Bing Rewards Resurrection Indicative of Larger Problem at Microsoft

Posted by · November 6, 2012 11:30 am

Say what you want about Microsoft products (we have), but at least give Microsoft an A for marketing effort.  If you’ve successfully avoided seeing a Windows 8 or Microsoft Surface  advertisement over the last few weeks, you clearly have a DVR and must read only ad-free websites. After launching Windows 8 and the Surface tablet at three different events around the country at the end of October, Microsoft is hitting the ground–or rather Q4–running with huge commercial buys and big ad spends. And did I mention they hired Jessica Alba?

But it’s not just new products that the company is pushing these days. If my email inbox is any indication, Microsoft also seems to be resurrecting its Bing Rewards program–just in time for the holiday shopping season to begin.  Bing Rewards was actually launched back in 2010 as the successor to their failed Bing Cashback program.

At the time, the program caught flack because it made users download the Bing Toolbar for Internet Explorer and sign in with a Windows Live ID in order to track actions that people performed using Bing. Users then earned credits, which were redeemable for rewards, in exchange for searching or performing other actions on Bing.

While the basic premise of the program remains the same (use Bing, get rewards), Microsoft is no longer requiring users to download the Bing Toolbar or Internet Explorer (though you can if you want to).  You can now use any browser to participate in the Bing Rewards program and can use your Facebook account to sign up for the program. For those of you not using the Bing Toolbar (and I assume that’s the vast majority), your Bing Rewards are tracked in the header. To access your rewards, just click on the rewards tracker.  It’s as simple as that. Sorta…

The problems with Bing Rewards

Like many Microsoft products, Bing Rewards has its bugs.  I tried to sign in using my Facebook account and the Bing Rewards registration page threw an error. This happened on Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox.  Four different times.

Additionally, the program guidelines are ambiguously worded, so even if I was able to sign in using Facebook, I am not exactly sure how to earn credits and rewards.  According to the Bing Rewards FAQ page, you can: “Earn credits toward rewards by searching with Bing as well as taking advantage of one-time offers which help you discover about the many ways in which Bing helps people get things done.” This leads me to believe that I may need to purchase things in order to earn rewards. However, earlier on in the FAQs, Microsoft told me that I did not need to pay anything, nor were there any hidden fees involved with joining the Bing Rewards program.

Finally, the rewards Microsoft is offering for using Bing are not all that great.  Somewhere between 350-550 credits will “buy” me a one month free subscription to Skype, a five dollar Amazon, Starbucks or Tango (Do people still use Tango?) gift card or 400 Microsoft points for XBox 360. (I have a PlayStation.) How many credits do I earn for performing a search? I’m not sure. I can’t sign in to the program, remember?

A larger issue

The problems with Bing Rewards seem to be indicative of a larger, company wide issue at Microsoft: Great concepts, poor execution.  While some might argue that the Bing Rewards program bribes people to use the search engine, I think it’s smart marketing. People are most motivated to act when there’s something in it for them.  However, people’s motivation decreases–no matter how great the reward–if the barrier to entry is too difficult.  In the case of Bing Rewards, not only are the rewards simply not that great, but the log-in issues will completely deter people from signing up and ever using the program in the first place.

Unfortunately, if you’ve read some of the reviews, these types of problems are plaguing Windows 8 and the Microsoft Surface as well. As Slate’s Farhad Manjoo–a blogger who, like me, is rooting for Microsoft–says:

“(The Surface) promises that you’ll be able to type faster, to use a pointer, to actually get things done and not feel like there are certain things your device just can’t do…The problem is that you’ll have no fun doing it.”

According to Manjoo and others who have gotten hands-on with the Surface tablet, it’s slow, clunky (although it only weighs a few grams more than the iPad, it feels much heavier) and the Touch Cover that looks so cool in the commercials isn’t very user friendly. Microsoft hasn’t been calling the Surface an iPad killer, but it has been promising that the tablet allows you to do much more than you can do on any other tablet currently on the market.  That’s a marketing promise that’s sure to catch consumers’ attention, but one that will leave them more than a little disappointed (read: extremely pissed) if the $420 + asking price doesn’t live up to the advertising hype.

If Windows 8 and the Surface tablet is Microsoft’s big chance to re-brand and really start competing with Apple and Google, I fear the company’s lack of focus and inability to match the product to the message might actually drive people to their competitors instead. Flashy celebrities, catchy commercials and cool rewards will draw a crowd, but only a product that does what it’s supposed to do will make that crowd reach into their wallets.