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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Cheering Section Grows for Bing, The Little Microsoft Engine That Could

Naoise Osborne packs a lot of insight into this column "Bad Decision, Engine: The Problems with Marketing Search (and why Bing needs the tech vote to survive."

Osborne's key premise is that Bing is a pretty good search engine, and a healthy cross-section of users are already delighted by it. But the marketing positioning about it being a "Decision Engine" is potentially running at cross-purposes with the simple flow of communications.

It's true - for most people a search engine is a way to look stuff up on the Internet. So it's a search engine. The details may delight, but that's not something you put in the ads. New categories confuse people.

Cars have been around a very long time. And for many decades, all anyone needed to know was that Jack had just bought himself a beautiful car. The latest model. Better than last year's "car."

After 80 years of mainstream consumer acceptance of the concept of building a better car, sure, you can invent a whole new category - the "minivan," the "SUV," and reinvent that industry.

Similarly, brooms and mops are so familiar to people that a Swiffer sweeper can actually invent its own category. That type of thing's a longshot, but in the Swiffer case it worked. I'm not sure Microsoft is looking to take a longshot style bet here, though.

People have only been "searching" for 15, 10, or 5 years. Mainstream products should have mainstream positioning. So "search engine" it is.

I find this a bit strange, almost as if people's curiosity has gone in reverse as Google's product has gotten better. A pretty sizable portion of the search audience in 1996-2000 was interested in the differences between search engines. The Ask Jeeves (if it really were natural language search) technology. Metasearch so you can "search all the engines." Proportionally fewer people have time or patience for these things anymore. But that's a function of the fact that the search audience is much bigger now, and much more dependent on search and navigation, than it was in 1998.

Osborne seems to contradict himself by looking for geek acceptance of Bing, though. That's how Google succeeded (if you count journalists and librarians as geeks, given that they were the hubs in those days), but isn't Microsoft's positioning different? How are you going to win geeks over with this thing, truly? Especially if you're trying to keep that effort consistent with the very fact that you plan to lean very heavily on a $100 million TV ad campaign?

A gem near the end of the piece: "Hire John Hodgeman – people love him. If you haven’t realized it yet Microsoft, everybody hates the cocky Mac guy, and everybody loves the adorable PC guy."

Ain't that the truth.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




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