I was watching a commercial for Bing, Microsoft’s search engine platform, and I couldn’t help but be amazed by the sheer embarrassment through which they put themselves through. Here they are, making these over-the-top commercials, with people looking silly, while trying to make it appear as if their search engine—excuse me, their “decision engine”—is actually better than anything else out there on the market.
Having built sites purely driven by SEO, there’s no way that Bing is any better than Google or anything else out there on the market. Sure, they have some tidbits and doo-hickeys in their search results, but at the end of the day, people just want to find the information they are looking for. The only thing that differentiates a search engine, from an end-user standpoint, is brand recognition. People go to Google because it is the search engine that they know. Before Google, I was dialing up on AOL and using their half-ass search engine. The only reason I got away from that is because I moved to New York City and Ethernet saved my life. But had I stayed home and lived under the guise that AOL was king, who knows how many more years I would have hacked away at AOL’s search-and-find platform.
The truth is, when it comes to size, variety and webmaster-compliance, Google is the best search engine. But the real truth is that even though it’s better, its real advantage is and will forever be the fact that it was “first to market.” The same way that Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook beat out the Winklevoss twins to get a social network online, is the same way Google beat big, bad Microsoft to the market with a fully-comprehensive, search engine designed for use by the masses.
Of course, in media, first-to-market isn’t really first to market. Who Wants to Be a Billionaire was a late 90’s success, but it had been on in the UK for years, and there were variations of the show long before it ever came to the USA. Even outside of the media, first-to-market isn’t really first-to-market. Just ask the creators of the Snuggie. That wasn’t the first of its kind, and neither was Facebook.
First-to-market only really works once the idea has been fully panned out. That means the marketing, the operations, the business model and the future of the company have to be in place when you go first-to-market. The reason Google beat out Microsoft in the search space isn’t just because it was first, it was because they had an idea for what the perfect rendition of the product would be, what the business model would be, and (to some degree) where the opportunities for growth would be. Google never wanted to be this big, overbearing, corporate giant, so advertising wasn’t their thing. They went (excuse me for saying this Social Media pros) viral. They let their product spread organically.
I remember seeing Google used for the first time by a friend of mine. I asked him, “What the hell is that?” He told me it was something he used to find information on papers and what not. He then asked me what I used to do find things online. When I told him aol.com, he almost shit in his pants out of laughter.
Thus, I didn’t find out about Google from some commercial, radio ad or IAB unit, which was all the rage when Google first launched. Instead, I found out about Google from a friend, and then from another friend, and then from associates, television shows and movies that referred to their use of the search engine “googling” something. Google didn’t buy its way into the market; it oozed in there first with a product that was thought-out well beyond that of their peers. They took advantage of an age in which internet ideas spread like wildfire, and they tailored their product to it.
Bing, having been late to the game in terms of entry and business model, are now trying to buy their way into our minds. They think if I see enough commercials, I’m going to turn away from a product used by 80% of my friends, colleagues and webmasters in favor of something that is perceived as inferior, and quite frankly, is so. But even if it weren’t, this idea that they can gain more market share in search is preposterous—it’s just too late. The next person to start a social network, no matter how superior to that of Facebook’s, will not surpass the 500 million user mark any time soon. And the next company to come out with a variation of the snuggie will never have the kind of market share that the “originators” maintained in their hey-day.
So what’s the lesson to be learned, especially from a media perspective? Don’t imitate—originate. I played football and love the NFL. Those of you, who also love the NFL, have heard it called a copycat league. You know; if something is working for one team, it can work for another, and the latter team just might go on to be better than the previous team at whatever it is that they stole.
Well that doesn’t work in media and entertainment anymore, and it rarely works in the tech space either. Sure, you can replicate Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, or some other old television program, but rarely is the sequel as good or as successful as the originator, and even when it is, it is no model for business longevity. For example, companies have duplicated Groupon’s online buying business, but Groupon will always be the forerunner in that space, and nobody is going to offer Zulilly $6 billion anytime soon.
So get off you arses and come up with something original. You don’t have to recreate the wheel or split the atom, you just have to have an idea that didn’t fall off the truck of another idea’s bandwagon and be “first to market” with it. Because if anything is clear, it’s that from here on out, innovation will be the money-maker in media and technology. I know that hasn’t always been the case (ehemm, “Rocky 5”), but times have changed, and trying to replicate somebody else’s idea, while maybe profitable, is no longer going to be capitalistic. If you don’t believe me, just turn on your television and watch the latest Bing commercial and try to prevent yourself from laughing.