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5/29/2009
10:01 AM
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Oh No, Not Another Microsoft Branding Campaign!

There's been a lot of coverage exploring questions about the functionality of Bing, Microsoft's new search engine. Before the company blows $100 million trying to give consumers the answer, I thought I'd give it two branding ideas.

There's been a lot of coverage exploring questions about the functionality of Bing, Microsoft's new search engine. Before the company blows $100 million trying to give consumers the answer, I thought I'd give it two branding ideas.First, don't do it! I mean, don't spend the money on advertising. Microsoft's promo video on Bing declares "the world doesn't need another search engine, it needs a decision engine," which is great, even if it's kinda incomprehensible. I think the Bing pitch is that it'll deliver better filtered and organized search results, so folks won't have to work so hard to get to their desired answers (avoiding something it's calling "search overload").

That would be great, but unless Microsoft has figured out how to read minds, Bing is just another search engine, even if it proves to be a more efficient one. There's no way to prove how much different or better it is with creative slogans, wonderful imagery, or special events with acrobats in leotards repelling down the sides of billboards (hello, Vista!). Branding a better search requires behavior; just ask Ask or Yahoo how that image branding thing works.

So Microsoft would do well to figure out how to get users to 1) use it, and 2) understand, and then communicate their experiences. Moviegoers need to be statistically happier with their choices made on Bing. Ditto for folks who dine out, or shoppers in search of particular items. Airfares have to be some percentage cheaper for travel searched with Bing. College term papers need to get done faster. Sure, the marketers can make all of this sexy, but the creativity on the front-end should focus on prompting and managing such behavior. I hear there's this thing called "social media" that might be useful (not to promote the branding nonsense, but allow people to actually do things).

To misquote Microsoft, "the world doesn't need another beautiful, inert ad campaign from Microsoft."

Secondly, even if Bing provides more efficient search, the idea of outsourcing decisions is creepy. Worse, it raises the question that bedevils Internet search overall: it's less about understanding consumer questions than it is about matching them to the answers various companies and other interested entities want to provide. Results have to satisfy consumer needs, of course, but doing so comes at a price (paid by marketers). Even "organic" results are a different genus of commercial transaction, of a sort.

Wouldn't "better" in this context mean results that were more "authentic" or commercially agnostic? I'm sure the world doesn't need another search engine, just like it doesn't necessarily need a better one. Perhaps the opportunity is to give us one we can trust?

This would mean spending a branding budget on some benchmarks, committee, and/or process that transparently authenticated Bing's services. Microsoft could find ways to make the distinctions between sponsored and non-sponsored results even more obvious, and then go the extra mile and affirm how those non-sponsored results are decided. Think bank stress-tests, only ongoing. Don't ask me to abdicate my decision-making authority to an algorithm, no matter how smart it is.

Of course, Microsoft has probably already bought and paid for some hoity-toity branding campaign that'll do none of the above. It's only $100 million, after all.

And Bing may be just another search engine.

Jonathan Salem Baskin writes the Dim Bulb blog and is the author of Branding Only Works On Cattle.

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