I’ve been over getting caught up on the always excellent posts by Seth Godin on his blog. And as usual, one of the posts is leading to this one.
Seth talked about how much Microsoft is spending to market its new search engine Bing, and that the fundemental problem here is that people have no reason to switch search engines, because Google is great and works fine- it isn’t broken. This seems rather silly and pointless. I agree- this is the Coke versus Pepsi debate all over agin, just with search engines.
If you like Coke, it is good enough. It’s your taste preference, and as long as the company doesn’t try anything stupid, like changing the formula again, Coke will always serve its purpose. If you like Pepsi, the same thing goes. New cans, new outreach might get people to take a second look at your brand, but if they have already become Coke drinkers, and decided a preference, there’s not much you can do to take the place of that brand in their mind. Likewise, with Google offering so much, why should I ever bother to use Bing? Google has my whole life integrated in its docs, its forms, email, etc. Google works, and there’s no great reason for me to give my online search eyeballs elsewhere.
If you are going to disrupt a current brand with your new product or service, it better solve a problem someone has. It better do what the other guy does plus so much more, differentiating yourself from the competition and beating them at their own game. relevancy is the name of the game. And you will likely always be less successful when you are trying to copy what someone has already done, rather than figure out the next big thing on your own, using your strengths, rather than mimicing someone else’s moves.
For example, Podcamp has been successful as an unconference because it takes all the great open-source elements of BarCamp, combines them with topics people want to learn about- new media and digital media, and executes it so that even regular conference attendees feel comfortable while embracing a format that’s way less formal, yet more interactive than anything else out there. Podcamp is a conference-unconference hybrid in many ways, and I think this is a major reason for its success. This way, Podcamp is neither a pure conference or pure barcamp style unconference, but somewhere in between, and this seems to work well enough to have been replicated over 80 times in the past three years.
I don’t think we would have succeeded as well had we just done Barcamp with digital media as a topic, nor as a regular conference talking about Podcasting. It’s the blending and blurring of the lines that made it interesting, yet not alienating to people attending for the first time.
Seth has it right- Microsoft is dreaming if it thinks its Bing campaign will let it do more than dent Google. After all, their last attempt at mimicry was the Zune, and that has hardly replaced the iPod. In fact today, I had to explain to my kid why some people might prefer to rent their music rather than buy it, and even a ten year old thought tht was a pretty weird concept.
I admire Microsoft for swinging for the competition, but they would be much better off trying to find something new, something that would delight and surprise, rather than concentrate on knock offs of the competitors. After all, while there’s some money to be made from faux Kate Spade bags, replica rolex watches and the like, these mimics are never quite as satisfying as the real thing. They are only place holders until you reach the levelof being able to afford an original.