Keith Errington

marketing strategy
07860 267155

Why is Google so bad at marketing?


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.
Google+ had the first, they failed at the second, and they are in severe danger of failing at the third.

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.

Influence: the bottom line. It's micro-contextual.

Let's start at the very beginning. A very good place to start. Marketing is about selling things – I know it’s an ugly truth and in these days of social media we all often beat around the bush – but it is the bottom line.

But how do you get people to buy things when advertising isn’t that effective online, when people are reading fewer and fewer newspapers and magazines, and when we are tired and cynical about most other forms of advertising?

Potential prospects are now turning to
blogs, social media and friends for advice on what product to buy, where to buy it (and often when to buy too).

There are two ways to do this. The second, however is usually considered the only option, as the first is seen to be impossibly difficult to achieve, hugely expensive and utterly impractical.

So what is that first impossible way?
Well the best way to get people to buy things is to make a great product that does exactly what is says it is going to do (plus a bit more if appropriate), offer it at a reasonable price and provide excellent customer service.

This is a long term solution that turns everyone who buys and uses the product or service into advocates for the brand – effectively an army of unpaid sales people – who then influence everyone around them, in a multitude of channels.

Furthermore, that influence is appropriate, customised and precision targeted. If you take this route, you will find that bloggers and journalists will magically give the product good reviews, social media will be buzzing positively and review forums will be awash with glowing tributes to your brand.

Now, of course, that’s not possible right? Far too difficult. And besides, you can’t trust the public to sell your brand – they won’t understand how good it is, or what it does, or that it really is value for money. (Too cynical you think?)

So the second route is for the marketeer to try and identify those bloggers, twitter users and other online sources who are influencing the new generation of customers. To cultivate them, pander to them and persuade them to push the brand. Unfortunately, many marketeers have yet to realise that this is just as hard, if not harder than the first route.

But how do we tackle this?
Surely that’s simple? Devise a measurement system to tell us who the influencers are and then target them.

But too often in marketing we are guilty of looking at things from a marketeer’s point of view – especially when thinking about strategy. What we should really be doing is remembering that we are also customers, potential prospects, part of a someone’s target audience – ordinary people in other words.

Rather than approaching this problem with ‘old school’ marketing thinking – 'Let’s devise a system to locate and measure these people, then we can target them with advertising and special offers' – we should be thinking how does influence work in my life? How am I, as a potential prospect influenced when I buy something?

And if we did that, just thought for a moment, how we came to buy something – make a purchasing decision, we would straight away understand that influence is fairly intangible, contextual and governed by a multitude of factors.

It is the contextual nature of influence that is the biggest issue when trying to identify particular individuals/blogs/websites that influence a buying decision.

I might be influenced by
Jeremy Clarkson for example, when it comes to buying a car, but I certainly wouldn’t be influenced by him if I was buying a birthday present for my niece. (Unless she was a car enthusiast of course). So Jeremy will only be influential about certain topics – and it is this contextual nature of influence that makes it impossible to produce one universal measure.

Many of the current systems attempting to measure influence do recognise this and therefore attach topics to influencers – although often not altogether accurately. I may talk about the weather during a very rainy week and have a high level of engagement, but this doesn’t mean I actually have influence over the weather, or more seriously, over umbrella buying.

The micro-contextual nature of influence
But it is deeper that that – influence is micro-contextual. Jeremy Clarkson may be influential over fast, sporty cars, but I wouldn’t take his advice over a family car or a people carrier. He hates particular brands for no particularly logical reason, so I wouldn’t take his advice on those either. And if I am looking for a car with a particular feature – like one with a seven year warranty – he may not have anything to say about that at all.

If a new model of vehicle comes out, then there will likely be a delay before Jeremy Clarkson reviews it, or even mentions it and if a car has been totally overhauled and improved, then his views will be out of date. So influence can be based on a time context too.

There are so many product and service areas that have a deep level of variation and complexity, and are fast changing, that identifying an influencer using a single system is simply not possible – because influence is micro-contextual.

Giving a single number for influence as some systems do, is simply nonsensical in the extreme. And using such a number to make decisions is ludicrous.

Furthermore, your product or service may be quite different to anything that went before, it may be reaching an entirely new market, or it may be crossing over different product/service categories. Existing topics may or may not be appropriate – you may need to look at identifying new topics and new areas – for which there will be no current measure in place.

Bottom line
The only way to truly identify influencers that are:
  • appropriate to your product or service
  • in your market
  • at this time

is to actually do the research.

Nobody else’s system will be right for your particular marketing problem.

There is no short cut.



Starting Conversations

As someone who spends a fair amount of time monitoring the Internet on behalf of organisations and brands – one of the recurring issues clients face is not so much 'What are people saying about us?' but 'Why isn't anyone saying anything at all about us?'

