BLOG STARTUPS, VENTURE AND THE TECH BUSINESS

June 15 2009
by Scott Johnson

Bing – the next Huggies?

The search business reminds me a bit of the diaper business.  Hugely profitable for the winner, you can’t live without it regardless of economic times, and once you pick a brand you pretty much stick with it.  But incumbents are not 100% secure.  Prior to 1978, there was no Huggies.  Pampers ruled the disposable diaper world.  Kimberly Clark wanted a piece of that pie as badly as Microsoft is lusting after Google’s insanely profitable search business.  Well, maybe not quite that badly, but they really wanted into that market.

So Kimberly Clark created a MUCH better product, and marketed it perfectly, which is what it takes to enter a large existing market dominated by a powerful player.  They created elastic, refastenable diapers.  The elastic leg band removed leaky gaps (hence the name “Huggies”).  The velcro closure is refastenable (which is also key I can tell you from personal experience).  The advertising campaign showed the benefits of the elastic side-by-side with the leaky, gapping Pampers.  Parents definitely wanted Huggies after 30 seconds of video.  Brilliant.  Pampers responded by copying the elastic, and later adding rash prevention.  But too late.  Huggies had taken share for good, and now virtually owns the “pull-up” market.  So can Bing take on Google with a better product the way Huggies took on Pampers?

Bing does a better job incorporating breaking news into search results – something I care about in 1% of my searches.  They do a few other things better than Google (like pre-rolling thumbnail videos in search results) as well.  The big question is:  are the improvements over Google enough to get web users to switch search engines?  Are these “refastenable and elastic”, or are they easily imitated incremental features?  Is there an easy side-by-side 30 second spot that will cause instant Google abandonment?   The Bing team created a great product to be sure.  But it is not a MUCH better product.  As for the marketing – we shall see what they can do.

Idea:  Microsoft could create a site that shows me Bing vs Google result sets side-by-side.  I might switch to such a comparison site as a way to improve the likelihood I find what I am looking for.  More importantly, if I found Bing consistently outperformed Google, I might just change my default.  A digital “Pepsi challenge”.

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