Yesterday a reporter from Cnet called and asked me a few provocative questions. He was writing a piece on Google as a marketer, and wanted my point of view. I’m not sure when his piece is coming out (or if my thoughts will be included), but our conversation helped me crystalize my thinking around Google and its brand, so I figured I best get it written down.
Regular readers may recall one this prediction for 2010:
Google will make a corporate decision to become seen as a software brand rather than as “just a search engine.” I see this as a massive cultural shift that will cause significant rifts inside the company, but I also see it as inevitable. Google, once the “pencil” of the Internet, has become a newer, more open version of Microsoft, and it has to admit as much both to itself as well as to its public, or it will start to lose credibility with all its constituents. While the company flirted with the title of “media company” I think “software company” fits it better, and allows it to focus and to lean into its most significant projects, all of which are software-driven: Chrome OS, Android, Search, and Docs (Office/Cloud Apps).
The reporter’s question let me unpack this a bit. He asked me why Google isn’t doing a major brand campaign, given that most other large Internet-driven companies have – including eBay, Amazon, Yahoo, and Apple.
A few years ago, I might have answered thusly: Google doesn’t need to do brand advertising, because Google’s service *is* the brand builder. But today, my answer is quite different: Google isn’t doing brand advertising because Google doesn’t know what its brand means.
And you can’t do brand advertising if you can’t say what the brand means.
Think about that for a second. Up until a few years ago, it was quite simple to say what the Google brand meant. Put simply, Google = Search. Or, to add a few words, Google = The Best Search Service On Earth.
Now, is that true today?
Well, certainly you could argue that Google still means a great search environment. But the brand also means far more. It’s the brand which stands in opposition to the iPhone – the Android Pepsi to Apple’s Coke. The same is true in the office suite – Google Docs are the Pepsi to the Coke of Microsoft’s Office. Google Chrome? The Pepsi to Internet Explorer’s Coke. And there’s a ton more – photo sharing, blogging platforms, social networking, ecommerce solutions, enterprise platforms, media (YouTube, Knol, etc.)….well you get the picture.
And Google = Search doesn’t cover all that. Nor, honestly, does the company’s corporate mission: “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” You could shoehorn the Nexus One into that mission, but it’s not a comfortable fit.
Until Google figures out what its brand means in a post search world, it won’t be doing any brand advertising. And given who its competing with – Apple, Hulu, Microsoft and Amazon, among many others – I’m not sure that’s a good thing.