Ask Not What Your Marketing Can Do For You…

    August 1, 2007
    WebProNews Staff has seen brighter days. It’s one thing when nobody thinks you can compete with Google (Yahoo and MSN have yet to accomplish that), but it’s quite another to lose continually despite all efforts.

The algorithm may have killed Jeeves, but that may have been a bad idea. (Technically, Jeeves is encased in carbonite. We saw it happen in New York, and I wondered then if it was a good idea to retire your brand that way – even if it went over well in a crowd of geeks.)

Jeeves’s very recognizable punim was replaced with a rather surreal ad campaign that didn’t seem to gain any traction whatsoever…or I should say that it failed miserably to resonate on a visceral level with users, the ones that actually knew what was being advertised and didn’t care, that is.

Even if it got them some attention. The kind of attention that may put to rest the notion that bad publicity is good publicity.

But even then, traditionally it has been the search experience that has driven growth, not marketing. At least that was the case with Google. Yet, even as Ask promotes its new 3-D search that has critics raving, the market share continues to drop. 

Two percent market share. Though one percent is worth a lot, they had six percent a couple of years ago. The main theory has been that they’ve given little reason to switch from Google, which has entrenched itself so powerfully in the searcher mind that unless it just stops working, there’s no reason to leave.

Silicon Alley Insider’s Henry Blodget suggests that its time for Ask to go vertical or be lain flat:

Ask should refocus and concentrate on a tight vertical niche or niches, ones that it can dominate (travel would have made sense, at least before IAC spun off Expedia).  The size of the total opportunities here are smaller, but niches are very defensible.  And in contrast to the general "search" market, marketing campaigns focused on specific markets might actually have an effect.

Well, that’s one strategy. And a collection of niche engines could be a powerful cluster to monetize and may help to deliver a more tightly targeted market to advertisers.

Whether they change their whole model is an up-in-the-air decision, but Ask hasn’t helped itself by dropping iconic branding (a mascot that people recognized and enjoyed) nor by a marketing campaign that was more confusing than it was impacting.