I read an interesting post by a good friend of mine, Kevin Pruett over at techsoomer.com. 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 Bing.com 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-.