For one of the biggest companies in the World whose main business revolves around advertising and marketing Google are remarkably impotent when it comes to their own marketing.
They are currently making a profit of around $10 billion a quarter and are certainly not short of a buck or two, so why don’t they spend a decent chunk of that on marketing?
Google doesn't believe in advertising
In 2009 Microsoft spent around $520 million or 0.9% of revenue on advertising. So how much did the company whose very success is founded on advertising spend? Well, Google spent just $11 million – which represents a paltry 0.05% of revenue. I can’t think of many successful large international companies that spend that little.
So they don’t really do television, radio, cinema, print or pretty much any other kind of advertising that any sane company would utilise to promote their brand. Now whilst this hasn’t stopped them dominating the search engine market, they now have a whole string of brands for which they are doing very little marketing. Their competitors are, however. I mentioned Microsoft earlier, they’ve been promoting Bing quite heavily through a wide range of advertising channels and have negotiated a series of agreements with Facebook, and another agreement with Twitter. Where are Google’s agreements with these major players?
Google doesn't bother telling its customers
It is customary when launching a new product to tell your customers about it – it’s kinda important. So let’s say you are trying to break into an established market with a clear market leader who is so far ahead of the game it’s almost hopeless. You have, what could be, a make or break product for the company. It is innovative and potentially poses a real challenge especially given that your company has an enormous amount of brand equity gained in other markets.
Now I’m not head of Marketing at Google, I’m not brand manager at Google+ (do they even have such a role?), I’m only a cynical marketer with a few years experience under my belt, but I would have thought a bit of marketing might help launch the product?
The non-launch of Google+
Apparently not. Google launched Google+ with no advertising campaign or mass marketing blitz. Having said that, it’s not all bad. Google decided to launch their new social media platform as a kind of ‘invitation only’ exclusive club – echoing the way Apple launches some of its product offerings. This was a good idea, ensuring all the ‘in-crowd’ – journalists, developers, engineers, and social media commentators felt ‘special’ and valued. By doing this Google achieved a totally disproportionate amount of positive press coverage on sites and blogs. This led to a massive early take-up.
However, they failed to build on this, and worse, they had no provision for organisations or brands to provide essential content. Without content, social networks are dead in the water. It is unbelievable that Google failed to recognise the importance of having brand pages from day one.
The secret of the 'public' launch
The next step was to open up Google+ to the public – throw it open to everyone. So did they hold a big party? Announce it on every possible channel making sure their customers knew about it? No. In fact, I monitor the Internet daily, well hourly, and I almost missed this huge event. I can guarantee that the public were oblivious to the fact that it was suddenly open to all.
In fact, I’m fairly sure that the majority of people in the UK are still unaware of the existence of Google+, or if aware, I doubt they could actually tell you what it is and what benefit they would derive from joining. On my social media training courses I often have communications professionals who are unaware of Google+.
In the UK, pretty much the sum total of Google’s effort to promote Google+ was a single blue arrow.
Why isn’t there a massive TV, Radio, Poster and print ad campaign to raise awareness of Google+, it's features and benefits?
Likewise when they launched – after a long, long delay – business pages, did they advertise the fact – no. It’s almost like they don’t believe in advertising, which is ironic given that’s what their business is founded on.
For an enormous company with massive profits, they seem terribly amateurish when it comes to marketing.
Social Media platforms - barriers to entry
There are significant barriers to entry in the social media market and the key success factors seem to be three things:
- Having a unique proposition
- Promoting and marketing to potential users
- Moving at speed – keeping up momentum.
Companies are always striving for a unique product – and so they should - but the truth is, that even if they develop one, it is usually only a matter of time before someone else copies it. If you are going up against facebook, you have a major problem because they have enormous resources and a well developed existing product, so whatever capabilities your proto-social network has, facebook can match in a matter of weeks.
So speed and momentum are essential. Google, who let’s face it, should have the resources, appear to be strolling into the market quite casually – with a few unique capabilities that are easily replicated. The only unique feature of the product that cannot be replicated, is that it comes from Google and therefore should be able to leverage the advantage of being linked to all Google’s other products.
So facebook have already moved to match some of the new Google+ features – albeit in such an obscure way – very few people understand them, let alone use them. Are Google hoping that facebook will upset its users with further unpopular interface and privacy changes? Because hope is not a reliable or a professional marketing strategy.
Google's perpetual beta approach to product launches
Google is known for releasing half-finished, prototype products on the public and then relying on user feedback over time to polish them and produce a finely honed product – some have called this approach perpetual beta. They are also known for the large number of failures this approach has caused – particularly when there is a related hardware product, or when they are competing against fully finished, mature products. The latest example of this is Google+ brand pages which are relatively immature and struggling to find followers. Maybe it’s time to change this approach and actually have a fairly finished product at launch – you know – like pretty much every other company has to.
Google may still succeed - eventually
There are signs that Google+ is succeeding – slowly – and I would be surprised if Google didn’t have a significant share of the Social Media market in the long run, partly due to the synergies they can offer with their other products (Brand pages influence search results for example, so brands will definitely want to have a presence on Google+). But just how much faster would it grow, and how much more lucrative would it be if they marketed it properly?
So why no significant investment in marketing such a major product?
Of course it might be that they just don’t care about, or believe in, their products but that would be madness, wouldn’t it?
No marketing culture
The only explanation for their complete lack of marketing ability in this area is that Google has a cultural problem at its heart – it is either so arrogant it thinks it’s products should stand on their own and people should just magically be aware of them, or it just doesn’t believe in marketing at all.
Perhaps they need to employ a few people who do?
I should say that I am a big user - and fan - of many Google products. I am also on Google+ but I do use Twitter and Facebook far more. Oh, and I am passionate about marketing - you know - should anyone ask.