Microsoft’s Bing: the plight of a follower brand

Picture 3  News that Microsoft is delaying the much-heralded launch of its Bing search engine till at least quarter 1 of next year shows how hard it is for a "follower brand" to take on a strong leader brand, in this case Google.

Bing has been available in the UK since June of this year, although it has not had any marketing activity. So far, it has less then 5% market share, compared to 90% for Google (combining the and .com sites). My guess is that even with marketing support Bing will struggle to get more than 15-20% market share at most. Why?

1. Strong leader brands own "the high-ground"

Leader brands like Google own the key central benefits of the market, in this case speed, accuracy and ease of use. These associations are hard-wired into our brains. Say search, and you think Google. Or rather you feel Google instinctively, without even thinking. Indeed, "to Google" has become a verb. This is shown by my 11 year old daughter, whose response to most questions is "Let's Google it".

2. Follower brands are forced to differentiate

Follower brands like Bing are forced to differentiate. And this is, contrary to popular belief, a recipe to be a niche brand, not a leader. Leader brands stay leaders not by being different, but by being distinctive. They offer what are sometimes called "generic" benefits. But do this with an ownable twist. In the case of Google, their search engine is unbelievably simple. Despite launching a plethora of new services (mail, maps etc.) they have stuck to what made them famous by keeping the purity of their home-page with the single search box.

Bing is forced to be different. But in doing so, makes itself less relevant, not more. Their home-page has a fancy picture. It has floating boxes that reveal obscure facts. Which of the 2 sites below would you trust to be simple, quick and accurate, even taking off the branding? Bing looks more like a travel agency or a photography site to me.

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And the added complexity continues when you search. On the results page as you move your cursor down, more boxes appear with extra information that distract you. Most people are used to Google's way of showing headline info, and then inviting you to click through.

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To sum up the service, VCCP Search MD Paul Meed said in Marketing, "The user experience from the UK is not living up to expectations, so they go back to Google".

3. True leader brands renvate relentlessly

Bing is doomed to always be in catch-up mode vs. Google, as the Leader Brand is a great example of constant renovation to make the service better. Google employs the brightest and best, and spends millions of dollars a year on R&D. This includes the core search service, and new services such as maps, mail that make the site even "stickier".

In summary, think twice about taking on a Leader Brand unless you believe there is a real opportunity to deliver the core benefits of the market in a distinctive and more relevant way.