Googles Throwaway Product Strategy

    July 3, 2006
    WebProNews Staff

It was curious last year when Google’s corporate philosophy suddenly had two omissions. The running mantra “Do No Evil” was sidelined, presumably, because the company realized that 800 lb. gorillas required some evil sometimes – success brings war and playing fair is a poor survival strategy. But Google also completely abandoned its other motto: do one thing and do it well.

It’s not that they’ve forgotten about search. When 99 percent of your $120 billion value is based on search marketing, it’s not something you can ignore, or even let stagnate, ever. According to a BBC article, Google still devotes 70 percent of its time to staying ahead of the search competition. But it’s the other 30 percent that make Google a queer animal.

Google’s Marissa Mayer told Business Week that the company expects up to 80 percent of Google’s side products to fail. Some offerings, like Google Earth and Google News, have stuck. But Google’s low expectations of the products borne of the 80/20 percent time strategy have proved a self-fulfilled prophecy.

Google Talk is in 10th place among instant messaging services; Google Finance is 40th among sites of its kind; Gmail doesn’t come close to the audience of MSN or Yahoo. And yet, after every new product launch, the blogosphere invariably throws around the word “killer,” when more often it’s a limp-wristed slap.

Business Week calls it “product ADD”:

But after sparking substantial buzz, most of Google’s nonsearch offerings quickly fade from view. “People give Google the victory in the beginning and don’t show up later to notice that things didn’t go anywhere,” says Paul S. Kedrosky, a venture investor at Ventures West Management Inc. “Google has product ADD. They don’t know why they’re getting into all of these products. They have fantastic cash flow but terrible discipline on products,” says Kedrosky. “It’s a dangerous combination.”

Not only do they not appear to know why they’re getting into all these products, the user isn’t sure why he needs it. When Google Spreadsheet launched, I tapped a couple of friends in the financial industry for their thoughts.

“CJ,” who works for Ernst & Young, replied, “there is no way I am going to use Google Spreadsheet.Why would I need to make spreadsheets on the internet and share them? And with whom?”

An analyst for Lexmark had similar reservations: “It seems really cool, though I couldn’t imagine how I could use it for work. You can’t make internal information public.”

A throwaway product strategy is, at best, interesting. It seems flippant to devote resources to a loose amalgamation of products and then toss them out to the public to see what sticks. Or maybe Google just wants to offer alternatives without much concern for their success. After all, search has been very lucrative, why worry?

Some may cite the “all your eggs in one basket” cautionary tale. Eventually, Google has to diversify, and perhaps they’re just testing the waters. But here’s what the company lacks: an aggressive, tenacious, and ubiquitous marketing strategy for their peripheral products. Google relies on the geek crowd to promote its products, who primarily use the blog as their vehicle. But for most things, unless it is especially unique and convinces the masses immediately of its worth, it takes some good old-fashioned salesmanship.

How many successful salespeople do you know that drop off a flyer at your office and never contact you again? How do you account for the success of AOL unless you note the aggressiveness of the company’s marketing? Google repeatedly orphans its new products.

Business Week says there is an internal debate about how to promote their products without betraying the clean interface of Google’s homepage that has set it apart from cluttered portals like Yahoo! and MSN. Perhaps there are two answers here: what the PR world calls “ubiquity,” or for the rest of us that hate that word, “omnipresence”; and perhaps the company should develop a sister homepage, more portal-esque in nature, with more promotion of other products like Blog Search, Book Search, Google Notebook, et cetera. Heck, they could even call it “Google Portal,” and have one link attached to

Google can learn something from Yahoo! and MSN. They both have reached beyond the geek crowd to attract the average end-user. If Google actually has a desire for its non-core products to survive, it needs to convince the masses as to why they need them.


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