Breaking the Google Habit: Time to Stop Searching and Start Deciding

An audacious and enormous endeavor:
Launch a challenger brand, Bing, to take on Google – the overwhelmingly dominant player in search.

We somehow needed to get people to question an existing brand choice that is as habitual as brushing your teeth, is almost universally viewed as outstanding and is completely free to use.

Our messaging strategy took shape around creating dissatisfaction with conventional search (read: Google). We associated search with being overloaded with information, using TV, cinema and radio ads to poke fun at the effect search has had on us by depicting people babbling uncontrollably and nonsensically to “keywords” they hear around them. Society’s Search Overload Syndrome was diagnosed.

Search Overload Syndrome was a perfect foil for Bing’s introduction as the cure for this affliction. Critically, we positioned Bing, not merely as a better search engine, but as a different animal altogether – a “Decision Engine.” A category of one.

A second campaign, “Reveal,” demonstrated how Bing

delivered on its “Decision Engine” promise. An entertaining series of TV ads depicted how using Bing leads to decidedly better outcomes, while innovative web and digital-out-of-home invited users to start exploring Bing for themselves, challenging them to “stop searching and start deciding.” 

The client established ambitious awareness, perception and market share goals, each of which was comprehensively beaten.

Barely a month after launch, we had already surpassed the annual goal for unaided awareness, reaching 65% in July 2010 (Source: Hall and Partners, Integrated Campaign Evaluation).

By December 2009 we surpassed Google as the brand people consider to be “the new generation of search,” rising to 51% by July 2010 (Source: Hall and Partners, Integrated Campaign Evaluation). Our communications also successfully conveyed Bing’s “Decision Engine” positioning, with 35% of people agreeing in July that Bing “is a decision engine” (Source: Hall and Partners, Integrated Campaign Evaluation).

Not bad for a category we had invented little over a year ago.

Market share increased by over 25% to reach 10.7% in December, growth that has not only been sustained, but continues to climb, reaching 12.6% in July and comprehensively beating the original target set (Source: ComScore). These 4.2 points of share represent an additional 21.6 million unique users (Source: ComScore).

The Google habit is far from broken, but its grip has been weakened, and- if we needed any further proof that Google’s beehive has been kicked- this year they started advertising for the first time in their history.   

The client set ambitious targets against which our success would be measured, rigorously defined based on three previous failures in search, 11 years in the category, and the desire for Bing to break through,

Targets were set in unaided awareness, perception and market share for the US launch of the brand.

1.    Aggressively build awareness of Bing (target to be achieved by June 2010*).

Unlike Microsoft’s three previous forays into the search market- MSN Search, Windows Live Search and Live Search- Bing could not directly leverage the MSN or Windows brands.  In launching a totally new brand, our awareness goals were considered far more than a generic marketing objective. They were considered an absolutely imperative platform for building Bing’s future success.

  1. Build the perception that Bing is “a new generation of search” (target to be achieved by June 2010*).
  1. Grow market share (target to be achieved by June 2010*)

* Please see section 8 for details of confidential target numbers.

The strategic Communication Challenge:

Taking on an 800lb cuddly bunny: The size of the challenge

Microsoft was ironically the underdog when it came to search. Google was the undefeated heavyweight champion of search in the US market, dwarfing Microsoft’s 8.4% market share and Yahoo’s 19.6% with a whopping 65% (Source: ComScore, May 2009). Indeed, so dominant and synonymous with search had Google become that they had long since entered the dictionary as the verb to refer to the activity itself.

It gets worse. While people normally root for the underdog, in spite of Google’s size, we found that people had genuine affinity for the brand, describing it as “fun” and “approachable” (Source: Agency Quantitative Research). What’s more, people seemed to be overwhelmingly happy with Google’s performance, with 96% reporting that they were very or somewhat satisfied (Source: Agency Quantitative Research).

Fourth time’s a charm?: Recognizing previous failures

This was not Microsoft’s first attempt to knock Google from their lofty perch. Far from it. Microsoft had entered the fray three times previously- with MSN search, Windows Live Search and Live Search- yet each incarnation had ultimately been unsuccessful:

“Microsoft’s efforts to take on Google and Yahoo in the search business had become something of a laughing stock, and for good reason. Microsoft’s repeated efforts to build a credible search engine had fallen flat, and the company’s market share was near its low.” (Source: New York Times, July 13 2009).

