Open Letter to Bing

Hi Bing!

This is an invitation for you to garner—nay, grab—market share in one of the world’s fastest growing economies: India. Need advice? Here’s some for free…

Your market share in the US is reputed to be around 15% but in the rest of the world, you’ve managed far less than 10% (and that too by quite generous estimates). In India, if you ask someone on the street if they’ve heard of Bing, you’ll probably get a blank stare (I speak from experience). But that doesn’t mean there’s no hope for you. In fact you’ve better chances of grabbing market share because you’re new and your voice will be heard. The elephant is definitely eatable a mouthful at a time.

What’s the context?

Analyzing the context is the first step to approach a new market. Google hasn’t done much marketing in India, but then, they never needed to. Facebook did a TV commercial or two, but after it was already well-adopted. However, these two are recent players. Hey, hey – I hear you say – Google’s almost as old as Yahoo – but stay with me. Yahoo! began their print and TV campaigns in India as early as 2000. They didn’t promote search much, but they heavily advertised their portal, free email and IM services. MSN Messenger too, for that matter, ran a TV commercial spoofing a popular Bollywood song in which a guy asks a dove to take a message to his sweetheart, with the ad’s punch line being “There’s a better way to communicate.” To this day, most big online brands and ecommerce retailers, profitable or not, (Snapdeal, Myntra, Flipkart, OLX, Jabong) rely heavily on TV and print to get the word out. Why? Because for those who aren’t Apple or Google, these are the mediums that remain entrenched deep within the Indian demographic and will continue to be the primary way to reach the majority, at least going into 2015.

Let’s talk about search.

The effective use of a search engine is alien to the majority of the population. Want to know why Indian spammers write to you offering to rank your site at the top, why they never proffer to increase your traffic or improve your conversions? Because the general populace tends to click only on—I repeat only on—the first result (yes, that could be an advertisement if the border is imperceptible). Those who don’t work in the SEO industry are barely aware that Google has a second page. Not that they click Next, mind you; rather, they subconsciously perceive the number of results as a symbol of the search engine’s power. I’m not exaggerating much.

Make no mistake. The Indian information technology industry is massive. ICT and related outsourcing directly employs 3 million people and generates revenues of over $100 billion. But again, context is important. Apart from these 3 million knowledge workers, many of whom can doubtless program better than you and I can recite Baa Baa Black Sheep, India is home to 1,247 million others, the majority of whom can’t tell a search engine from a steam engine.

New technology is first embraced by the burgeoning and vibrant “IT community” before it trickles down and penetrates the masses. Google and Facebook were no different. You’d expect that in any market—there are early adopters and influencers who evangelize innovation. But this flow is all the more significant in India.

Bear with me while I walk the tightrope between explicating and stereotyping, and forgive me a few missteps while I try and describe the collective propensity of 1,250 million people. Indians don’t tend to read (anything other than Bollywood celebrity news) as a pastime. Print or paper wasn’t invented here. Non-work related reading is somewhat prevalent only in the areas portrayed below.

india

The traditional, primary and universal mode of communication, news and learning is verbal. Social media is still predominantly face to face or over the phone (Facebook is used mostly as an extension of email). Folks believe and act on what others are saying. “Others” includes many more than just friends and relatives. Those who have the gift of the gab and those who’re rich are taken to be wise. In reverse order. As a result, the tendency of the populace to question customs, assumptions and authority is negligible and sporadic. In business, this translates into a high entry bar for new brands. However, the upside is that it takes nothing less than a marketing tsunami (with pricing and support to boot) to uproot an entrenched brand. Which is why Nokia is still the largest mobile handset seller and most trusted brand in India! Whoever buys Nokia in the West?

This is why I believe Search holds tremendous potential to empower Indian society at large. If you have the vision to look beyond crawlers, algorithms and quality scores, the very fabric of social change is open to weaving. Search gives the commoner a portal to the world’s information that they can carry in their pocket. Empowerment is redefined every instant.

So Bing, take my lead. Teach people how to search. Rather, consolidate and cement search’s status an inseparable way of life in this country. You might face a couple of hurdles, but they aren’t insurmountable. You reckon Indians don’t have formidable spelling or query-forming skills? No problem, we’re improving—hey, we have the world’s largest English speaking population! Does Bing do conversational search? You reckon Indians don’t have the spending power of Americans or Europeans? Stand up to the challenge! Offer them something that means a lot to them. Education is one. Indian students spend over $13 billion a year studying abroad. Google is commandeering the Travel business in the US with its Flight Search and Hotel Finder. You can grab Education in India with a University Finder!

