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 Google.com 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 Yahoo.com 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.
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.