Microsoft Assembling “SWAT Team” to Boost Bing

Microsoft tapped former Clinton advisor and PR maven Mark Penn last week to lead a “SWAT team” focused on bolstering Microsoft’s consumer initiatives. The first target? Bing, Microsoft’s search engine.

According to Microsoft, Penn will lead a “cross-functional team focused on consumer initiatives and will draw on his experience in strategic development, branding and positioning to develop and deliver breakthrough ideas that meet consumers’ changing and dynamic needs”.

That’s corporate-speak for Penn’s real focus: Bing, according to The Wall Street Journal.

We’re Number 2!

Bing’s U.S. organic market share ended the quarter at 15.6%, up 120 basis points year-over-year, Microsoft reported last week. ComScore, which tracks search engine queries, estimated that 25.6% of all U.S. searches made in June were powered by Bing. While that makes Bing the second most-popular search engine, it’s also far behind the 69% of U.S. users who “Googled” their searches.

That may be part of the problem. While the most recent The Amazing Spider-Man movie presented a world in which Sony products dominated and people used Bing to search the Web, Google has made its name synonymous with search. Obvious product placements, including this "Hawaii 5-0" clip featuring the phrase "Bing it," feel forced, even without the over-the-shoulder view.

It’s those perceptions that Penn, who was most recently chief executive of prominent PR firm Burson-Marsteller, is being asked to overcome.

Searching Is Like Voting?

For his part, Penn told the Journal that he sees the choice of search engine as tantamount to choosing a presidential candidate. That’s an apt analogy, especially as he advised the campaigns of Hillary Clinton as well as the administration of her husband, President Bill Clinton. He wrote Microtrends: The Small Forces Behind Tomorrow’s Big Changes, probably most famous for the identification of the “soccer mom” demographic that helped win Clinton the presidency.

“People these days are making a choice, just like they’re making a political choice,” Penn told the Journal. Microsoft noted, however, that Penn will not be involved in its public policy team.

According to Microsoft, Penn’s official title will be Corporate Vice President, Strategic and Special Projects, leading a “small interdisciplinary team”. Of note, he will report directly to chief executive Steve Ballmer.

“Mark has an incredible background in research, demographics, marketing and positioning and a proven history in developing unique insights that drive success,” Ballmer said in a statement. “With a strong set of products and an exciting pipeline for the next year, Mark’s experience and out-of-the-box thinking will help us more effectively reach new consumers and grow market share.”

Trade magazines have pegged Microsoft’s ad spending at between $80 million and $100 million.Microsoft originally pitched Bing as a “decision engine,” a tagline crafted by ad agency JWT. In January, however, Microsoft dropped the “decision engine” positioning in favor of a new tagline, “Bing Is For Doing.” Rival Google has largely neglected TV advertising since its Parisian Love ad debuted during the 2010 Super Bowl.