Why Google Can't Afford to Ignore Marketing Anymore

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2009-09-11 Print this article Print

Robert Cringely has an interesting post about Google's corporate idiosyncrasies as relayed to him via ex-Googlers.

Through him we learn that peer review is Google's choice for product development, sometimes to a fault.

Google's painstaking peer-review processes constitute a big part of why Google applications and services retain the beta tag for several years. See Gmail, the infamous 5-year-old beta victim, as a point of reference.

Cringely also seems surprised that there is no marketing to hound productive development, and adds:

All of this helps explain the Google tendency to have almost eternal betas, because there are no marketing-driven deadlines ... ever. And why should there be? Given that most Google products aren't intended to directly produce revenue, it may not matter.

That is changing, perhaps not for Google search, but definitely for Google Apps. What is marketing for? To create awareness about a product or service to help sell it, or at least get more users using it.

Armed with accurate results and high relevance, Google's search engine blossomed into a $17 billion a year business on viral word of mouth. Users searched on Google, clicked on the accompanying contextual links, and Google made the money. Low barrier to entry = high yield in profits.

Users are the marketing tool; in a market populated by inferior search engines (I'm looking at you Microsoft, Yahoo and Ask.com), users elevated Google without the company having to pump marketing money into it. The search engine sold itself.

Google Apps, however, is another story. It took two years for Google's enterprise team to realize that Apps wasn't going to take off the way Google search did.

When the enterprise team realized the Google brand and reputation would only take Apps so far against the monolithic glut of Microsoft's Office and SharePoint empire (not to mention the thousand other SAAS collaboration startups), Google began its "Going Google" billboard campaign.

Google also posts regular customer testimonials on its Google Enterprise Blog to show businesses are indeed using and paying for Google Apps Premier Edition.

This is marketing! Just as Google's search users testified to Google with their clicks and told others about it, the Google Apps customers are creating videos blustering about how great Google Apps is.

So, Google is doing marketing now, even if it's not the $100 million campaign Microsoft is throwing at Bing, or the billions it has spent on selling Windows and Office.

Moreover, as Google angles for more enterprise market share, expect those beta tags to get systematically lopped off. Unfortunately, it wasn't until July 2009 that Google took Gmail, Docs Talk and Calendar out of beta.

Having Gmail, the cornerstone of collaboration programs, in beta for five years hurt, don't think it didn't. Business customers are understandably leery of beta tags.

With the increased focus on marketing and advertising in the Google Apps group, it will be very interesting to see if the Google Apps cycle of innovation slows as the programmers knuckle down to release polished products.

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