We had to start from scratch and launch an entirely new brand- “After spending billions of dollars to beat Google at its own game, Microsoft has concluded that it needs to start over selling its search engine to the public.” (Source: New York Times, March 2nd 2009).

Old habits die hard: Identifying the Google habit 

The greatest challenge of all, however, came with the discovery that the choice to use Google for a web search (there are alternatives after all) was about as conscious as the decision to brush our teeth in the morning, with 74% of people agreeing that choosing a search engine had become a “matter of habit” (Source: Agency Quantitative Research). Google use had become so deeply ingrained a behavior that people were simply using it on autopilot, without so much as a second’s thought.

The strategic challenge we faced in a nutshell (or 140 character tweet): How do you get people to question an existing brand choice that is as habitual as brushing your teeth, is universally viewed as outstanding and is completely free to use?

We knew we were going to have to do something truly unique in order to break the Google habit and aggressively grow Bing’s market share.

We had ourselves a marketing challenge.

And we weren’t about to throw in the towel.

Our Strategy:

Rocking the boat: The need to disrupt the habit

It was clear that simply announcing Bing to the world would fall on deaf ears since people were essentially sleepwalking when it came to search, using Google without conscious consideration.

We knew that we were going to have to do something to disrupt the category and make people sit up and take notice before we could expect them to be receptive to our introduction.  Like every smart David knows, the key to beating the giant is finding his weak spot. We believed that if (and that was a big if) we could find and highlight a chink in the seemingly impenetrable Google armor, then we could sow a seed of latent dissatisfaction in people’s minds, making search engine choice a more conscious consideration, and leaving them open to the idea of an alternative search engine.

Lost in the links: Identifying a chink in the Google armor

Choice has been celebrated by almost every moral, political and social philosopher in the Western tradition. Despite its indisputable merits, however, the psychologist Barry Schwartz writes in his book The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less, about a tipping point at which further choice can start to hinder rather than help our ability to make a decision.

We hypothesized that within the online world, such a moment might just have been reached. The incredible proliferation of online content had resulted in a surfeit of information, ultimately leaving us with too much to choose from.

And while page after page of ten blue links had seemed like a great way to find things on the Web way back when Google revolutionized it in 1997, now that we are drowning in content and getting lost in the links, such a vast choice seems downright overwhelming.

Some probing research questions confirmed our hypothesis about the struggle to navigate the overabundance of online information. Among people who claim to be VERY satisfied with their primary search engine, 69% believe that “search engines return ridiculously large amounts of results” and 63% think it “takes too long to sift through the links to find the results you really need” (Source: Agency Quantitative Research).

We had discovered what we believed was a genuine chink in the mighty Google armor. Under the surface of Google satisfaction lay…well, dissatisfaction. The online world had changed dramatically since Google’s inception, but they, it seemed, had not.

Bringing The Strategy to Life:

Search Overload Syndrome: Diagnosing the epidemic

Our messaging strategy took shape around creating dissatisfaction with conventional search by pointing out the epidemic that people were suffering from, associating conventional search with being overloaded with information.

Stop Searching, start Deciding: Introducing the cure

Search Overload Syndrome was a perfect foil for Bing’s introduction as the panacea for this affliction. While our “Syndrome” campaign essentially espoused the insufficiency of current search, we still needed to explain why Bing represented an answer to the problem we had established.

Rather than a seemingly infinite list of blue web links, Bing utilized a far more intuitive and visual interface, organizing and surfacing relevant content on a single results page. We thought it added up to an experience that could help people find what they were looking for, and make informed decisions, far more easily.

We believed that the concept of “better decision-making” was something that would particularly resonate with people, coupling the insight that choices were becoming harder to make, with the finding that 66% of people “use internet search to make complex decisions.” (Source: IPSOS Study, 2009)

Significantly, however, instead of fighting Google on their terms, we attempted to create our own rules of engagement. Our hypothesis was that simply presenting an alternative search engine to Google would not be sufficient. To be incrementally better would not shift the needle.

We therefore positioned Bing, not merely as a better search engine, but as a different animal altogether – a “Decision Engine.” A category of one.


Search Overload Syndrome: Diagnosing the epidemic

In our “Syndrome” Campaign we associated conventional search with being overloaded with information and with being a fire hose of tangentially relevant results. We used humor to bring the idea to life in TV, cinema and radio ads, cheekily poking fun at the effect search has had on us by depicting people responding irrelevantly and uncontrollably to “keywords” they hear around them. The nation’s Search Overload Syndrome was diagnosed.

