What I Do: Microsoft’s Karen Starns is leading Bing’s charge against Google

Karen Starns might just have the hardest job in the
marketing industry. The 12-year Microsoft veteran is the general manager of consumer
marketing for Bing and MSN. And it’s her job to get you to use Bing instead of

Starns led the team that
developed and executed Microsoft’s Bing It On campaign, which challenges users
to test both the Google and Bing search engines in a blind test to objectively
see which one is better. Before that, Starns held several different marketing
roles at the company, including GM, brand and marketing strategy, and the head
of global advertising.

The evolution of “Bing It On”

Starns says her experience
with Bing’s marketing strategy was unlike anything the company had done before.
After years of being a dominant player in the software field, Microsoft was an
underdog for the first time with Bing. The marketing team decided it was time
to take Google head on with a new, directly competitive tone, on the basis of
the company’s own research on search engines.

“For a marketer, it’s great when you get a consumer insight
so juicy that the brief writes itself,” says Starns. “There was this perception that Google was better than Bing, but our
product team had research data that showed that in an unbranded,
head-to-head challenge, people preferred Bing.”

Until then, Bing’s marketing strategy had been to make it
almost a lifestyle brand, targeting younger users and establishing an identity,
versus actually talking about how much better it was. This eventually lead to
Microsoft’s more “pointy” and confrontational marketing, spawning the “Bing It
On” and “Scroogled” campaigns. The aggressive, competitive tone wasn’t
something the company had attempted before, and it took a while to get people
used to the idea.

“We kept looking at research to make sure people didn’t
think we were being mean spirited or inappropriate,” says Starns. “However the
test results said it was OK to start this conversation with consumers. We’re
not necessarily trying to be polarizing, we’re looking to be engaging and competitive
marketing can be a great way to do that.”

Starns says the results were effective, despite the
criticism leveled at Microsoft for using negative tactics. “I look at the “Bing
It On” campaign as comparative rather than competitive, we’re letting people
draw their own conclusions, but we’re trying to be provocative and catalytic to
get them engaged,” says Starns. “We wouldn’t be doing it if it wasn’t working.”

It’s less about
social, more about calls-to-action

Social media has been a big part of the digital marketing
mix for Starns and her team, but she says there is less investment in it
compared to higher value digital interactions such as getting people to try the
BingItOn.com website, sign up for Bing Rewards and making Bing their default
home page. “It’s a more powerful thing to do and gives us the opportunity for
more ongoing conversation and engagement with them.”

Microsoft’s new,
integrated marketing strategy

In the future, Starns says we can expect Microsoft’s
marketing strategy to be “stacked” with multiple channel integration, and more
holistic when it comes to its stable of products. Starns recently spoke at
Advertising Week on the evolution of the multi-screen strategy, saying that
while the technology was new, the approach wasn’t. “This is just the current
version of integrated marketing,” says Starns. “On one hand it’s the newest
hottest thing, but on the other hand we haven’t invented something new. We need
to follow the customer, know how they’re consuming content and be smarter about
how we engage with them.”

Starns says Microsoft’s overall marketing
strategy will be less about promoting individual products and more about
creating an environment where they are used co-dependently. “We’re changing how
we think of Bing, SkyDrive, Skype and other products as less of a portfolio and
more or a holistic story,” says Starns.”We’re trying to really understand how
people are moving between our offerings, and seeing how one feeds the other.”


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