Can advertising help MSN search gain ground?

I saw this article on Paid Content and it got me thinking (article –

Basically it outlines that MSN in the US is reportedly investing $100m to develop an ad campaign around it’s next version of search (which could be called Kumo, or Live Search, or Bing!).

From the article: “the company is convinced that perceptions of its search product—and not the product itself—are responsible for its lackluster market share, which badly trails Yahoo and Google”

I was thinking the other day about what could be done to unseat Google’s dominant position in search. Google gradually built up audience – helped a helluva lot by powering Yahoo!’s search results when Yahoo! was more dominant that it is now – and was far and away superior to the dominant pure search product around at the time (AltaVista) when it decided to go solo. It’s important to note that pre Google search was pretty shaky in terms of quality.

Also remember, it’s said that Google doesn’t advertise … I think that’s a half truth … products like maps/earth are big advertisements for Google’s position of innovation and leadership and don’t seem to be revenue drivers.

In AU it’s estimated that Google has around 95% of the market … with the rest shared by MSN and Yahoo!. MSN’s ambitions locally wouldn’t be massive – it’d be 5-7% points max. So effectively it needs to generate around 2m loyal users that come to MSN search as their first stop. The problem is now, when you look at the data, is that MSn and Yahoo! search users are basically Google loyalists who once or twice venture onto MSN or Yahoo!

MSN (and Yahoo! for that matter) are probably correct when they say that perception not quality of product is working against them. The MSN (and Yahoo!) search products are decent. No – they aren’t as evolved as Google’s in terms of simplicity … but for results they are very similar. Put it this way, if Google search died tomorrow people could easily migrate to MSN or Yahoo! and it wouldn’t be a huge transition for them. The same could be said for most media products – digital or otherwise.

So what is the issue for MSN? Is it visibility? Well … who knows. Ninemsn is a massive presence in AU so it’s not like it has a shortage of potential users to migrate. Problem is – ninemsn has always been positioned as a content proposition not a search one. Yahoo!7 is similar, and despite what they do to try and push up their gateway products (ie search, mail) with ATL advertising it never seems to make a difference.

Could advertising help ninemsn locally with search? And if so, how do you change peoples perceptions and not just get them to trial the Live Search product … but get them to become loyalists? It’s a tough brief … you need to go well beyond creating awareness and generating trial and distill 1 or 2 key messages that will change mindsets. And you need to ensure that you don’t just generate a user spike across 1-2 months and then it slowly goes back to what it was before. Pretty much any idiot can drive traffic to a website, the real challenge is retaining it and the issue with search is a great product is just the beginning when you’re competing against someone like Google that has so much trust.

Personally, I’m a strong believer in advertising and think the challenge is achievable. What a great brief it’d be to work on. Joe Pollard, who is CEO of ninemsn, is one of those people you know loves a challenge like this and you can be sure she’ll be driving this and will give it one helluva crack.

It will be interesting to see if MSN put this project up for pitch. I think it could be the brief of the year.


2 responses to “Can advertising help MSN search gain ground?

  1. Google brand versus Microsoft brand.
    I reckon that says it all.

    There are very low barriers to entry for online search and classifieds from a functional perspective (hey it’s fairly easy to replicate the technology and even experience), but once a brand is dominant in this space, it’s incredibly difficult to unseat them and grab share.

    It’s fairly staggering to think Google built their brand without any advertising. Not sure why an advertising solution would work with MSN?

  2. talkingdigital

    i think for one, they have a massive awareness issue …not saying it’s the silver bullet but there has to be something that can be done.

    If you look at leaders in classifieds and search locally – they were generally the first GREAT product … but now (in many cases) they aren’t the best product in their category.

    One of the issues is people focus their marketing on raw number acquisition – which is a mistake.

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