Thursday, July 31, 2008

It's Just Not That Cuil: When Brand Hype Creates Expectations That Wildly Exceed the User Experience

Great buzz can result in a great deal of product trial. Brands like Google were built on word-of-mouth. Users loved the product and the brand itself and enthusiastically told others who tried the product and also liked what they found. But what happens if all of the buzz leads to trial of a product that doesn't deliver?

It would have been difficult to have read general news, marketing and business publications over the last week and not have come across something about Cuil, a new search engine launched by some former Google managers. The folks behind Cuil have very clearly shown an ability to work the media. However, my visit and use of their product revealed a very poor user experience with astoundingly irrelevant search query results in three of ten searches I performed. Even more, the user interface is less than intuitive. In fact, the whole experience was so poor, I wondered if the Cuil folks actually spent much time performing usability and user experience tests. To top it all off, they've committed the ultimate sin by touting their product as superior to Google -- quite a foolish mistake to portray your product as superior to a much loved brand; it only invites highly critical comparisons and Cuil, in my experience, is vastly unprepared for such comparison. Clearly, a short time after launch, the blogosphere and many journalists are now lambasting Cuil for its sins.

All-in-all, Cuil provides a great lesson in brand building, publicity and word-of-mouth marketing -- in a nutshell, you can't build a viable brand on a product that fails to deliver on promises. All the hype in the world can't change the fact that this product isn't a Google killer, or even a Live Search killer. Great publicity and word-of-mouth marketing can be the fastest way to kill a bad product and, at the moment, that may be very well be the fate of Cuil. At minimum, first impressions can be very important and Cuil has gotten off to a very poor start and certainly damaged the public's first experience with their brand and that is quite significant.