Monday, June 8, 2009

A hundred million mistakes: Microsoft's Bing search engine

By Mark Hurst

Microsoft has a problem. It's sitting on a cash hoard of what, 20 or 30 billion dollars, waiting to be invested somewhere - and meanwhile Google's influence keeps getting bigger, bigger, bigger. Not to mention all those Apple commercials still making fun of Windows.

Everything Microsoft has tried recently hasn't worked. They tried the "I'm a PC" ads, a knockoff of the Mac ads - didn't work. Tried the Zune, a knockoff of the iPod - didn't work. Tried redoing MSN Search again and again, as a knockoff of Google - didn't work. What's the world coming to, when Microsoft can't build a monopoly around a knockoff?

It's those effing customers. They keep choosing the best experience.

I have to imagine this is tough on Ballmer and whoever else over there. No matter what they try, the customers refuse to take orders from Redmond. Sure, lots of people still pay the upgrade tax on Windows and Office every two years, but only because they have to. There's no love.

So what does Microsoft do? They launch - I'm still reeling from this - they launch a search engine. To compete head-on with Google. In search. I just need to type that again: Microsoft wants to unseat Google with a search engine.

Now here's where it gets really nuts.

Microsoft's strategy, to win market share from Google, is not to compete on user experience. No. Microsoft's strategy is to advertise the heck out of the thing and hope people flock to the site.

They are spending - wait, let me try my best "Dr. Evil" voice - one hundred million dollars to order the world to use their search engine. According to a Microsoft exec in charge of the launch, "The key will be whether we deliver a product and connect with people emotionally in the advertising." (See quote in the NYT piece.)

A hundred million dollars to "connect with people emotionally in the advertising." If I've learned one thing in my customer experience work over 12 years, it's this: any online strategy built on emotional connection, based on flashy ads or a new font or color scheme on the website, is guaranteed to fail. Customers online don't respond to a brand marketed to them, they respond to the experience they have. If they can accomplish their goal quickly and easily, they return to the site, and tell their friends. It's that simple. And if one site already provides a good experience, then there's no need to consider switching to some other site, no matter what the company brags about itself in its ads.

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