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21 Aug 2015

Does Alphabet spell a return of Google’s focus to customers?

You’ve probably heard by now that Google has become Alphabet, except that Google is now part of Alphabet, and you could be excused for being a little confused…

Google’s founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, are notoriously ambitious, in that they want to solve all of the world’s problems and make a difference with everything they do, but that too has led to a confusion of moving parts under the Google brand.

So in many ways this is a well overdue move, to streamline, simplify and separate the myriad applications, solutions, projects, ideas and entities that used to sit under the Google umbrella.

Now there’ll be a lot of very different things sitting under the Alphabet umbrella, including the slimmed-down version of Google, which will simply be about search, email, YouTube and Android.

This is a smart move for many reasons, but first and foremost it’s a great branding decision.

If you look at Google’s mission statement, “to organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”, it’s virtually impossible to reconcile branches of the company such as Calico, which is focused on health, wellbeing and longevity, and Google X, which is experimenting with things like driverless cars, drones and smart contact lenses.

In some ways the ambition to do so many different things diluted what Google does best – and is best-known and most-admired for – and therefore the brand itself.

My favourite marketing gurus Jack Trout and Al Reis, in their The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing, advise companies to resist the pressure, or temptation, to extend the equity of their brand. Basically, don’t spread yourself too thin by trying to be everything to everybody.

Google fell into that trap long ago, because it worked on the theory that the power of the G would help sell new products. In far too many cases, it just hurt the established ones, with the brand taking a hit along the way.

But you could never accuse them of not trying lots of different things. Here’s a list from a couple of years ago of 20 Google Fails. It’s an interesting read – I mean who would have thought a company as successful as Google would have a product that lasted ONE DAY!?

Whether it was Google Catalogues or Google Video or Google Answers or Google Viewer, there were various reasons for the lack of success (to be kind), but as a whole you could simply put it down to over-reaching. They just tried to do too much, and a number of the things they tried just weren’t good enough.

Meanwhile, it goes without saying that Google’s successes have been spectacular.

Google Maps, for example, sits perfectly within its mission statement and alongside search, and has almost seamlessly become the default way to find out where you have to go for a large proportion of the online world.

Google Analytics, similarly, is close to all-encompassing for people with websites who want to know about their site traffic – and it too is closely related to search.

For a period in the 90s, Hotmail made a name for itself as the universal and free version of email, so Google didn’t want to miss that opportunity (or give Microsoft a free run). While G-Mail hasn’t become quite as ubiquitous as they might have hoped, you’d still have to mark it as a success.

As Google developed more and more omnipresent products and tools for living and working online, it’s little surprise that they tried to pull everything they could think of into the G ecosystem. Once you were online and signed in to your G-Mail, they imagined you doing everything with a G-something.

And of course the Google brand was strong, so they probably weighed up whether leveraging off it was a plus or a minus, and in most cases figured it was better for users to know that a product came from and was part of the Google stable.

But when they acquired YouTube they decided not to rename it, a very smart move because they would never have replaced YouTube as the household name for online video.

Now it doesn’t matter to a user or to Google/Alphabet whether someone knows that YouTube is part of the massive $US445 billion dollar giant, just that the use it and love it.

With the creation of Alphabet, we have probably seen the last of the seeming obsession with renaming everything under the G brand. Technological innovations under the Alphabet umbrella will more than likely have individual names, although if they do have a natural connection to the core search part of the business, the Google association will still be useful (and sensible).

In the end, it is all about the customer, and the advent of Alphabet frees up Page, Brin and their cohorts to once again focus on creating things that people need and will use.

After all, savvy users resist being forced to operate in a particular way, so if you serve them, nurture them and listen to their feedback, your business will grow.

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