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Google Defines Meaningful Tech Marketing


This week, I wrote about three once-proud technology companies that are trying to save their businesses by embracing a marketing playbook straight out of the Don Draper era. Yahoo!, eBay, and AOL have all recently chosen to go with expensive, interruptive advertising campaigns rather than try something different and meaningful. Perhaps they should have taken the path to success of their number-one competitor, Google.

Google was named the most valuable brand in the annual Millward Brown BrandZ study for the third consecutive year in 2009. Not bad for a company that does almost no marketing. Well, it does some marketing; for example, the company launched a series of outdoor billboards recently to drive awareness of its suite of business apps. But traditional, interruptive marketing by Google is very, very rare. A lot of what makes Google a valuable brand comes from its great search engine and series of useful tools. One could argue that everything Google does is “meaningful marketing.” In other words, by offering useful, free software tools such as Gmail and Google Maps, the company draws people to its search-engine business, where it makes money on every AdWords click. But let’s save this angle for a future post. Instead, I want to highlight a few of the little things Google does that make it the leader in meaningful technology marketing.

The Google Home Page

Google understands that its home page is very valuable real estate. Tens of millions of people per month visit to start their many, diverse searches. But instead of ceding its home page to advertisers who would love to capture its eyeballs, Google puts its visitors first and offers a clean, clutter-free experience. This “page of truth” sends a clear message to users and clearly differentiates versus the competition such as MSN and Yahoo! It clearly communicates that searchers come first at Google, and its traffic is not merely sold out to the highest bidder.

But Google sometimes does change this home page… when it wants to celebrate a milestone or draw attention to an issue. People are often surprised and delighted to see how Google has toyed with its logo to highlight a holiday or news item. Recently, for example, the company celebrated the 40th Anniversary of Sesame Street with several logos, including the one shown above. By highlighting the program on its home page, Google actually drew more media attention to the milestone as well. Other special logos in November 2009 included the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, NASA’s discovery of water on the moon, Father Frost’s Birthday in Russia, and National Teacher Day in Vietnam. Instead of offering us another meaningless banner ad like does, with these little touches Google earns a special place in our hearts.

Free Wi-Fi for Airports

Google always seems to be adding services for Internet users while asking for nothing in return. The latest example is its offer of free Wi-Fi service in 47 airports across the U.S. through January 15, 2010. It is a great gift for weary travelers who are often stuck in airports while trying to see loved ones for the holidays. One might expect that the “price” for free access is being forced to see a Google ad when you successfully log on. Instead the company directs users to a page where they offer the chance to donate to one of three charities that Google supports. And Google will match donations of up to $250,000 per airport.

Viral Video

Last week while I was compiling examples of the meaningless ads for technology companies in my last post, someone in our office forwarded a “commercial” for Google. I discovered a few videos under the title of “Google Search Stories” that blew me away. Check it out:

What you find here is TV commercial-quality production of a lovely ad for Google. In 30 seconds, these videos bring deep emotion while showing off many of the latest and greatest Google features. It’s no wonder that the 40,000-and-growing viewers give it five stars. And in case you thought Google went off and hired a hot creative agency to put these together, think again. These videos were created in-house by staff at the Google Creative Lab. Shouldn’t every company know its consumers and products well enough to do a brilliant ad in-house versus outsourcing it to people who spend a handful of hours watching from the outside? But I digress…


All of these little things from Google come with little pomp and almost no advertising budgets. Instead of clever ad messages that tell you Google is a great brand, the company uses its consumer access and brilliant employees to actually do things that make us more effective and happier throughout our day.

At this point you might be wondering: Why has Google chosen a meaningful marketing path while Yahoo!, eBay, and AOL all are failing to break through? After all, each company has developed great products and services in the past and they all hire similarly smart people. They are strategic enough to do competitive analysis and understand what Google is up to. So why the difference? It’s hard to tell, but I believe that a lot of it comes down to the fact that Google has a clear Brand Purpose. Google exists to index the world’s information, it believes in a philosophy of “do no evil,” and it has founders who are still actively, passionately steering the company. These factors give the company a basis for decision making that is clear and differentiated, and it means that no pricey advertising agency or clever tagline is required to make a campaign to keep the company “cool.”

Next week, I have the opportunity to present my book to employees at Google’s San Francisco office as part of its Authors@Google program. I look forward to honoring these meaningful technology marketers and learning more about what makes them special.

6 Responses to “Google Defines Meaningful Tech Marketing”

  1. Confounding your analysis somewhat is the fact that, in Japan, Google is using ads/freebies (i.e. traditional media) to try and catch up with Yahoo!. When you’re #2, perhaps that’s what you have to do?

  2. April says:

    Interesting post.
    I disagree however that Google doesn’t do “marketing”. I think what they do is closer to product marketing than advertising. Their messaging and positioning is very crisp and they do a great job (most of the time) on the elements of a product launch.
    The fact that they do little advertising is not that surprising considering their brand is attached to the majority of online advertising already and many tech companies are drastically reducing their spend on traditional advertising.

  3. Bob says:

    Good find, Martin. It seems that some of these efforts are interruptive (TV), but some are meaningful as well (free Wi-Fi).

  4. Alden says:

    I agree with April. What you found and focused on is one example of Google’s product marketing. Granted, it is very low key, simple, relevant, and effective, but it doesn’t mean that Google avoids all of the more traditional brand marketing activities done by AOL, Yahoo and others. Google does plenty of association marketing and channel partner marketing. Many times Google is a passive or indirect interruptive marketer. Think about the extensive marketing that Verizon is doing for the new Droid phone that runs the Google Andriod 2.0 operating system. I agree that Google seems less blatant about trying to sell its products and services. However a big reason is that it is in the business of giving away its main product — its search engine — so that an ever increasing audience of potential buyers sees the Google Adsense and related paid search results in the search engine results.

  5. Bob says:

    Very good points and thanks for the comments!

    There are certainly examples of how Google is doing “some” old-school, interruptive advertising – just like the billboards that I mentioned above. Sure, they do sponsorships at trade events, etc., which is often thrown in with getting a booth or a speaking slot (which are both meaningful opportunities to show their smarts). And I don’t think you can say that Google is now a traditional marketing because Verizon is using them to gain credibility for Droid (however, there is a chance that Google actually loses some brand equity)

    Either way, it’s pretty clear that very little of Google’s brand value has come from advertising campaigns. And I do believe that it’s a hell of a lot of these “little things” that have added up to make a difference in the brand and business over years.

  6. IMO… Google’s marketing begins and ends with their products. They create remarkable things — and things that are remarkable, market themselves.

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