This blog was first published on LinkedIn here: Microsoft’s Edge and Bing: A Remarkable Turnaround Story | LinkedIn
The story of Edge and Bing’s remarkable turnaround has all the elements of a classic Harvard case study. Microsoft, once the leader in browser and search markets with Internet Explorer, had been losing market share to Google’s Chrome for nearly 15 years. In 2018, I joined Microsoft as the leader of marketing efforts for Edge and Bing, tasked with turning the tide in a market long dominated by Google’s Chrome and Search. Against all odds, we brought about a remarkable turnaround, solidifying Microsoft’s position once again as a major player in these markets. This blog post will provide an in-depth analysis of the strategies and execution that led to this historic turnaround, offering valuable lessons for marketers and turnaround leaders alike.
In 2018, Microsoft faced several key problems in the browser and search markets. Edge had an insignificant market share compared to Chrome, and Bing was struggling to keep up with Google Search, despite being the default search engine on Microsoft’s products. In order to regain our footing in these markets, we needed to address three major challenges: retention, reputation, and competition.
- Retention: One of the biggest challenges we faced was getting users to stick with Edge and Bing, rather than defaulting to Chrome and Google Search. In fact, it had become a habit for many PC users to immediately download Chrome when they bought a new computer. We needed to find a way to break that habit and convince users to give Edge and Bing a chance.
- Reputation: Microsoft’s browser offerings had suffered from poor performance and security issues in the past, which had negatively impacted their reputation. We needed to rebuild trust with users and convince them that Edge was a secure, reliable, and fast browser that could compete with Chrome.
- Competition: Google had a significant advantage in terms of market share, user base, and search capabilities. We needed to find a way to differentiate ourselves from Google and offer users something that they couldn’t get from Chrome or Google Search.
Strategic Pillars of Microsoft’s Turnaround
1. Reinvention through Risk-Taking: Embracing Chromium
When Microsoft made the decision to rebuild Edge using the open-source Chromium project, they knew they were taking a significant risk. But they also knew that to compete with Chrome, they needed to do something bold and innovative.
By adopting Chromium, Microsoft was able to improve Edge’s compatibility with Chrome, which was a major barrier for users to switch. They were also able to leverage the latest web standards, making Edge faster and more efficient than before. In fact, Microsoft invested heavily in improving Edge’s performance, making it faster and more efficient than Chrome in certain aspects, including power consumption savings on PCs.
But perhaps the biggest advantage of adopting Chromium was the opportunity to contribute to the open-source project and gain goodwill in the developer community. By actively participating in Chromium’s development, Microsoft was able to influence browser standards and shape the future of web technologies.
Of course, there were risks associated with adopting an open-source project like Chromium. One concern was that it could potentially strengthen Google’s dominance in the browser market. Another concern was that Microsoft would have less control over certain aspects of the browser’s development and future direction.
Despite these risks, Microsoft took the bold decision to embrace Chromium and reinvent Edge. This move allowed Edge to benefit from existing Chrome features and extensions, making it easier for users to switch. It also allowed Microsoft to contribute to the open-source community and shape the future of web technologies.
In today’s fast-paced business world, innovation and risk-taking are essential for success. By following in Microsoft’s footsteps and taking bold, calculated risks, businesses can set themselves apart from the competition and achieve remarkable turnarounds.
As Napoleon Hill once said, “Boldness and persistence are the two main factors that lead to great success.” And Microsoft’s embrace of Chromium is a perfect example of this principle in action.
2. Addressing User Needs: Meaningful Innovation and Differentiation
Microsoft’s remarkable turnaround was driven, in part, by a commitment to innovation and continuous improvement. But it wasn’t just about adding new features – it was about focusing on the features that truly mattered to users.
To do this, we adopted a human design-led framework, which put user needs at the forefront of every product decision. By starting with human-centered design thinking, our teams were able to dig deep into understanding the most pressing user needs and ensure that every feature being built by different product teams would ladder up to a set of value propositions that solved those top-level needs.
This approach allowed Microsoft to differentiate itself from competitors and offer meaningful innovation that truly resonated with users. For example, Microsoft recognized that privacy and security were growing concerns among users and emphasized these factors in new Edge releases. By introducing tracking prevention in Edge by default and emphasizing Bing’s commitment to privacy through features like “Private Search,” Microsoft showed users that they were taking their concerns seriously.
