On the search engine’s 10th anniversary, we can learn from its innovative branding techniques.
Happy Birthday, Google. It’s been a decade since Sergei Brin and Larry Page set up Google Inc. in a California garage. The two founders had big plans for their company back in 1998, but even they would have been stunned to learn that 10 years later Google would become the biggest brand in the world.
Marketing students in the 80s learned their brand management from Coke, and Apple taught the key branding lessons in the 90s, so it’s no surprise that Google provides the best branding lessons of this decade. Here are 10 of the most important, to celebrate Google’s triumphant anniversary.
One: don’t be too keen on market research. Google’s initial success was driven by technology, innovation and the drive of two brilliant founders. Too many great brands have been ruined by a premature desire to meet consumer needs. Great brands usually begin with personal inspiration and only later worry about the satisfaction of others.
Two: who needs advertising? Google was built without any ads. Instead, it used two cheaper and far more effective brand building tools: viral marketing and public relations. Now 99% of its revenue derives from ads.
Three: burn your positioning triangles and concentric circles. The positioning-by-numbers approach damages, rather than focuses, a brand. Google grew without wheels or pyramids, creating its own shortlist of principles to guide its actions.
Four: branding is about change, not consistency. From its sparse home page to a logo that adapts to reflect world events, Google broke the traditional rules of branding to deliver on its promise to consumers.
Five: most of your future business will come from brand extensions. Google looked at long-established brands and realized early on that today’s unlikely brand extensions are tomorrow’s cash cows. It has been actively creating extensions, from Google Mail to Google Maps, to ensure that, while search is its origin, it is far from being its only future.
Six: branding is not a perfect game. Despite building a brand around beliefs such as ‘The need for information crosses all borders’ and ‘You can make money without doing evil’, Google spectacularly dropped the ball in 2006 when it agreed to assist the Chinese government in limiting the content provided to Chinese users searching for politically sensitive topics.
Seven: the best brand architecture is a single branded house. While other options such as sub-branding and a house of brands exist, Google’s branded house confers a number of key advantages. It focuses all the strategic resources and marketing spend on a single brand. It also enables Google to grow faster internationally and build a strong culture internally.
Eight: build the brand on the inside with a strong employer brand. Google has consistently ranked as one of the top employers in the world because it applies its brand positioning to how it recruits, remunerates and motivates its people.
Nine: keep your founders. While Google appointed an external chief officer in 2001, founders Brin and Page remain in charge. Founders maintain the ethos of a brand and inspire loyalty and leadership, while also generating brand-consistent PR coverage.
10: avoid floccinaucinihilipilificationism wherever possible. And if you want to know what that means, you know where to look.
30 SECONDS ON… Google’s sense of humor
– Google offers specialised search-engine interfaces for several unusual languages, including Klingon, Pig Latin, Bork Bork and the dialect of Elmer Fudd.
– An ‘Easter egg’ is buried in the free mapping program Google Earth, that allows users to pilot a virtual plane across the planet using a flight simulator. To access this in Google Earth, open the program and press Ctrl-Alt-A on your keyboard.
– Google Calculator also has a few surprises up its sleeve. Searching for the ‘answer to life the universe and everything’ reveals a familiar answer. Similarly, asking for the ‘number of horns on a unicorn’ or how often is ‘once in a blue moon’ retrieves amusingly accurate numerical responses.
– Google’s Gmail is also in on the fun. Click on your spam folder and then look at the ad running above the mail box. Rather than the usual targeted advertising, you should see a recipe for spam. Click on it and a full guide to preparing the canned meat is provided.
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September 11, 2008 at 2:22 pm
I am (and will continue to be) a big fan of your blog. But I find that the perspective that “branding in the internet have different principles than traditional business” more harmful than insightful. In this case, I have to disagree with you a bit.
Before going into specifics, you have got to remember that branding is a competitive game. Sometimes you win not by being great, but by being better than the competition.
#4 – Google brand has been consistent. Put “xxxx” with those fonts in that sparse home page and everyone will know that you are talking about Google. Actually, small playful adaptations are part of the consistency (to show they are different). Stop adaptations and you will lose consistency.
#5 – Google is losing focus! Once, Yahoo dominated the world. Then it tried to do everything from shopping to financials. It lost track of the most important and Google showed up. Sure Microsoft made it (so far the only one with clear success by not being focused). Not because it was focused, but others were worst. Again, competitive game.
Sure that Google mail is a success, but good traditional companies have learned the hard way that sometimes you can build great, successful products and harm the company on the long run by losing focus. They then sell at a profit: think Listerine, Gerber, financial products from tobacco companies, etc.
Google is “finding” (or something close to it). It is so strong that became a verb: “I will google her”. You do not want to lose it. By the way… Google Maps seem to be consistent with that positioning.
#7 – If you want to build a business with a different positioning than “finding” (or however you read the current positioning), than use a different name! Do not screw up with your positioning. Do not jeopardize losing the biggest asset you have (“I will google her”). Make money behind a different brand. It’s Sprite not Lemon Coke (as opposed to the failure of Cherry Coke). It’s Pampers not Tide Diapers. It’s should definitely not be Yahoo Finance, Yahoo Shopping, Yahoo Everything.
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