Google has perfectly executed a branding strategy which has proven to be one of the most brilliantly effective branding strategies witnessed by man.
The Google Brand
Brand-wise, Google enjoys an unsullied image that sparkles cleaner than Coca Cola, Pepsi, Ford, Gap and AT&T combined. In an article published on Advertising Age, Randall Rothenberg named Google CEO Eric Schmidt as the most powerful media executive. Just a few months back, Google beat out Starbucks, Apple Computer, and Coca Cola to claim BrandChannel.com’s Brand Of The Year title.
A recent study by Brand Keys revealed the obvious: Google is #1 of all Internet brands for brand loyalty. If you’ve ever been online, the irrational and almost fanatic brand loyalty of Google fans is hard to miss. In several forums, from Doug Heil’s IHelpYou Services Forums to Brett Tabke’s WebmasterWorld.com, questioning Google’s moral superiority can result in emotionally-charged name-calling and abuse. One can only imagine if given the choice between GoogleGuy and Jesus Christ today, we would most likely be mourning the loss of The Nazarene again.
When critics do question the moral superiority of Google, the Google groupies rush to defend their icon of all that is pure and good, saying “Google is completely objective” and “Google is a shining star,” and quoting the Google doctrine, “PageRank – and Google – is the democracy of the web.”
One Google groupie proclaimed, “I love Google. Google is a great company, a good company, a responsible company. They are in a position of tremendous power and they do not abuse it. They never sacrifice their vision for the sake of making a buck. They are benign innovators, if only other companies were this good.”
The idea behind PageRank is indeed and unquestionably a superior morality: Democracy.
PageRank relies on the uniquely democratic nature of the web by using its vast link structure as an indicator of an individual page’s value. In essence, Google interprets a link from page A to page B as a vote, by page A, for page B. But, Google looks at more than the sheer volume of votes, or links a page receives; it also analyzes the page that casts the vote. Votes cast by pages that are themselves “important” weigh more heavily and help to make other pages “important.”
Important, high-quality sites receive a higher PageRank, which Google remembers each time it conducts a search. Of course, important pages mean nothing to you if they don’t match your query. So, Google combines PageRank with sophisticated text-matching techniques to find pages that are both important and relevant to your search. Google goes far beyond the number of times a term appears on a page and examines all aspects of the page’s content (and the content of the pages linking to it) to determine if it’s a good match for your query.
Google’s complex, automated methods make human tampering with our results extremely difficult. And though we do run relevant ads above and next to our results, Google does not sell placement within the results themselves (i.e., no one can buy a higher PageRank). A Google search is an easy, honest and objective way to find high-quality websites with information relevant to your search.
– From Google – Technology
Co-Branding Google & Democracy
Compaq builds credibility with consumers by co-branding products with the Intel and Microsoft logo. The brand Dodge at one point was nothing more than a punchline; the brand found redemption only after co-branding their trucks with the respectable Cummins Diesel name.
Google set its sights a bit higher, and has successfully co-branded the Google brand with the ideal of democracy itself.
Notice the language: uniquely democratic nature, and Integrity. Also, Google does not sell placement … no one can buy a higher PageRank. And honest and objective.
Honest and objective? Are they running for political office? What’s next? Are we going to see press releases with Sergey Brin kissing babies and making impassioned speeches to the down-trodden masses?
The presentation of Google as a noble and altruistic organization, whose only concern is the honesty and integrity of the World Wide Web, is not a two-cent branding technique. Up till now, search engines rised and fell with the accuracy of their search results. Google’s branding strategy is a masterpiece terms of branding: By branding itself as the morally superior search engine, they have safeguarded themselves against a quick demise. If and when a competitor develops a more relevant search algorithm, that competitor will instantly become public enemy #1 purely by virtue of the threat it poses to the most beloved search engine, Google.
Already we can see evidence of the effectiveness of this branding strategy. When one forum member recently posted to an SEO forum suggesting that Inktomi’s ranking algorithm had improved, an angered Google groupie retorted thus:
Have you ever read the posts made by Inktomi over at WebmasterWorld? No? Didn’t know they even posted? Yet you think Google is slack. Inktomi, at last count, had made 31 posts, count ‘em 31, in 18 months, and the vast majority of those were in a thread THEY started.
– Posted in Doug Heil’s forum. Spelling, grammar and capitalization corrected.
As you can see, Google has taken the issue of search quality out of the equation. It’s no longer about who provides the best search results; it’s about who kisses the most babies: Public relations. The message is, Google cares about you; Inktomi doesn’t.
Is it true?
Not in the least. It’s pure branding strategy. Google claims that PageRank is “honest and objective”. Google claims that PageRank is safe from human tampering. It isn’t. Google has often manually adjusted the PageRank of sites, pages and entire IP ranges. Bob Massa’s PR Ad Network is one well known example. For some odd reason, the big boys at Google disliked anyone other than themselves profiting from PageRank. Google not only penalized the PR Ad Network, but in an attempt to isolate and bankrupt Bob Massa, they also dropped the PageRank of all the sites hosted on his servers.
Somewhat belligerent, but effective in establishing who’s the boss.
When Google needs to, it lowers the PageRank of competitors. When it serves their financial interests, they tweak the algorithm in favor of those with whom they do business. And it’s perfectly alright for them to do so – Google is a business, not a charity. It’s defining purpose is to create wealth. This purpose governs all its activities and decisions, as it should.
Google did not invent this branding strategy. It has been around since the dawn of time. It’s simply the “I’m your friend” branding strategy on a huge scale. Go to any South Florida retirement community, and you’ll most likely find a dozen or so ex-convicts using the “I’m your friend” approach to con elderly folks out of their life savings. This is one reason most big businesses avoids using this branding strategy – because it is an integral part of every confidence scheme.
So should we abandon the strategy altogether because of its association with ex convicts? No! Definitely not. It’s works. As long as it works, it should be considered viable.
“Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.Â®”
It worked for state farm. It works for con men. It worked brilliantly for Google.
The major drawback in this strategy is its limited demographic appeal, and its potential for backlash.
Limited Demographic Appeal
As with any approach that employs an easily recognized marketing ploy, educated critical thinkers will see right through it. It has been called a “cheap” marketing ploy. I disagree with the cheap statement; nonetheless, its effectiveness is diminished the moment a consumer recognizes it as a marketing ploy.
Many marketing managers will tell you “nobody buys that crap”. They are wrong. We live in the day of Beavis and Butthead, soap operas and illiteracy.
Only about one quarter of the United States workforce currently have the skills to perform moderately complex procedures, analysis and reasoning.
That number drops to about 5 percent when the analysis, reasoning, coordination and integration of prose, document and quantitative information rises to highly complex.
-Bureau of Labor Statistics
In other words, the vast majority of the public is stupid. Google knew this and exploited it. It worked brilliantly. “Nobody buys that crap”? Hardly – WebmasterWorld has thousands of members willing to swear up, down and sideways on the moral superiority of Google.
Potential For Backlash
Why did Daniel Brandt create a website called Google-Watch.org? Some people would say it is because Google did not give him the top ranking that he wanted. But Inktomi did not give him top ranking, either, and he did not create Inktomi-Watch.org. Neither did he create AllTheWeb-Watch.org or AskJeeves-Watch.org.
Why? Because Inktomi, AllTheWeb and AskJeeves never claimed to be democratic. They never claimed to be morally superior; they never laid claim to “integrity” or “honesty and objectivity”. Inktomi, AllTheWeb and AskJeeves only claimed to be search engines. Period.
In the end, this marketing strategy will prove to be extremely profitable. That in itself should speak to the value of it.
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