Bing: The Agency Perspective

A few weeks ago, Microsoft launched Bing, a new search…I mean…decision engine. After thousands of positive reviews and a few hundred million dollars spent in advertising, it looks like Bing has some compelling offers that hopefully won’t get buried in quick judgment.

One bittersweet thing about our industry (and our society to a larger extent) is how quickly we can review, break down, and make a decision on something. We’re a society of Monday-morning quarterbacks that has access to enough news, videos, tweets, and blogs to provide opinions in minutes.

At the ripe age of 36, and spending about 13 of those years in the online space, I’m old enough to tell you whippersnappers that you need to slow down. Sometimes we move too quickly, which hinders our ability to make good long-term decisions. Many of the Bing reviews were insightful, but all of them ended with the sentiment that Bing has low market share and likely won’t dent Google at this time.

My SEW colleague Kevin Newcomb wrote about putting the M back in SEM. I couldn’t agree more. We need to get back to some fundamentals of marketing and not worry about if Bing can topple Google two weeks after launch. Therefore, I wanted to spend some time talking through not so much what Bing is today, but in principle what it and Google, Wolfram|Alpha, etc. represent for the future of marketing.

Full disclosure: Microsoft owns Razorfish, where I work. But they maintain a Wilt Chamberlain arm’s distance from us — meaning there won’t be a “Simpsons” Xbox waiting for me at home.

Searching vs. Deciding

Bing’s first move to differentiate was establishing itself as a “decision engine” and not a search engine. This seems like marketing double-speak. We search so that we can make a decision, right?

When I was researching the Kindle 2, Google helped me decide — three days later — that it cost too much. There’s a whole lot of information out there — almost too much. It’s too easy to get lost in a sea of links.

This isn’t to say that the results aren’t useful, but sometimes we just need to decide. IBM said it best: “Stop thinking, start doing.”

Bing is targeting some specific categories and attempting to direct the user with a result that says “this is the answer.” Of course, this isn’t exactly the way to go. We all make decisions based on aspects of our life that search engines don’t know anything about. Searching is necessary. However, I like that it considers it helping me decide quickly.

For example, a search for “Johnson & Johnson” returns only one result. It’s almost as if you have Chandler Bing sitting over your shoulder saying, “Could you be searching for something else?”

Search for FedEx and you get a few more results, but they’re focused around what likely 85 percent of searchers are looking for. This can get dangerous if you’re trying to broaden into something that Bing doesn’t think you do, but this is particularly helpful when doing product searches.

When you search for “nikon digital camera” you see shopping results and images front and center. You may still be in the research phase, but let’s make some assumptions here for what is likely the intent behind this query.

Google provides shopping results, but places them below the fold and in the all too similar blue link structure. If I want to buy the same camera that that dopey Ashton Kutcher uses so that I can smash it over his head, which result do you think best helps me decide? (The one with the picture).

Some argue that Google’s presentation is about exploration. But it’s 2009, and there’s enough data that the engines should be able to guess at what we’re trying to do. After all, isn’t that the payoff of the Internet and search — you see how I traverse around the Web so you know enough about me to make some educated suggestions. You’re supposed to be my virtual wingman.

I’m Pretty

Universal search, Bing, RAIS, Wolfram|Alpha, local integration, Ask redesign (for the four people who use it), and other recent updates to the search engines show that the industry is changing, but not in the way you think. Search engines are still there are to help us answer questions, but how we want to see this information has changed and can’t be ignored. Bing is following through on the groundwork laid by universal search, in which the presentation and diversity of information is as important as the information itself.

Wolfram|Alpha gives you a Joe Friday “just the facts” look and feel which makes it great for fact-based results. Bing is pretty. As a marketer, you can’t ignore pretty.

Depending on your search, you don’t know what to expect from Bing results. It could be product reviews, images, videos, 10 results, two results, 25 results, local, or related search. Regardless of Bing’s 11 percent market share, it’s providing information in multiple layouts and formats. That has several implications:

  1. Optimize it all: You can’t ignore universal search anymore. People want more than blue links, and engines aren’t only allowing that, but making changes based on that.
  2. Don’t ignore data from third parties: Bing is using results that bring in third-party content (e.g., review sites, shopping engines) so make sure you’re doing everything you can to optimize against those. Solicit reviews, product videos, and go through the trouble of tagging images.
  3. Partnerships: In my digital camera searches, Bing Cashback partners are highlighted, which is an incentive for me to click on the third listing over the first.

Integration and Planning

You know the whole “search and display working hand-in-hand” argument? This is an argument that Bing may be better positioned to take advantage of over Google.

Bing is deeply integrated with MSN and all of its properties, and has focused on four lucrative markets: shopping (MSN Shopping), travel (Farecast), health (Healthvault), and local. Google offers display opportunities, but can they create an integrated campaign as easily as Microsoft should be able to?

We also understand that Google’s mission statement hasn’t always been about making money, where Microsoft’s has. To steal some of those dollars, Microsoft will likely offer integration opportunities that, quite frankly, Google won’t and can’t.

Rush to Judgment

At the very least, hopefully you and your agencies are taking advantage of the buzz and $100 million in advertising and testing Bing. It will be interesting to revisit Bing in three, six, and nine months and provide some updated thoughts. We may not change our opinion that Bing still doesn’t pose a threat to Google’s dominance, but we may better understand the types of industries and opportunities that can make for a successful campaign.

For now, Bing isn’t a Google killer, but it looks like it will speak better to the needs of marketers (who let’s face it, pay the bills) and to a user base that’s looking to search less and decide more.

Submissions are now open for the 2009 Search Engine Watch Awards. Enter your company or campaign before July 17, 2009. Winners will be announced at SES San Jose.

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