If I asked you to make a list of the new, groundbreaking brands about to send shockwaves around the web, I doubt that ‘bing’ will be among the top ten. Which is a shame for Microsoft with their $2bn investment so far. But it raises one of the fundamental brand issues – differentiation.
Search has become a web-commodity. In the early days of the web, about the year 5 bg (before Google), we had a host of small fishes swimming around and everyone had their favourites. Each had an idiosyncrasy that its supporters felt comfortable with. As search became more sophisticated these rough edges were smoothed off and we found ourselves with a slick commodity offering with some just-noticable-differences from the few big fish left in the pool.
As the top end of search homogenized – the bottom end spawned many weird and wonderful mutations, often fueled by the social internet boom.
So where does Microsoft choose to play? In that undifferentiated upper sector. It has been there before of course with Windows Live Search – forerunner of Bing.
Bing is a nice product with some nice features, but there is really no big story there – no awesome big unbeatable offer – no differentiation. With Google spewing out new concepts with scary regularity, Microsoft has to come up with something pretty earth-shattering to compete for a share of voice – and earth-shattering innovation has not been Microsoft’s strong suite of late.
At least there is a tiny flake of flair in the brand naming: for years Microsoft have come up with the most confusing taxonomy across the range of brands and products, but occasionally they surprise us with a concept and a brand that seems to have come from a different mechanism – X-box was perhaps the last such. Otherwise the whole branding structure looks like the product of inward looking group-think.
The irony is perhaps that now Microsoft is seen as the underdog as a challenger (?) to Google. How do you like them apples? Sorry, no pun intended.