Microsoft’s Bing – Marketing Communications

Microsoft is a U.S. computer software firm, founded in 1975 by the legendary Bill Gates.  One of Microsoft’s products is Bing, an internet search engine that was launched back in 2009. Initialy, the vast majority of consumers – particularly the less tech-savvy – felt no need to switch from Google.  However, Bing’s market share has now grown to a respectable 17.9%, while Google has remained at a dominant 67%.  Microsoft’s next marketing strategy is to steal disloyal Google users in an attempt to gain further ground on Google’s share.  Part of this strategy is a campaign called ‘Bing It On’.

As part of Microsoft’s market challenger strategy, the aim of the campaign is to convert Google (the market leader) users to Bing users.  Google consumers are encouraged – through social media marketing and online public relations – to visit http://www.bingiton.com.  On the website visitors are asked to make five searches and vote each time for which results they prefer.  Importantly, these results are unbranded, which should mean that visitors are unbiased in their voting.  At the end of the experiment, their results are shown, identifying the users favorite search engine.

There are, unfortunately, a number of flaws with this test: previously visited links are purple, slight forms of branding are visible – such as Bing maps – and lastly users are likely to search for their interests and therefore roughly know how Google displays those results.  As a result of this, the implementation of this communications tactic is less than ideal.

Having said that, in terms of marketing strategy this is a very clever idea.  Just to reiterate: it is the implementation that has reduced the likely effectiveness of this tactic in changing consumer behavior.  In true, Manifested Marketing style, lets take a look at a strategic model that shows why this is a good communications campaign in theory.

 

There are four types of buying behavior:

Complex Buying Behavior this occurs when the consumer perceives there to be lots of differences between brands along with a highly involved information search.  Hence, the buyer searches extensively for information on the available brands before making a purchase.  An example of this would be shopping for a car.

Dissonance Reducing Buying Behavior in this case there is not perceived to be any meaningful difference in brands by the consumer, yet still undergo a high involvement information search.  This is because the consumer fears making a purchase they will later regret and similarity between brands makes it hard to find a suitable product.  An example of this would be purchasing a carpet.

Variety-Seeking Behavior – this behavior is present when there are differences between brands, yet the purchase is not risky enough to warrant an extensive information search.  Consumers are likely to demonstrate this when buying confectionery.

Habitual Buying Behaviorlastly, when consumers see very little difference in available brands, there is minimal risk and no information search, they are likely to buy the product out of habit.  This is the type of Google user Microsoft’s Chief Envisioning Officer, Dave Coplin, is aiming to ‘steal’ from Google.

By engaging consumers, and making them think about the search engine they are using, Microsoft intends for consumers to realize that there are differences between Bing and Google.  Consequently, anyone with little brand loyalty to Google is likely to switch from habitual buying behavior to variety-seeking buying behavior.  This would result in Bing gaining a larger market share from ex-habitual buyers now using Bing on some occasions.

I believe this is a much more realistic prediction of consumer behavior than hoping Google users will ‘kick the habit’ and jump straight to using Bing exclusively.  As search engine choice is a low involvement decision, social judgement theory states consumers should have a wider latitude of acceptance – this means they will believe a greater variety of opinions.  Despite this, media attention of the campaign – particularly from the Freakonomics Blog – have harmed its reputation.  Thus consumers are now skeptical about believing Bing’s claims on user preference, which damages the credibility of the Bing It On website. The overall effectiveness of the campaign is thus undermined.

Despite the shoddy implementation, I think that this campaign is a step in the right direction for what Microsoft’s marketing strategy needs to be in order to grow Bing’s user base.  Specifically, I think they should use their second user advantage to watch Google closely and then introduce futher  Bing features over time to differentiate themselves.  I believe this is far more likely to be successful than Microsoft’s past strategy of duplicating Google’s services.

If you have taken the Bing It On challenge, let me know your results and search engine preference in the comments below!

© Josh Blatchford, author of Manifested Marketing, 12/10/2013

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