'Judy Consumer' Still Not Sold on Bing

'Decision Engine' Positioning Is Overpromising

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I'm always eager to learn from constructive criticism, and the last time I did a comparison of Bing and Google, many of you were critical of my conclusion -- you said I lacked thoroughness in my "hypothetical" test on behalf of "Judy Consumer" (as opposed to "Judy the Digital Marketer").

But I've been seeing Bing's new commercial, similar to the one here, that explains the "decision engine" promise in more detail (sort of), so I decided to give it a whirl again. The spot, a froth of promises with a price chart thrown in, stirred my curiosity. This time, I actually had a decision to make -- I wanted to find a two- to three-day getaway within the tri-state area during the month of August.

I figured, I'm ready to make a decision -- let's take this Bing baby out for a test drive. In the name of "Judy Consumer," I began my journey. I started with Google. I put in the search bar "last minute vacation," then I added the words "New York" in advanced search.

The top few organic results included Expedia, Yahoo travel deals, Hotwire and Orbitz. I spent about 10 minutes exploring these sites and learned what a three-day trip for four people might cost. But I couldn't make a decision yet, largely because the big travel sites are too generic, and they all promoted the same locations and packages. I saw I needed to find sites that were edited by real people, not generic, computer-generated results.

I carried on. I checked out some of the ads that were served, and they seemed to be less institutional and delivered more interesting ideas. But despite another 30 minutes, still no decision. I had narrowed down my choices, but I remained uninspired.

Total time check on Google: 41 minutes.
Result: Good background information, narrowed choices but no decision.

I duplicated my exploration on Bing and searched "Last minute vacation." Guess what: I got the same generic results I got from Google (e.g., Orbitz, Expedia, etc.) but with one disadvantage: I could not easily figure out how to refine the search to just NY or the tri-state area. No matter. I looked at the related searches on the side, but they seemed to be just variations of my keywords and not really useful because they just focused on price: "Cheap last minute vacations" or "Last minute vacations specials." I wanted to find New York vacations -- not cheap vacations.

I still couldn't find any geographic way to refine a search and was getting a bit frustrated (I should tell you, "Judy Consumer" has a low threshold for technology frustration). I kept looking, and then I spied on the top part of the page an option that let me choose a country with a descriptor that said, "Discover a search experience tailored to your part of the world." Sounded promising.

I clicked on that optimistically. I chose United States. I expected to be able to refine my search that way. But no, it simply took me back the search results I already got.

Finally, after about another 10 minutes, I found the little advanced-search button (in a very pale shade of grey, I might add). I refined my search to New York and was hopeful again. But my hopes were dashed when I got the same results I had gotten with Google. I was still waiting for the decision-engine part to kick in, but I saw nothing different from Google. I was also hoping to see the dazzling "price chart" included in the Bing spot -- but I had no idea how do that or even what the chart was. I guess it doesn't matter.

So then I tried the "shopping" links on the side -- maybe that would give me the promised chart ("Judy Consumer" can be very persistent when she wants something). I typed in "last minute getaways," and I got a page of results about handbags (no idea why). I tried "last minute travel getaways," and I got results for bigger luggage. This was funny, actually, because it reminded me of the first Bing spot, which featured the hilarity of irrelevant results -- only this bad search experience was happening with Bing (irony is such fun in marketing). At this point I was done because I could not stop laughing.

Total time check on Bing: 79 minutes. (I allotted more time to Bing since "Judy Consumer" is still learning how to use Bing.)
Result: No decision and no closer to one either.

My takeaway is simple. I like the idea of a competitive search engine -- I really do (keep Google on its toes). But I think Bing disappoints because its "decision engine" positioning is ill-conceived on two levels.

First, it obscures what Bing does have: some pretty cool features that do help in finding information. I like the "snippet" site feature and some of the semantic-related enhancements, too. But the "decision engine" concept is such a reach given what Bing actually does.

Second, on a more philosophical level, the Bing "decision engine" position troubles me deeply because it moves the internet from being the promising, open, largely free information engine for everyone to use to a commercial purchase engine largely serving the needs of those who can purchase.

Sorry, but this "Judy Consumer" still does not get it. Or maybe I actually do and I just don't buy it.

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Judy Shapiro is senior VP at Paltalk and has held senior marketing positions at Comodo, Computer Associates, Lucent Technologies, AT&T and Bell Labs. Her blog, Trench Wars, provides insights on how to create business value on the internet.

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