Screen Shot 2013-05-31 at 12.00.54 PM.png

Stop Searching, start Deciding: Introducing the cure

Having piqued peoples’ attention by inviting them in the “Syndrome” campaign to “find the cure at Bing.com…the first ever decision engine from Microsoft,” our second campaign, “Reveal,” demonstrated how Bing delivered on its “Decision Engine” promise. An entertaining series of TV spots borrowed classic moments from pop culture, depicting how using Bing leads to decidedly better outcomes and challenging people to “stop searching and start deciding.”

Both the “Syndrome” and “Reveal” campaigns established an irreverent and humorous Bing tone that helped to create a unique brand personality that further helped differentiate the brand from the stark, cold and algorithmic Google brand.

Screen Shot 2013-05-31 at 12.02.33 PM.png

A series of high profile network partnerships were used to further build awareness of Bing, positioning it as the official Decision Engine of people like Anthony Bourdain and Jimmy Fallon. In one particularly disruptive stunt, we gave John Stewart fans two extra minutes of “The Daily Show” by fast forwarding through a commercial break. Innovative web and digital-out-of-home invited users to start exploring Bing’s unique features for themselves so they could see how it enabled better decision making.

Screen Shot 2013-05-31 at 12.03.48 PM.png

Goal 1: Unaided Awareness

Barely a month after launch, we had already surpassed the annual goal set for unaided awareness, achieving 51% by December 2009. New targets had to be set and were again beaten ahead of schedule, reaching 65% in July 2010 (Source: Hall and Partners, Integrated Campaign Evaluation).

Screen Shot 2013-05-31 at 12.05.13 PM.png

Media spend was undoubtedly a factor that helped Bing to achieve the awareness growth it did. To challenge an incumbent as dominant and entrenched as Google, and to do so with a hitherto unknown brand, Bing knew they had to spend aggressively in mass media to quickly and efficiently achieve this.

Without a big idea that truly resonated, however, we would have expected the media weight to cause an initial effects spike that subsided or plateaued shortly after. The lifts we achieved, however, were sustained throughout the campaign, leading us to conclude that media weight was not chiefly responsible for the effects achieved.

Goal 2: Perception

The implicit differentiation we made between old and new search also paid dividends. Having passed the initial perception goals after a mere two months, by December 2009 we had, crucially, surpassed Google as the brand people consider to be “the new generation of search,” a figure which by July 2010 had risen to 51% (Source: Hall and Partners, Integrated Campaign Evaluation).

Screen Shot 2013-05-31 at 12.07.48 PM.png

Our communications also did a great job of conveying Bing’s “Decision Engine” positioning, with 35% of people agreeing in July that Bing “is a decision engine” (Source: Hall and Partners, Integrated Campaign Evaluation). Not bad for a category we had invented little over a year ago.

Screen Shot 2013-05-31 at 12.09.14 PM.png

Goal 3: Market Share

Perhaps most impressive, however, was the increase in market share achieved. By December it had increased by over 25% to reach 10.7%.  And we know this was not a mere flash in the pan sparked by curiosity and one-off trials because the growth achieved has not only been sustained, but continues to climb, reaching 12.6% in July and comprehensively beating the ambitious original growth target set. (Source: ComScore).

Screen Shot 2013-05-31 at 12.10.22 PM.png

And just for additional perspective, these 4.2 points of share growth represent an additional 21.6 million unique users (Source: ComScore)

Screen Shot 2013-05-31 at 12.11.15 PM.png

Objectives Summary:

Prior to Bing’s launch, Microsoft had never truly been spoken of as a credible alternative, and genuine threat, to Google’s market dominance, their attempts under the guise of MSN Search, Windows Live Search and Live Search having been largely labelled failures.

PRE LAUNCH:

“The most aggravating onscreen message for gamers is "game over”... If the search market were a video game, Microsoft would be seeing that message right now. Because it is game over: Google has won... Microsoft continues to pour time, money, and management resources into a market where, not only can it not win, it can't even compete.” (Source: Information Week, January 10, 2009).

When originally questioned on the launch of Bing in a Fox Business Interview, the then CEO of Google Eric Schmidt retorted dismissively, in a manner that suggested he was writing off Bing as just-another-Microsoft-search-engine, “It’s not the first entry for Microsoft. They do this about once a year.” (Source: Fox Business Net, June 9, 2009).