There’s always something folks want in spite of themselves. Less than a kilometer away from where I’m writing this, there live 2,000 people who don’t have electricity. Yet, many of them have smartphones with internet. I, on the other hand, don’t have a smartphone. I have electricity, a keyboard and 10 fingers.

10 Ways to Screwgle Google

Interested so far, but think it’s a long shot? Not sure how to begin? Let me bounce off some quick ideas for you—

bingMicrosoft has a great reputation in India. People adore—nay, worship—Bill Gates. My mother and all her friends know who he is. To put that in context, get this: none of them have ever heard of Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber, Lionel Messi, or Oprah Winfrey (about a third of them have a vague idea of Steve Jobs). Get Bill Gates to endorse Bing. He could introduce Duane Forrester in the initial campaign, and Duane can carry it further from there.

Duane Bill Give it a Bing

Larry Page who? Matt Cutts who?

 

bingGive us some “Bing Analytics” and leave out the (not provided). Sit back and watch the SEO industry do your marketing for you.

 

 

bingPromote yourself in the corporate sector. Microsoft Partner Network has deep tentacles in the tech industry. Offer Bing Advertising (and training, and certification) free to those who buy your products. Remember trickle-down?

Throw a 30 day nationwide challenge to tech and media companies (who tend to do the most searching). Offer prizes for those who get the most creative/weird search result. Think up some challenges for advanced power searches.

 

bingInternet Explorer has Bing as the default search engine. Why doesn’t Skype have a Quick Search button at the top right? Further, you could offer free impressions on the Skype home page for those who’ve signed up for Bing Ads, instead of this sorry crap:

skype ads

 

bingPromote the photo background. Doodles are for school kids, but imagery is for adults, hobbyists and creative types! The National Institute of Design was listed by Business Week in its list of top design schools of the world. Conduct a survey there and ask them what they like more—

This?

google doodle

Or This?

Then ask them how to make it better.

 

bingHighlight vertical search. Even though it’s not a differentiator, searchers aren’t consciously aware of it as a “feature.”

Underscore any and all areas where you (can) beat Google. Take yourself seriously. Chuck out the “Beta” from under the bing.

 

bingSponsor shows like Bournvita Quiz Contest – it has been popular with kids since 1972. Cadbury’s did it so well that nobody knows if there is a 2nd largest chocolate manufacturer in India. If you can replicate its success, kids will grow up using Bing. A generation from now, Google will be the one doing the ads.

 

bingPeople here still can’t spell google. They type goggle (because it isn’t a spelling mistake in Microsoft Word) into their address bars. Capitalize on your easy name and have a jingle or soundtrack to go with it such as Bing-ting-ti-ding! In India, the soundtracks of Titan Watches and Airtel are instantly recognized and are downloaded by the thousands. Closer to home, Coke’s Hilltop still gives you goosebumps more than 40 years after it was first aired!

 

bingTie up with Wikipedia to shore up their Hindi language resource. The number of native Hindi speakers is more than that of German and French combined. Wikipedia doesn’t accept company sponsorship for their English Wiki, but if you’re trying to boost a struggling resource such as Hindi – who knows? If Google can have a knowledge graph why can’t you?

 

bingWhatsApp is the most popular smartphone app in India (and elsewhere). It’s the new Skype. Buy it. Now! I’m sure you’ll find some way to keep it profitable down the line.

 

bingShow 11 results instead of 10. One more wouldn’t hurt, would it? You could display one ad less (making them more exclusive) and make up the revenue by increasing CPC for the others instead.

Why am I telling you all this?

What’s in it for me? I’m an internet marketer. We’re always looking for new avenues that will keep us on our toes, so that our job becomes more interesting than it already is.

We’re used to chasing the algorithm, but at the moment, there’s only one to chase and it’s analogous to 22 players running after a football. Please add another football into the mix. We’d love to have algorithms chasing marketers for a change!

Do give it a Bing! Just don’t turn into another East India Company. All the best!

 

P.S. What’s with the 5th?

5th open letter