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Google = Google+

By - September 29, 2011

Earlier this week I participated in Google’s partner conference, entitled Zeitgeist after the company’s annual summary of trending topics. Deep readers of this site know I have a particular affection for the original Zeitgeist, first published in 2001. When I stumbled across that link, I realized I had to write The Search.

The conference reminds me of TED, full of presentations and interviews meant to inspire and challenge the audience’s thinking. I participated in a few of the onstage discussions, and was honored to do so.

I’d been noodling a post about the meaning of Google’s brand*, in particular with respect to Google+, for some time, and I’d planned to write it before heading to the conference, if for no other reason than it might provide fodder for conversations with various Google executives and partners. But I ran out of time (I wrote about Facebook instead), and perhaps that’s for the good. While at the conference, I got a chance to talk with a number of sources and round out my thinking.

I also got the chance to ask Larry Page a question (video is embedded above, the question is at 19.30). In essence, my query was this: For most of Google’s history, when people thought about Google, they’d think about search. That was the brand: Google = search. For the next phase of Google’s life, what does Google equal?

I asked this question with an answer in mind (as I said, I’d been thinking about this for some time), but I didn’t get the answer I had hoped for. What Page did say was this:

“I’d like the brand to represent the things I just spoke about (for that, see the video) … it’s important that people trust the brand…that we’re trustworthy…and I think also it should stand for a beauty and technological purity…innovation, and things that are important to people, driving technology forward.”

The text above doesn’t really do Page’s answer justice, because somehow when he said “beauty” – a word I was surprised to hear – he delivered it with a sincerity that I and others at the conference found…almost Apple-like.

Then again, Page didn’t directly answer the question, at least from a marketing standpoint. In 2009, Google’s brand = search. That kind of clarity and consistency is what every marketer seeks to define in their brand.

At the moment, Google’s brand is a bit confusing. Google equals Chrome. And YouTube. And Android. And Google Docs. And Gmail. And Maps, Places, Voice, Calendar….and self driving cars, and investments in energy research, and antitrust hearings, and Adwords, and of course search. Not to mention Google+.

Oh, and Motorola.

One can forgive the average consumer if he or she is a bit confused about what Google really means.

In conversations with various Google executives over the past few weeks, including leaders in product, marketing, and search, it’s clear that the company is well aware of this problem, and is focused on finding a solution. And while most have seen Google+ as the company’s answer to Facebook’s social graph, I now see it as something far bigger.

In short, Google+ = Google.

Google VP of Product Bradley Horowitz, who I know well enough to know he doesn’t say things without thinking about them a bit, recently told Wired as much, but the context was missing. To wit:

Wired: How was working on Google+ different from working on the company’s previous offerings?

Horowitz: Until now, every single Google property acted like a separate company. Due to the way we grew, through various acquisitions and the fierce independence of each division within Google, each product sort of veered off in its own direction. That was dizzying. But Google+ is Google itself. We’re extending it across all that we do—search, ads, Chrome, Android, Maps, YouTube—so that each of those services contributes to our understanding of who you are.

Horowitz is making an important point, but the interview moved on. It should have lingered. In those conversations with Googlers over the past month, I’ve heard one consistent theme: Larry Page is obsessed with Google+, and not just for its value as a competitor to Facebook. Rather, as I wrote earlier this month, Google+ is the digital mortar between all of Google’s offerings, creating a new sense of what the brand *means*.

So what is that meaning? I’d like to venture a guess: one seamless platform for extending and leveraging your life through technology. In short, Google = the operating system of your life.

At the moment, there are really only three serious players who have the technological, capital, and brand resources to stake such an audacious claim. Of course, they are Apple, Microsoft, and Google (Amazon seems on the precipice of becoming the fourth). Of the three, Apple has the best handle on its brand. And Microsoft made its brand in the operating system world, so it has at least pitched its tent in the right part of our collective mindspace.

But Google? Well, Google’s got some brand work to do. Google’s products don’t all work together in a seamless way, and at first glance, don’t seem to all speak to the same brand experience. Google+ is the company’s attempt to address that problem, such that every experience with Google “makes sense” from a brand perspective. Which is to say, from the customer’s point of view. As a very senior Google marketing executive recently told me: “There’s a reason it’s called Google….plus!”

If this is correct, then the stakes of ensuring that Google+ succeeds are raised, significantly. Google has twice tried to out-social Facebook (Buzz, Orkut), and neither quite worked. But this time, Google’s not just trying to beat Facebook. It’s being far more ambitious – it’s trying to redefine what happens inside your brain when you consider the concept of “Google.” Part of that is social, sure. But far more of it has to do with being the brand to which you entrust nearly every technology-leveraged part of your life. HugeG+Ad.png

If that indeed is what the company is trying to do, I’m more certain that Google+ will succeed. Why? Because it means the company is committed in a new way to a singular purpose. It means it will cut new kinds of deals so as to compete (like bringing Cityville to Google+, or undermining Facebook’s Skype partnership through Hangouts, or, soon, bringing media and marketing into Google+). It means tying Google+ to its core promotion engine of search (which it most certainly has). And it means, as Horowitz told Wired, “extending (Google+) across all that we do.” I recently asked Google’s head of local, Marissa Mayer, what percentage of her products were integrated with Google+. Five or so percent, she told me. But she quickly added: That’s going to change, and fast.