Just over a year later, in an interview with the Wall Street Journal’s Alan Murray, Schmidt responds when asked who the biggest competitive threat to Google is- Facebook or Apple- that it was “neither.” “Our competitor is Bing” he claims unprompted, “a well-run, highly competitive search engine.” (Source: Wall Street Journal, September 24th 2010).

We have successfully shaken people from their search inertia, opening their eyes and minds to the possibility of a different type of search experience. We know there is an awfully long way to go. The Google habit is far from broken. That said, its grip has been weakened, and- as if we needed any further proof that Google’s beehive has been well and truly kicked- this year they started advertising for the first time in their history.

Price/Distribution:

Price can be entirely disregarded as a factor causing these results since there is no financial cost to using Google (or Bing for that matter). We could not discount our way to growth. Similarly, distribution did not impact results- Google and Bing both have 100% distribution.

Brand Awareness:

Furthermore, we know that Brand Awareness was chiefly driven by our advertising rather than any other factor. For the particular period of May/June 2010, with unaided Brand Awareness, Perception, and Share at then all-time highs, we dedicated considerable focus to analyzing the relative effect of both Marcom and Non Marcom activities on the Brand. We found that during this period, Awareness for Bing was heavily driven by our Television (44%) and Online Banner (29%) communications, with these channels representing the top two sources of awareness (Source: Hall and Partners, Integrated Campaign Evaluation).

An equally important indicator to us of marcoms’ impact on brand awareness,is Bing Consumer Buzz. In June 2010, the height of the campaign, it was satisfying to see that while buzz for Google at the time was down (-6%), Bing mention volume had increased by 52% vs. the previous two month average, including a 135% increase in Twitter mentions from Messaging integrations with shows like Colbert Report and sporting events like the World Cup. This exceeded the FY10 average by 5.3%.  (Source: Crimson Hexagon and Nielsen BuzzMetrics.)

Brand Perception:

One of the additional evaluations we use to assess creative performance is to measure how Marcom Recognizers and Non Recognizers perceive the brand. This analysis goes beyond ad recognition and lets us know how consumers’ perceptions of the brand are effected by our communications. Focusing on Television, 54% of Marcom Recognizers agreed that Bing “Is A New Generation of Search.”  This represents an 11% delta from Marcom Non Recognizers (43%). Similarly, we see an equal 11% delta from Recognizers (35%) to Non Recognizers (24%) with the campaign’s key Perception, “Is A Decision Engine.” (Source: Hall and Partners, Integrated Campaign Evaluation).

One other positive delta we’ve seen concerns the “Brand Favorability” metric, which is the brand measurement most closely tied to Search Market Share. We found that our Television communications averaged a delta of 9% between Recognizers (48%) and Non Recognizers (39%).” (Source: Hall and Partners, Integrated Campaign Evaluation).

Screen Shot 2013-05-31 at 12.13.36 PM.png

With online search revenue in 2010 projected to reach $12.6 Billion, (Source: Caris & Company, Technology: Internet & Software) the 4.2% points increase in Bing share translates to approximately $529.2 million of incremental revenue for Microsoft.

Having failed with their previous three attempts to impact the search category, one strategy for Microsoft to aggressively gain share would have been to have bought it.

In February 2008, Microsoft bid $44.6 Billion for Yahoo (Source: Reuters, February 1st 2008). At that time Yahoo had 22% search share. With 88% of Yahoo’s 2008 revenue coming from marketing services derived from search and display advertising (Source: Yahoo! 2008 Annual Report), it can be assumed that the majority of the valuation of the company was based on search activities. $44.6 Billion translates to paying just over $2 billion per share point. Bing’s growth of 4.2 points would have therefore cost approximately $8.8 billion to purchase. Suffice it to say, creating a new brand and leveraging marcoms has proved a far less costly strategy for growing share.

With Google use so habitual and deeply engrained a behavior, creativity was essential to disrupt Google’s quotidian and subconscious use. People needed to be shaken from their search inertia in order to actively consider a category they had long since stopped thinking about. Moreover, creativity ensured that we not only disrupted the category, but, critically, that we did so in a way that engaged and entertained so that we could build affinity for Bing. Lastly, creativity was also used to effectively establish the uniquely irreverent Bing personality that helps to differentiate the brand from the stark, cold and algorithmic Google brand.

Authored by Arturo Gutierrez and Dylan Viner, Planner, JWT.