Ten years ago Google was a brand that could do no wrong. How quickly, things change.
Earlier this year, the brand launched the Nexus One – only to withdraw it from the market 6 months later. Performance of its social media tools (Buzz and Orkut) has been lacklustre compared to competitors. Blogger.com has failed to excite and last week saw Google pull the plug on yet another product – Wave.
Why is Google not succeeding the way it once was?
I think it’s because the brand has lost a bit of its once legendary direction and focus.
Let me explain.
Google was once all about search – not any more
At one time, all Google was into was search. So over time it got to be pretty good at it.
Google today is not just into search – it’s into email, video, desktop applications, mobile applications, blogging tools, social media and much much more.
According to Wikipedia, Google now operates in 15 different areas turning out more than 100 products for the market.
The only problem with this – not all of the brands new products are related to its core competence – or what it’s always been about – “search.”
Where Google has leveraged off its competence in “search” it has done well. Google Maps for example is a leader in mapping technology. It has become the leader in this area because of its strong fit with the brands core competence (search).
Youtube is another product area where Google has done well. Again it’s because of fit with competence. Search is key to the experience of both Youtube audiences – users and advertisers. Users can find relevant content more easily, while advertisers can use it to target ads better.
The end benefit for the brand is leadership – and in a way that’s unmitigated.
Google’s problems arise in areas where it’s competence in search is either unnecessary or less relevant
Take social media for example. Here, what makes a brand successful is not “search” but the quality of the user experience combined with the take up of a platform and its ability to ensure the integrity of its users’ personal details.
Google was a late arrival to the party and it didn’t bring as much as a bottle of wine to it either. google offered an experience that simply wasn’t as good as Facebook and take up has been less than encouraging as a result except in Brazil where the platform seems to have made an impact.
Google didn’t understand the critical importance of privacy
In social media, privacy and a platforms ability to protect it is key. google, coming from a search background, made big mistakes in this area. Wen it launched Buzz, it unwittingly compromised the details of thousands of G-mail subscribers. The brand, through that action proved it didn’t understand the social media space as well as it ought to and remained a poor cousin to Facebook and other platforms as a result.
Nexus One – another case of the brand misreading the market
Google’s biggest failure this year was its foray into hardware with the Nexus One.
Again the reason for failure – no link between the product and what the brand is really good at – “search.”
The hardware market for phones is very different to the one Google is used to. In this game, as analyst Alexander Vaughn says on Appadvice.com – “week 1 sales can make or break a device.”
Google had shipped 20,000 phones at this time – 19,000 were to media and staff.
What Google didn’t understand was that in this game, ‘marketing’ was key to success. It didn’t explain how the phone was superior or what it could achieve compared to its competitors. The result was an early demise as the brand pulled the plug on the phone less than a year into launch.
Why did Google fail with its new endeavours?
The answer seems clear to me. The brand moved away from core competence. It entered territories it simply did not know enough about. It was unable to do them justice and paid failed as a result.
The trouble when brands move away from competence
Brands not only tend to have a high failure rate, they also get distracted from their core purpose and competence.
They can quite easily lose focus, dissipate investment and effort and in the process leave the door ajar for competitors (Bing are you listening?) to walk in steal an advantage.
Should Google and brands in general experiment with new products and ideas?
Of course they should. They just need to ensure they are within what I call the ‘width’ of the brand – that zone, that band where they continue to leverage their competence and in a credible way with their audiences.