At Zeitgeist, when Page answered my question about the brand, he answered mostly with meaning – innovation, trust, beauty. But Larry spoke for twenty or so minutes prior to my asking him that question, and he mentioned Google+ over and over, pressing how important the project was, and how excited he was about it. So come to think of it, maybe his first response to me – I’d like the brand to represent the things I just spoke about - was all the answer we really needed.

* And not for the first time. I’ve written about it quite a bit….the precursor to this post is this one: On Google’s Brand. More here .

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9 thoughts on “Google = Google+

  1. Rich Kim says:

    I’d make the case that to most users, the Google brand is much more than search (the “means”), it’s the information (the “end product”). Whether it be through Search, Maps, News, Shopping, etc., Google is providing the information users need/want. Users don’t strive for the search, they strive for the content that Google provides access to. If + is successful, it may just provide that 3rd axis that is missing from users’ interaction with everything the web has to offer.

  2. Tom says:

    Agreed John – here’s something I wrote the day I joined G+:

    https://plus.google.com/u/0/112063946124358686266/posts/SrQrSSXeViq

    And something else a little later about the “brand” of Google and how it may be seen more like Apple:

    https://plus.google.com/u/0/112063946124358686266/posts/ZYS1fJQVkx2

    I haven’t read your Google book in years, but I think I’ll read it again. I got it when you spoke at the Newscorp MS “acquisition party” (for lack of a better term).

    Wish you were using G+ more so I (and others) could easily be alerted to your blog posts. :-)

  3. Thomas says:

    John, I agree with much of what you wrote here about Google+. Google is all in with this one. 100%. What’s most exciting to me though is that we are still just at the very beginning of all of this, we’re still in the first inning of the first game to use a baseball analogy. Just think about how far Google+ has come this month alone — and then think about where this continued spirit of innovation will take us in the months and months ahead.

    Google has the smartest minds in the world working on it today and the innovation engine is in full force. The company is unified behind social from the very top down. Just think how much better and better and better G+ is going to be at the end of October and November and December, etc.

    It thrills me to hear that from the stage +Larry Page was mentioning Google+ over and over and over again at Zeitgeist. It’s this sort of conviction that sends a signal to the community that we are wisely investing our time in growing with Google+ — in getting onboard early, in investing more than just our time but our energy, our spirt, our emotions and our rich content.

    The future is wide open.

    I also posted this comment to my Google+ stream here: http://goo.gl/ySj1C

  4. John says:

    Thanks for the comments, folks. I do plan on engaging with Google+ more, but … it has to pull me in. I am no Scoble….

  5. trevor says:

    I could envision this moving forward, seeing how G+ and its Circles could also be extended into their Android Open Accessory Development Kit (ADK) and android@home projects as well.

    Think about a locked Circles group for your home lighting sensors, or leveraging their search and mapping products within it for object tracking.

  6. Udayan says:

    Google+ has started statementing their search result. You see recommendation from your circle:

    http://setandbma.wordpress.com/2011/09/27/google-plus/

  7. Insightful analysis always.

    Horowitz’ description of how the various Google properties operate gives me flashback to a meeting I had at Yahoo! 6 or 7 years ago. Yahoo! similarly had a lot of properties that operated quite independently, and had to compete against much more specialized sites (e.g. email, news, dating, photos, autos…). The properties were described as independent city states that largely pursued their own courses (partly in order to help them optimize against more focused competitors). My comment was “You need a constitution that sets rules around Federal vs States rights.” There was no sense of how a rising tide could lift all boats, so there was little investment in cross-Yahoo brand building or integration.

    Let’s hope that Google is able to course correct in a way that Yahoo! apparently never was.

  8. Gene Reese says:

    So, the tech engineers who have been so pleased with themselves for giving us buttons (what I refer to as “dog in the road” engineering) have finally glimpsed what Black & Decker have said for decades: “People don’t want to buy a drill,they need a hole in the wall.”

  9. David says:

    Google innovate, then clean up the mess …

    Sometimes that’s years after the event, when the innovation, having either failed (Google Base) or been too far ahead of the game (Health, PowerMeter) can be “re-connected” or morphed into new and more important ways of working (Base became Merchant Centre and PlusBox ad extensions and will become even more than that – think “Offers” and online/offline ad spend accountability).

    The current talk about Gdrive is another case in point. Yet more eyeballs in front of a Google appliance to advertise to …

    They are increasingly in Telecoms (Android, Google Voice, some broadband provision, and a bid for wireless spectrum).

    Google want to become the “Infrastructure of our Life” and in many ways have succeeded in that, in others they’re just getting started.

    But they do have a monumental task to make it all work together.

    In my daily work as a Google AdWords Management Consultant, it’s absolutely clear that even within a single product area, they are increasingly like Microsoft with the left hand not knowing what the right is doing.

    The sticking plaster shows all over the place in things that are brain-dead simple as a user, yet fail completely to get into their Engineering consciousness.

    I’ve personally begged to give them help with the fabulous AdWords Editor tool which is still hopelessly crippled in some areas yet could so easily be fixed it breaks my heart!

    I’m forever logging in or using their tools and seeing that “Duh? Why did you take that away? It was useful, dammit, now you just made my life harder again! (Ads Diagnostic Tool)”

    And every time I hear about their failed efforts to help AdWords users by doing “account optimizations” for them, without the crucial qualification of *spending any of their own money* …?

    Don’t get me wrong – I love Google to death, and they have provided me with a good livelihood post-redundancy from IT management back in 2001. My life and theirs is inextricably intertwined for the foreseeable future.

    But clearly, they have a long way to go, and there’s *plenty* of value we mere humans can add to their machinery!

    Thanks for reading my ramble :-)