In my book The Way of Innovation,I talk a lot about how consumer habits can become a powerful underpinning of acompany’s grand strategy. For example, when I was a loyal Starbucks customer (someday I’ll share why I no longer am), I would sometimes findmyself walking right into a Starbucksunconsciously, without even thinking about what I was doing. Starbucks engineered their experience intoan 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 ifmy Google searches are better quality thanother options, but I just Google because Ijust Google.
One of my clients is dealing with a similarsituation in the area of cardiac technology. The company makes a heart devicethat is superior, but it continues to wrestle with doctors’ habit ofautomatically using balloon pumps during cardiac emergencies. Even doctors thatprefer 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 heis such an advocate of the new alternative, he still uses balloon pumps. Thedoctor’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 thesetwo, 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 thateveryone was remarking that Microsofthad missed the Internet bandwagon. Netscapewas the most popular web browser and it had developed such a dominant positionthat Microsoft would never be able to uncork it.
Where is Netscapetoday?
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 theirviews of Bing.
An ancient Chinese saying advises that you”beat the grass to startle the snake.” And that strategy captures nicely, Ithink, a pattern that Microsoft hasused successfully in the past. It does not bet everything on one particularapproach. It doesn’t jump in with both feet. It beats the grass. It sees howthe market will respond. It learns. It adapts. Then beats it again.
This will not guarantee Bing‘s success, of course, but patience haspaid for Microsoft in the past and maypay out again. This strategy is both cost-effective and efficient, and eachtime Microsoft beats the grass, itlearns something new.
Askyourself the following questions to see what grass you can beat and whatlessons you can learn about potential new business fronts.
1. What market would Ilike to be in?
2. Who is my biggestcompetitor in that market and why are they successful?
3. What is their brandand why do people use them?
4. How can I challengetheir place in this market without attacking directly?
5. Whatpart of my business can I use to test the waters instead of jumping in withboth feet?