Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

Google Dislikes Marketing And PR - Which Is Why Its New Services Fail

Posted by Tom Foremski - June 23, 2010

Google has had a long string of failures. It encourages its engineers to spend 20% of their time developing side projects but when those projects reach launch stage, their take-off is nearly always very disappointing.

Take a look at some of Google's failures.

Colin Gibbs reporting on GigaOM:

    • Google Lively was a web-based virtual environment that allowed as many as 20 people to sit in a virtual room and chat with each other. The offering debuted in July 2008 only to have Google pull the plug a mere four months later.

    • Google Print Ads was dropped earlier this year after the company's vision of bringing web-like automation to the world of traditional media failed to materialize. The effort went belly-up just three weeks before the death of Google Audio Ads, which ended a three-year run in February after the company failed to gain traction in the radio ad game.

    • Google Answers spent a year in beta before a full-blown launch in May 2003, but the effort to create a fee-based knowledge market never gained much traction outside a small base of users and the service was dropped in late 2006.

    • The social networking site Orkut launched early in 2004 as an independent project of noted Google developer Orkut Büyükkökten and has caught fire in Brazil, a market that accounts for roughly 50 percent of its membership. The site reportedly claims roughly 100 million users, which is impressive, but Google can't be happy that its effort is virtually unknown in Europe and North America while Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace and others have gained such impressive traction.

    • Google Catalog Search debuted in 2001 as a way for consumers to go online to check out their favorite print catalogs that had been scanned and uploaded. Of course, retailers were already taking their inventories online themselves, and the effort was put to rest earlier this year.

    • Google Health was released as a beta test in May 2008, but the service has yet to find much of an audience among insurers or the general public. Which may have something to do with the combination of the words "health" and "beta test."

    • The location-based service Dodgeball was shut down in 2009 after Google had acquired it four years earlier, and while Google continues to operate Jaiku - a social networking service it picked up in 2007 -- the company has effectively abandoned the project. The technologies and expertise from both startups is being incorporated into other Google businesses and projects, however.

I can easily add a lot more to this list. Google Video; Google's acquisition of Jot; Google Wave; Knol; Checkout; Catalogs; Base; Squared; and Google Buzz could be the latest.

Google has tremendous scale so it is puzzling to some why so many of its services should have been such failures. But, it isn't that surprising if you consider its culture because Google believes that good products will find their users based on their own merits.

What Google fails to recognize is that it needs to assign marketing support. Without marketing support it is wasting the cream of its engineering talent.

Have you seen any marketing for Google services beyond an occasional text ad?

I've never been contacted by any PR companies, or Google corporate comms people to talk about a new Google service or product. Yet I receive countless such invitations from smaller companies trying to get media attention.

Google's failure to recognize the need for effective marketing is deep rooted within its engineering culture. Engineers don't believe in marketing. Many software engineers will deride a company's success (e.g Apple) as "it's just marketing." It makes it seems as if "marketing" is something that can be easily acquired and put to good use.

But marketing is not easy, and successful marketing is not a commodity (it's interesting that software engineers are (becoming) a commodity...)

Google's own success grew out of a non-marketing approach; Google search was simply a better product. Google is proud that it didn't use marketing to become a success.

But times are different today. There is a tremendous amount of media already on the Internet and this level will rise to a media tsunami as companies and individuals make full use of their media publishing capabilities. The media tsunami will drown less able companies, products, and services.

Effective marketing is going to become ever more important, and more expensive, simply because the media tsunami is raising the bar for everyone to stand out.

Company culture is very difficult to change and it changes slowly and that's why Google will continue to launch new services, and it will continue to fail because it doesn't understand the need for follow up marketing and PR.

And that means it will continue to remain a one-trick pony.


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