Irrespective of the massive innovation and advertising efforts of its competitors, Google commanding share of search has increased >11% this year, from 52.6% in January to 58.5% in October.
Why the success? The gurus quoted in the AdAge story on it cite Google's "viral and branding power," and that it has "...dong a heck of a job continuing to build its brand."
If that's true, it's the most unique, contrary-to-accepted-wisdom, sneak-up-on-you branding case history ever not written. No wonder it makes for a facile citation for everyone; nobody is diving into the why. Here's my take:
- Don't underestimate the value of habit. I wonder how many people us Google without even knowing it? It's the default search engine in my Safari browser, and in Firefox, too (isn't it?). Consciously choosing search is kind of like having to worry about the brand of freon gas in my fridge. I don’t really care how it works. Technologists often step over the fine line between offering choices and requiring unnecessary, sometimes uncomfortable, and therefore unlikely decisions. Getting users to use something out of habit could be a viable brand strategy: subscriptions and auto-replenishment contracts prove this point. How many lovers of the Google brand are really routine users, whom Google should love?
- Becoming a generic term maybe isn't so bad? Conventional branding theology argues against brand names becoming generic nouns or verbs. Xerox and Kleenex spent lots of time and money in hopes that people would "make copies" instead of xerox things, or blow their noses in "tissues" rather then kleenexes. Maybe they got it backwards? Every time somebody thinks they need to google something, doesn't that promote brand awareness? Further, it almost has a negative connotation for other engines that don't google, but simply search. Googling is better because, well, that's just what you do. It owns the behavior
- Customer satisfaction is a great branding competitive barrier. Google awareness has very little to do with its brand promises; in fact, I'm not sure most consumers know what to expect from search at all (the number of searches completed satisfactorily is shockingly low, probably because people don’t know how to use it). In fact, low expectations in this category probably work in Google's favor, both because there's less incentive to seek an alternative, and less reason to embrace a nuanced or slight improvement. We're back to routine and being generic as more powerful attributes than the most imaginatively brilliant brand advertising
- Corporate behaviors matter more than brand marketing. Back in 1999, Google considered a strategic branding plan from Zyman Marketing Group, my former employer, and rejected it for a "press first" approach to promotion (according to John Battelle's great book, The Search). Another factoid that most marketers miss is that press usually results from actions, not simply declarations or hype; a successful pitch needs to promote a substantive business behavior, if only to have any relevance to people who hear or read about it. It begs the question why lots of companies (especially in consumer packaged goods) waste time and money getting press coverage for marketing activities. Google has been busy doing things, like offering email, office services online, yadda yadda. It's an engine not just for search, but for generating credible news stories
- Could brand communications cheapen all of the above? Imagine if Google did things like hire acrobats dressed in its corporate colors to repel down the sides of buildings, or ran hilariously obscure creative ads and viral videos? Ah, awareness has absolute value...only not when it comes to business results or, in this instance, search engine usage. Had we been forced to endure the same nonsense from Google that we got from, say, Ask (incomprehensible ads on the intricacies of search algorithms), it would have strengthened the imaginary brand while actually harming the reality of the business
It's quite possible Google is gaining market share because it just keeps doing what it does. It requires no branding secret, or none that anybody in the branding racket would want to highlight.
The Google brand has inertial momentum.