if you go to Bing and Google and search the same term, the results are going to be 70-80% the same.

Then, in addition to the television ads, they are advertising on major content sites across the web such as the New York Times homepage.  In my opinion, this is a waste because if people are on these content-type pages, they are not looking to search.

Let’s say the ads are effective enough to draw me in, now the real marketing starts.  Because you are not spending millions of dollars for me to search once or twice, you are spending that money to convert me from a Google user to a Bing user.  But if the product does not live up to the hype, you’ve lost me.  And all the money in the world will not bring me back.


I just don’t think that you can basically force a new search engine on the masses, which is what this feels like to me.  Especially when most of us don’t think our search engine is broken to begin with.  Why not spend more money in development, create something even more unique and effective, and let the word of mouth start to spread.  That’s how to gain a long term rate of converted users and build a new brand loyalty.

The method they decided to go with will lead to sudden jumps in traffic but I don’t see how they will have any long term effect on the search market.  They have built what I consider to be the 2nd best search engine available today, nothing more and nothing less.  Overall, I give the strategy a low rating, C-.

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Separation of Products and Communities (part 2)

October 22, 2008

This is a follow up to my previous post on companies using web 2.0 technologies to add value to their brands.

The question to ask yourself when developing your online communities, how much do you separate the product from the “society“?  Do you have to be a customer to join the group?  Do you have to pay a subscription to join the conversation?  And how much control do you take to manage the way the network works?

The answer will be different for everyone.  There are multiple ways to do it right.  But at the same time, there are multiple ways to do it wrong.

Rule #1 – Too much control is always a bad thing.  Control, for certain companies, may be important.  But it will almost always kill a social network or community.  The great thing about the major networks is the freedom that people have to do whatever they want and talk about whatever they want.  They find people with things in common, and they network.  Now with your company, the common bond may be the fact that they love your products, but you have to let them do what they want with it, or you will chase some users away.

Rule #2 – Whenever possible, separate participation from spending money.  Make the community free, an add-on to your services.  Maybe they have to be a member of your website, but let them do it at no cost.  And do not try to sell them on anything as part of the network.  Give them stuff to talk about, reward them with options.  But if you push them, they will run.

Rule #3 – Listen.  Instead of controlling what they say and what they talk about, just pay attention to it.  You can learn a lot about your customers by just letting them interact with each other.  Use the information to better structure your marketing and your product offerings.  It will make a difference.

Rule #4– Let them spread the word.  Seth Godin talks about ideas the spread.  Give them great products and services, let them talk about it, and give them the microphone and the power to spread your message.  Soon you will find that you have created a free marketing tool.

Innovating the way your customers interact with other customers as well as your company is a natural path to growth and development.