I occasionally have to explain to quite large organisations, that unfortunately have an obscure product, that nobody will be talking about them, as nobody in their right mind actually starts a conversation with – 'I bought the most amazing bit of insurance last week' or 'That radiator valve I bought at Wickes is really very good'. People simply do not have conversations about such things and listening to the Internet will be fruitless.

And even established brands with exciting products often have problems building a fan base or getting a share of the great social conversation.

So here are some suggestions for ways of starting a conversation:

Ask questions
On Facebook, in your blog or on Twitter, ask your fans/followers a question – get their opinion about an existing product or a future development of a service or a proposed product.  By asking a direct question you are not only more likely to elicit a response over a passive post, but you are involving your customers and making them feel like their opinion is valued.

If your product or service is not that interesting (now be honest here) ask a question about the market or about their usage of the product or service.

Start a competition
From your Facebook page or web site – start a competition and blog and tweet about it. Good competitions with a relevant and valued prize (relevant to and valued by your audience – not you) can build a fan base quickly and generate interest in the media too. Try and be as inclusive as possible – give everyone a reasonable chance of winning – this will make the most impact.

Make sure you get the maximum amount of benefit when you have a winner (or winners) – engage your PR machine and again, blog and tweet about it.

Be controversial
If you say something controversial in a blog or a tweet – that is likely to get you talked about. Of course you need to be very careful with this approach as you don't want to alienate your audience or make them think you are fools. But you could put forward a controversial point of view and then discuss its validity in a reasoned manner.

Another key way of getting noticed and talked about is to sponsor a sport, a challenge or a set of awards. Questions, polls and updates, can all be used to sustain interest.

Organise a conference or seminar
This is a great way to create ripples in the social river – think of a subject or topic area that your target audience is interested in or keen to know all about and set up an event around that. Make sure your brand name or organisation name is part of the title of the event. Arrange for someone to blog throughout the event and also someone – or several people – to tweet about it as it happens.

Again, utilise your PR machine and contacts to make the maximum impact in conventional media as well as news websites and key bloggers.

If you do not have the manpower or resources to organise an event yourselves, then sponsor one.

One of the oldest ways of boosting sales is promotion – and this works for social media too. Run a promotion on your product or service and then make sure you publicise this across all channels. If the product is not suitable for this – try offering a free item – make it unusual and relevant to your target market.

General rules
Make any of these initiatives as unusual and unique as possible – the more strange and individual the initiative, the more likely it is to be talked about in the social stream and the more likely it is to be picked up by the conventional media. On the other hand, you could try making it as useful as possible – whereupon it is more likely to be talked about in social media.

Getting people to talk about your product or service – especially if it is boring, mundane or unexciting is difficult, but not necessarily impossible. Try some of these techniques – and let me know how you get on, okay? 
(Right, now, did you see what I did there?).

Challenges of the Real Time Web

The concept and impact of the real-time web on marketing is that as information systems improve, connections become faster and cheaper, and people spend more and more time connected to the Internet we will reach a stage where many more marketing campaigns will need to be planned, conducted and monitored in ‘real time’

This is not possible with conventional media – once you have booked a TV ad or a poster site you need to use it – you need to create a poster or an advert ahead of time, and it can’t be changed if circumstances change.
With social media the campaign can evolve over time. The real time web concept suggests it could evolve minute by minute if need be.

In order for marketing to move that quickly there are a number of challenges:
  • Real time monitoring and analysis
  • Understanding the objectives
  • Responsibility and control
  • Flexibility and agility

Real time monitoring and analysis
This will be essential, monitoring of social networks and web analytics will have to produce relevant results in real time. This is not that difficult, many systems can do this right now. The problem is the analysis of that data. This will have to be performed faster than ever before. At the moment most intelligent analysis has to be done by human analysts and it will be a while before computer systems can match their level of understanding and insight.

Understanding the objectives
As a marketer, if you are reacting and responding in real time to developing situation, it is essential that you understand what the company line is on any subject and it is vital you understand what the organisation is trying to achieve. This is easier if you are responsible for marketing strategy, but more difficult if you are not, or if you are working for a third party such as a marketing agency or PR company.
There has already been a number of incidents where third parties have made questionable decisions in the heat of the moment and ended up working against their client’s best interests.

Responsibility and control
Similarly, whoever is carrying out real-time marketing will need to have the responsibility to make marketing decisions as there will be no time to refer them back to a higher authority. They will need to be in control of the marketing budget for the campaign and in turn, control mechanisms will need to be in place to quickly and seamlessly control them.

Flexibility and agility
Given that the real time web will require quick reactions, decisions and deployment of resources, marketers will need to be flexible and agile to survive this environment.

The move to the real time web presents a number of unique challenges for the organisation, brand and marketer – but it’s shaping up to be an exciting, dynamic and rewarding experience.