For a brief period I worked with an Indian washing machine company. My boss there told me how they were scared when India was liberalizing, and companies like LG and Samsung were entering the Indian markets. Those companies had enormous resources, advanced technology, competitive pricing and almost everyone in those days thought that they will drive others out of business.
That never happened of course. Everything just went fine. My boss said that a big part of that was local knowledge. They had developed a sort of an ear for local nuances, which gave them an edge over the LGs and Samsungs of the world.
I was reminded of this yesterday when I started hunting for reasons why Baidu does much better than Google in China (I donâ€™t remember why I started doing this). Baidu is a search engine, much like Google, and has a commanding position in China.
Here are a few interesting things I came across while hunting for reasons why Google trails Baidu in China.
- Google is not a natural word for the Chinese: Google is not a natural word for the Chinese and people had trouble remembering it. This played as a big negative, and eventually Google got hold of g.cn â€“ which is its Chinese version. That may be the shortest web address ever, and it was bought to overcome the problem of introducing a product that the locals canâ€™t remember.
- Search results in traditional characters: I read this interesting comparison between Google and Baidu, and one of the things it mentions is that on occasion Google returns more search results in traditional Chinese character thatâ€™s spoken in Taiwan, Hong Kong and by overseas Chinese. People in mainland China are not too comfortable with the traditional character, so they shy away from such results. These search results make Google look foreign to mainland Chinese users.
- Better in localized searches: The same comparison uses a local phrase and finds that although Google results in a much larger number of results, they are not relevant. Baidu comes up with fewer but far more relevant results.
- East is best: Another interesting article I found said that a lot of times Baidu has smartly positioned themselves as knowledgeable locals while portraying Google as clueless foreigners.
- Download music on Baidu: One of the big things about Baidu is that: it is used to download music, much of which is copyrighted, but Baidu says that just linking to such music doesn’t break any law. This was something that Google didn’t do initially, but later started doing through its intermediary Top 100. This gave Baidu a distinct edge over Google.
Despite all these factors, Google has been making good progress in China, and has grown its market share from 2% in 2003 to 29% last year. They are not Google for nothing. They have focused on the market and are trying out a lot of things to grow. It only remains to be seen whether theyâ€™d be able to beat Baidu one day or not.
I have no knowledge of the Chinese search market, and this is just a result of half an hour of Googling that I did.
Iâ€™d be really interested to hear if someone has firsthand experience of using Baidu and what they think about it.