In my book The Way of Innovation,
I talk a lot about how consumer habits can become a powerful underpinning of a
company’s grand strategy. For example, when I was a loyal Starbucks customer (someday I’ll share why I no longer am), I would sometimes find
myself walking right into a Starbucks
unconsciously, without even thinking about what I was doing. Starbucks engineered their experience into
an automatic habit.
This is the situation that Microsoft’s decision engine Bing is facing. Google,
like Starbucks, has become a habit for many of us. We don’t “search” for something;
we “Google” it. I don’t really know if
my Google searches are better quality than
other options, but I just Google because I
One of my clients is dealing with a similar
situation in the area of cardiac technology. The company makes a heart device
that is superior, but it continues to wrestle with doctors’ habit of
automatically using balloon pumps during cardiac emergencies. Even doctors that
prefer my client’s technology still sometimes turn to balloon pumps in a pinch.
At an internal conference, someone asked a doctor who was presenting why, if he
is such an advocate of the new alternative, he still uses balloon pumps. The
doctor’s response was insightful. He said, “That’s just what we do.”
I think that is one reason Microsoft has chosen to position Bing as a “decision” tool rather than a
“search” tool. Search has become synonymous with Google. Rather than try to de-couple these
two, it may be easier to simply replace the starting point. Get someone to say
“I want to make a decision” rather than “I want to search” and perhaps Microsoft can cut Google off at the pass.
Beat The Grass
I remember when I was in college that
everyone was remarking that Microsoft
had missed the Internet bandwagon. Netscape
was the most popular web browser and it had developed such a dominant position
that Microsoft would never be able to uncork it.
Where is Netscape
My contact at Microsoft emphasized, “This is a marathon,
not a sprint.” People will surely discount Bing.
They will look at daily market share numbers and as Bing’s share rises and falls, so will their
views of Bing.
An ancient Chinese saying advises that you
“beat the grass to startle the snake.” And that strategy captures nicely, I
think, a pattern that Microsoft has
used successfully in the past. It does not bet everything on one particular
approach. It doesn’t jump in with both feet. It beats the grass. It sees how
the market will respond. It learns. It adapts. Then beats it again.
This will not guarantee Bing’s success, of course, but patience has
paid for Microsoft in the past and may
pay out again. This strategy is both cost-effective and efficient, and each
time Microsoft beats the grass, it
learns something new.
yourself the following questions to see what grass you can beat and what
lessons you can learn about potential new business fronts.
What market would I
like to be in?
Who is my biggest
competitor in that market and why are they successful?
What is their brand
and why do people use them?
How can I challenge
their place in this market without attacking directly?
part of my business can I use to test the waters instead of jumping in with