When we think of Starbucks, we think of coffee. When we think of FedEx, we think of overnight deliveries. When we think of Google, we think of search that works. But search is one among many of Google’s products, in fact to name a few: GMail, Google Videos, Google Calendar, Google News, Blogger, Google Desktop Search, Picassa, Google Base, Orkut, GTalk, WiFi, Google Docs & Spreadsheets, Google Page Creator, Google Groups, Google Print, Google Reader, Google Notebook, Google Maps, and quite recently, YouTube. Yet, none of these pop into our mind when we think of Google. Clearly, there must be something wrong.
The problem begins with how branding works. A Brand is essentially a word that the company owns in the mind of the consumers (think Search). There is only a limited space in the brain to store information, and as a result, any excess information is simply ignored as background noise. Since 2000, Google has been creating a lot of great products that simply add more to the background noise.
Google is an exciting company…maybe too exciting for its own good. In fact, the problem with Google is that it has too many Purple Cows.
The Purple Cow
“Cows, after you’ve seen one or two, are boring. A Purple Cow, though…now that would be something. Purple Cow describes something phenomenal, something counter intuitive and exciting and flat out unbelievable. Everyday consumers come face-to-face with a lot of boring stuff-a lot of brown cows-but you can bet they won’t forget a Purple Cow. A purple cow is a product or service that’s remarkable. “Remarkable” simply means that a customer is willing to make a remark about it. If you create remarkable products, people will talk about them. If that happens, the word will spread about and your sales will grow. That explains the success of most every fast-growing company of the last ten years” – Seth Godin, Purple Cow/Free Prize Inside
Most companies strive to create Purple Cows; mini cooper and hummer are famous because people notice them. Google, on the other hand, has too many Purple Cows. In fact so many that, as a result, we pay less attention to them. The company isn’t allocating the resources necessary for sneezers to pass along the word. Most of us early adopters don’t go ahead and tell our friends and family about new Google services. This wouldn’t be true if Google released products less frequently. By releasing too many great products too fast, Google has diluted the perceived value of their excellent services. The power of any brand is inversely proportional to its scope.
Google is trying to create a product for everybody. The problem, though, is that their products target an already over crowded market. The everybody products are already taken. Web portals are a thing of the past. The early adopters and word-of-mouth sneezers are too occupied to take time off and spread Google’s gospel. The hard fact is that Google is not a leader in anything outside search; therefore, they should narrow down their focus on search alone.
Marketing Guru, Seth Godin points out that a company must design a product that is not only remarkable enough to attract early adopters – but is also flexible and attractive enough that those adopters will have an easy time spreading the idea to the rest of the curve. He lists four events that lead to a product failure:
1. No one noticed it.
2. People noticed it but decided they didn’t want to try it.
3. People tried it but decided not to keep using it.
4. People liked it but didn’t tell their friends.
Google is marginally successful with the third point, but almost always fail at the fourth. New product releases are something the early adopters have come to expect from Google. Consequently, when Google does release a product, after a burst of few thousand sign ups, the adoption rate declines dramatically. The “buzz” ends with the early adopters, who simply move onto other applications soon afterward. Not surprisingly, they also fail to pass on the sneeze to the late adopters.
Advertisements don’t bite
I have repeatedly heard Google executives assert that great products do not require promotion; this probably stems from the fact that, unlike other dot-com companies, Google Search did not spend millions on advertising to gain the limelight it enjoys today. Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt said “We believe that we should be launching more products than what will ultimately become phenomenally popular. The way you find really successful new innovation is to release five things and hope that one or two of them really take off. I think by that metric we’ve been doing really, really well. We should be able to put products out there and, without a lot of promotion, a good product will grow.”
The only problem is that Google’s products haven’t been doing really, really well. The company continues to pass on the opportunity to put more resources into their products. The strategy that made Google Search successful isn’t likely to make their other services successful as well. Google needs to do justice to its top notch software developers by improvising its current strategy for marketing products. The products are great, but they fail to catch on. It is Google’s executives at fault, not the developers. Google must learn to milk its Purple Cows.
“You can have the most wonderful product in the world, but if people don’t know about it, it’s not going to be worth much…from a pure business point of view, the benefits of being written about far outweigh the drawbacks” – The Art of Deal, Donald Trump
Microsoft was born in a blaze of publicity. However, as the publicity dried out, the giant had to adopt massive advertising to defend its position. Google will lose their current momentum eventually, and they too will revert back to advertisements. First publicity, then advertising is the general rule…sooner or later a leader has to shift its branding strategy from publicity to advertising.
“Go back in history. By far the most successful brands are those that kept a narrow focus and then expanded the category as opposed to those brands that tried to expand their names into other categories” – The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding
By frequently releasing products, Google hopes to ensure rapid growth even if its search engine loses steam. Users would have more reasons to stay on Google’s sites rather than move on to services offered by close rivals, Yahoo and Microsoft. This strategy is no different than Ford or Chevrolet releasing new models of cars to satisfy everyone. In the short term this might lead to a few more sales, however, in the long run it makes it more difficult to maintain the company . Google became a global phenomenon not by trying to be all things to everyone; they became outrageously successful by doing one thing insanely great; search. Now, however, they are beginning to lose focus by expanding out instead of vertically integrating .
In conclusion, the company has many great products; however, most of these never reach beyond the tech savvy crowd. For a product to be successful, it must be transferred from the innovators to the rest of the crowd. Since Google has so many Purple Cows, and the company offers little marketing leverage to these products, the word of mouth simply doesn’t reach beyond Digg or TechCrunch readers. Google’s half hearted attempt at pushing their products out the door is detrimental to the product, and in the long run, also to the company. For the future, Google can do two things to insure growth; stop releasing products that have little relevance to its core business and aggressively market the products it already has out on the Internet. In short, Google needs products that complement its Search Business.
 The emphasis in most companies is on the short term…while milking may bring in easy money in the short term, in the long term it wears down the brand until it no longer stands for anything. Fortunately, Google is beginning to realize the problem with creating too many irrelevant products. However, I feel that by entering print/radio advertisements, they continue to take steps away from Search.
 “Good things happen when you contract rather than expand your business.” – The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding
 My ideas are never my own. In fact, I don’t think any idea can ever be independently developed. The thoughts presented here were inspired by the authors of these books: “Purple Cow“, “Crossing the Chasm“, “The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding“, “The Search“, and “The Google Story“.