But it wasn’t just about addressing user concerns – it was also about introducing new features that truly made a difference in users’ lives. For example, Microsoft introduced vertical tabs, which helped users manage multiple tabs more efficiently. They also introduced Collections, a feature that allowed users to save and organize content from the web in a structured manner, making research and information gathering more manageable.
As Michael E. Porter once said, “The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do.” By focusing on the features that truly mattered to users and using a data-driven approach to make product decisions, Microsoft was able to differentiate themselves from competitors and secure a competitive advantage.
3. Changing User Habits: From Downloading Chrome to Loving Edge
One of the biggest challenges Microsoft faced in their turnaround was changing users’ habits. For years, users had grown accustomed to opening Edge only to download Chrome. To keep users engaged, Microsoft needed to showcase its unique features and strong value proposition. The biggest problem we needed to focus on first: retention.
To fix the retention issue, Microsoft employed various tactics to “sweat the user journey” of the product. By understanding where there was friction and removing that friction, Microsoft was able to improve retention rates and keep users engaged. For example, Microsoft discovered many places in the product where Edge users gave up or switched to Chrome. By focusing on these pain points and making improvements, Microsoft was able to reduce churn and improve user satisfaction.
Another key factor in improving retention was in-product education. Microsoft recognized that there were many features in Edge that users never found or used, so they built easy-to-understand landing pages and used A/B testing to ensure that users were aware of these features. By highlighting Edge’s new features, privacy options, and performance improvements through onboarding tutorials and prompts, Microsoft was able to create awareness and excitement among users, enticing them to explore the browser’s capabilities.
In addition, Microsoft employed a range of product-led growth tactics to drive awareness and adoption. One such tactic was in-product coupons, which offered users savings while they shopped online with Edge. Over time, Microsoft evolved this feature to seamlessly try all coupon codes for users, going above and beyond to help them save money. This not only surprised and delighted users but also increased their loyalty to the product.
By creating delightful moments like these, Microsoft was able to change user habits and keep users engaged with Edge. These tactics helped Microsoft to increase user engagement, reduce churn, and ultimately turn Edge into a beloved browser that users were proud to use. In fact, many users on Twitter shared their excitement and gratitude towards these delightful moments, citing them as a key reason they switched to Edge and stayed loyal to the browser.
The power of surprise and delight cannot be underestimated in changing user habits. When users have a positive experience that exceeds their expectations, they are more likely to continue using a product and even recommend it to others. By offering delightful moments through features like in-product coupons, Microsoft was able to build a strong emotional connection with users, increasing their loyalty and driving the adoption of Edge.
Nir Eyal says it best: “Products that change user habits must nail the basics, provide ample reward for the user, and ultimately, be enjoyable to use.”
4. Cross-Promotion and Collaboration:
Historically, many of the consumer product teams at Microsoft had worked in silos, focused on growing their individual product metrics. By connecting the dots and measuring how the growth of one business drives growth for another, Microsoft was able to act as one cohesive company. We focused on aligning OKRs and metrics across different businesses, breaking down silos and promoting collaboration. For example, by aligning Bing’s and Edge’s OKRs, Microsoft was able to increase traffic to both platforms, driving engagement and retention across the ecosystem. Another example was the seamless integration of Edge with Office 365. This integration enhanced productivity for users of Microsoft’s office suite and made Edge and Bing more appealing to these users.
Microsoft also integrated Edge with its Bing Rewards program, incentivizing users to use Edge and earn rewards points. The rewards program offered users points for using Edge, which could be redeemed for gift cards and other rewards. This program helped to increase user engagement and keep users coming back to Edge. This not only increased awareness and usage but also provided a way for Microsoft to cross-promote across their different services and touchpoints.
Third-party partnerships were also a key aspect of Microsoft’s ecosystem strategy. For example, Edge had third-party integrations with popular services like Pinterest, making it easier for users to save and organize content from the web. By creating these integrations and partnerships, Microsoft was able to provide more value to users and differentiate their product from competitors.
Overall, Microsoft’s ecosystem approach was a critical part of its turnaround strategy. By aligning OKRs across businesses and leveraging their ecosystem, Microsoft was able to create a more cohesive and integrated approach to product development and marketing.
“Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision. The ability to direct individual accomplishments toward organizational objectives. It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results.” – Andrew Carnegie
5. Developing Rebel Talent: Culture transformations Drive Business Transformations
The last factor, and perhaps the most important one, that played a critical role in driving the transformation of Microsoft’s Edge and Bing businesses was culture. Building a culture that embraces change, challenges the status quo, and fosters psychological safety is crucial to driving business transformations. It requires developing “rebel talent” – teams of individuals who are willing to question assumptions and try new things.
Previously, many teams were afraid to share bad news or show that metrics were red, which led to a culture of complacency and stagnation. To overcome this, we had to create a safe space where teams could talk about what’s not working and analyze why, in order to improve. They encouraged teams to be bold rather than safe and celebrate failures as a learning opportunity.
Creating psychological safety means creating an environment where team members feel comfortable expressing their opinions and ideas, without fear of ridicule or retribution. To build this kind of culture, leaders need to set an example by embracing experimentation and celebrating failures as learning opportunities. Encouraging a culture of experimentation requires taking calculated risks and providing the necessary resources and support to enable teams to try new things.
Another critical component of this driving cultural transformation was aligning everyone around a common purpose and vision. It involves creating an organizational structure that encourages cross-functional collaboration, breaking down silos and fostering a sense of shared responsibility. Microsoft achieved this by aligning OKRs across different businesses, ensuring that the growth of one business would drive the growth of others.
“Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” – Peter Drucker
Microsoft’s strategic decisions and cultural transformation began to pay off. Edge started gaining market share in the browser market, and Bing experienced an uptick in search queries. Users appreciated the improved performance, privacy features, and seamless integration with other Microsoft products.
Edge’s market share grew meaningfully in the past two years, while Bing’s search volume also increased, especially with the latest integrations of chatGPT4 technology with Bing. This is a testament to the effectiveness of Microsoft’s turnaround strategy and the power of cultural transformation.
Reinvention: Microsoft’s decision to rebuild Edge on Chromium allowed it to overcome legacy issues and compete with Chrome on an equal footing. Adopting Chromium and leveraging the latest web standards allowed Edge to be faster and more efficient than before, while also providing opportunities to contribute to the open-source community and shape the future of web technologies.
Address User Concerns: By focusing on privacy and security, Microsoft tapped into users’ growing concerns, making Edge and Bing more attractive. Microsoft also recognized the importance of focusing on the features that truly mattered to users and adopting a human design-led framework to ensure that every feature being built would ladder up to a set of value propositions that solved top-level user needs. Continuously investing in performance improvements and innovative features helped Microsoft differentiate itself from Google’s products. By introducing tracking prevention, vertical tabs, and Collections, Microsoft differentiated Edge from Chrome and created a more meaningful browsing experience for users.
Improve Retention: One of the biggest challenges Microsoft faced in their turnaround was changing users’ habits. To fix the retention issue, Microsoft employed various tactics to sweat the user journey of the product. By understanding where there was friction and removing that friction, Microsoft was able to improve retention rates and keep users engaged. For example, Microsoft discovered many places in the product where Edge users gave up or switched to Chrome. By focusing on these pain points and making improvements, Microsoft was able to reduce churn and improve user satisfaction.
Leverage Ecosystems: Microsoft’s integration of Edge and Bing with their broader product portfolio created synergies that benefited the overall user experience. By leveraging their ecosystem, Microsoft was able to cross-promote Edge across different touchpoints, align OKRs across different businesses, and foster third-party partnerships. This approach helped Microsoft to drive awareness and adoption and create a more cohesive and integrated approach to product development and marketing.
Develop Rebel Talent: Cultural transformation is critical to driving business transformations. Building a culture that embraces change, challenges the status quo, and fosters psychological safety requires developing “rebel talent” – teams of individuals who are willing to question assumptions and try new things. Creating psychological safety means creating an environment where team members feel comfortable expressing their opinions and ideas, without fear of ridicule or retribution. By encouraging a culture of experimentation and aligning everyone around a common purpose and vision, Microsoft was able to break down silos, foster cross-functional collaboration, and achieve remarkable results.
Microsoft Edge and Bing’s turnaround story is a testament to the power of reinvention, innovation, and strategic execution. By embracing risks, addressing user concerns, and leveraging their ecosystem, Microsoft successfully repositioned themselves in the competitive browser and search markets. It is also a testament to a lot of teams, a lot of collaboration, and a lot of hard work. This transformation could not have happened without the grit, dedication, and support of so many teams and leaders, and will undoubtedly serve as an inspiring case study for years to come.
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