Microsoft bets on UK agencies in search gamble

Microsoft is to launch a high-profile UK agency and advertiser roadshow to convince brands to invest in its new search platform Bing, in an attempt to claw back market share from Google.

The technology giant is flying in senior US Bing evangelists for its annual search summit in London this month to help persuade clients that Bing can reverse Microsoft’s declining influence on the search sector despite a history of false starts.

Bing is the fourth incarnation of Microsoft’s search offering to launch in the last five years, following 2004’s MSN Search, 2006’s Windows Live Search and last year’s Live Search. But the company is adamant the latest platform will boost its market share.

Microsoft’s share of UK search traffic has fallen from 8.55% in April 2006 to 3.51% in April 2009, while Google’s share has increased from 69.36% to 86.94% over the same period, according to Hitwise.

Microsoft’s general manager for global trade marketing, Eric Hadley, acknowledged its troubled legacy in the space would give rise to doubts over its chances, but claimed Bing is now the strongest search platform on the market.

He told new media age, “There’s always that feeling because we’ve been through search so many times and we’re such a data and research-driven company. But we’ve tested Bing in so many different ways with so many different people that we know we have the right product.

“Reaction could easily go the other way because of Google’s position, but our research shows there’s a desire for something better,” he added.

Cedric Chambaz, Microsoft Advertising’s audience marketing manager, said agency and advertiser relationships were important to the platform’s growth, but he wouldn’t comment on whether its existing agency commission structure would be readdressed to encourage take-up.

“There are a series of initiatives in the UK to engage agencies, including the search summit on 18 June where the focus will be on Bing,” Chambaz said. “This is an incredibly important day for Bing and [Microsoft search platform] AdCenter as there are a number of engineers flying in to liaise with agencies and advertisers.

“There’s also a Microsoft Advertiser roadshow which is going to agencies and advertisers in June and July demonstrating the holistic offering Microsoft now has,” he added.

Bing, as revealed by new media age last week ( 28 May), is intended to link closely with other Microsoft services, such as incorporating its shopping engine Ciao and travel offering Farecast, to provide users with more detailed and contextual results, as well as more relevant advertising. Bing has launched in beta in the US but won’t launch in the UK until later this year.

Bing is rumoured to be supported by $100m of advertising in the US, also to run in the UK later in 2009, despite Microsoft cutting 5,000 jobs over the next 18 months to save costs.

UK agency specialists remain unconvinced that Microsoft will make any headway, regardless of how good its search platform is.

Simon Andrews, worldwide chief strategy officer at Mindshare, said, “Google is so dominant that a lot will have to happen to make people change their habits.”
Nevertheless, Stephen Cheliotis, chairman of the UK Superbrands and CoolBrands Council, said Microsoft’s hopes might not be as far-fetched as has been suggested.

“In 2008/09, Google overtook Microsoft to become the most popular consumer brand, but we’re seeing the balance of power changing once again,” he said. “Whereas previously Google has been seen as a David to the Goliath of larger companies, both the media and consumers are now seeing it as more corporate.”

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