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Bing or bust? Will Microsoft's new search engine succeed?

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Microsoft Corp.'s new search engine, dubbed “Bing,” has made a big splash since its launch late last month, courtesy of a $100 million branding campaign that broke last week. Driven by a hectoring sound track and flashing images of frustrated search-engine users, Microsoft's initial 60-second spot in support of Bing takes dead aim at its search-engine competitors, proclaiming, “We don't need queries and keywords if they bring back questions and confusion!” But Bing offers up at least one question of its own: Will Microsoft's new search engine identity—Bing replaces Live Search as the company's latest search engine iteration—attract enough users to lure the hearts, minds and dollars of marketers? “They've added a few nice things, and I think the shopping comparison stuff with reviews is pretty compelling,” said Rich Dettmer, director-digital strategy at b-to-b agency Slack Barshinger, Chicago. “As far as paid search is concerned, we're going to be on it. Our clients will use it. But, of course, I will tell you that the lion's share of the budget still has to go where the lion's share of the searches are, and that means Google.” Writing on Forrester Research's Blog for Interactive Marketing Professionals, VP-Principal Analyst Shar VanBoskirk said Bing could be a game-changer. “Today most advertisers buy search ads just with Google and Yahoo because Microsoft has a measly 8% share of searches, not enough reach to make buying search ads with [the company] worth the trouble,” VanBoskirk wrote. “Forrester expects Bing to change that. We expect Bing to appeal to the savvy searcher seeking more relevant search results.” Bing will have a ways to go to achieve that kind of loyalty. According to Internet marketing research company comScore, Google logged 64.2% of all search queries in the U.S. in April, the latest month for which statistics were available, with Yahoo at 20.4% and Live Search, Bing's predecessor, at 8.2%. “The trouble with this from Microsoft's point of view is that they're not going to get advertisers until they get market share,” said Bob Heyman, chief search officer at Mediasmith, a San Francisco-based media agency. “Bing's interface looks fine, and our clients are willing to try it, but the volume is so low in comparison with Google and Yahoo that any marketing will only be commensurate with its market share.” Microsoft has changed search engine brands several times since entering the arena in 1998. The software giant kicked things off with MSN Search, which later segued into search products bearing such monikers as Microsoft Search, Windows Live Search and Live Search. Bing introduces some new wrinkles in its interface, and its delivery of query results includes related topics presented in a sidebar. Bing also offers detailed results in four search categories—travel, health, shopping and local—which give it a distinctly portal-like feel. And its search queries can return more than mere Web pages, since Bing checks review services such as Yelp.com and CitySearch for consumer recommendations. Chris Baggott, CEO of Compendium Blogware, whose software helps companies set up employee blogs, likes this approach. “Bing seems very content-driven, and we're all about populating blog pages organized around content,” Baggott said. “We want our customers to tell good stories and focus on the keywords people are using to find them. I've done some searches on Bing, and it seems to hold up compared to Google. We do as well or better on Bing.” Branding strategy expert James Gregory views the Bing rollout with both anticipation and bemusement. “Microsoft knows they're behind the eight ball on this,” said Gregory, CEO of CoreBrand. “They've fumbled the ball a couple of times—they've just been lazy about building their own brand—but here's a new opportunity to get something to work and be accepted.” And what about that name? “Bing is an OK name,” Gregory said. “It's not particularly exciting, but there is enough there to do something with. The key is, does the product work and will people like it?” As Microsoft's initial launch ad from JWT North America, New York, on behalf of Bing puts it, “Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, it's time to Biiing! ... and decide.”
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