Google Finally Markets to the Masses

A few months ago I wrote a post about Google’s lack of mass-marketing prowess.  Just the look and feel of most of their products has that “built by engineers, for engineers” vibe.  Android is a great example, even with the advances in Honeycomb.  Same with Gmail, Google Analytics, Google Docs, and on and on.  Now don’t get me wrong: I love Google products.  I’m an Android nut and I’ve totally given my digital life over to Google’s cloud services. I live in Chrome across multiple devices and I love it (for the most part).  But even the new Chromebooks, which I think are killer products (I love my Cr-48), are getting trashed by both mainstream and techie reviewers (I’ll skip the rant on their obvious Apple bias…).  I do have an engineering background, which maybe aligns my thought process and helps me “get it” with respect to their usability.  Sadly, however, nearly all of their products don’t pass the parent test:  Would my mother be able to use this?

And that’s all just related to using their products.  The marketing for their products and brand has been virtually non-existent.  While commercials and advertisements may be what you think of when I say “marketing,” I’m also talking about their product marketing:  colors, logos, designs, instructions, user guides, help pages, usability, screen flow and layout, etc.

But things seem to be taking a turn for the better.  The Cr-48 came in a neat package, with a clever design, but it still wasn’t mainstream.  Now, a few months later, Google seems to be jumping on the consumer marketing bandwagon. Maybe it’s the frequent slamming of the usability of their products, or maybe it’s their attempt at competing directly against Apple.  Whatever the reasons, I’m glad that they’ve finally hired some humans, at least in their marketing department.

Google Music android app image
The "old" Google Music app icon

Google’s new Music Beta product is a great example. (Although they need to stop beating the “beta” label, which I’d bet that 80% or more of consumers outside of the Bay Area have no clue as to what that means.)  Here’s the icon for Google’s old Android music app:  a simple, bland speaker. I know that it’s a speaker.  Most people would get that it’s a speaker.  Some may think that it’s a wheel, but it’s probably obvious that it’s a speaker, right?

Below is Google’s new music app icon and the imagery from the product’s landing page.

Look at the colors!  Look at the clear meaning of the icon – headphones!  Look at the background!  Wow, now there’s some consumer marketing by someone who knows consumer marketing.  Finally!

Google Music android app image

Another great example is Google’s ad for the “It Gets Better” Project.  Just their simple participation in such a wonderful and progressive movement is fantastic.  Honestly, I challenge anyone to watch the Google Chrome ad for this project and not come away moved by it’s message and the deeply personal stories and emotions conveyed by the people in the video.

Google Music Beta landing page imageBottom Line

As a geek and gadget nut, I’m looking forward to my next Android phone and maybe even a Honeycomb tablet.  But, as a marketer, I’m glad that Google is finally getting their act together and focusing on the average consumer, not just the tech, geek, engineer.  To compete against Apple’s amazing products and incredible marketing machine will take more than Google Labs and highly-innovative but complex features.  I just hope that these few examples are the beginning of a new page for Google, not just random one-offs.

In the meantime, Google, how about creating a “movie beta” and allowing me to purchase and download movies to my phone?  Apple’s been doing that for years…

Marketing and Physics (Or, Why Google needs to hire more humans)

In the early part of my career, I always thought that the combination of “soft” skills, like marketing, and quantitative skills, like engineering, was rare. Looking back, I assume that was due to my work in manufacturing as a mechanical engineer. Being surrounded by such analytical, black/white, data-driven individuals rarely gave me the opportunity to see beyond that viewpoint. And, it taught me to to be completely data-obsessive since I tracked and measured and plotted every aspect of every project on which I worked.

Add 15 years and a business degree (where I naively assumed that touting my engineering background in my application essay would make me stand out – a definite mistake at Carnegie Mellon, where slightly above 50% of students have technical undergrads), and I’m now finding that the qualitative/quantitative combination is slightly more common than I previously thought, but still a rare and valuable combination, particularly in the tech space.

Take Google.  Most of their employees are incredibly intelligent but very technical, and it shows in their marketing and their product design.  I use many of their tools, probably because I’m an engineer at heart, but constantly snicker to myself when I think about a non-technical person trying to perform simple tasks.  It’s almost as if they don’t even consider the “average” user, let alone those who are technically inept.  Contrast that with Apple who, while creating incredibly technical products, ships the iPhone without a manual.  I won’t even mention the laughable Marissa Mayer profile in the New York Times where she – the VP of User Experience – talked about using her marketing “gut” to force her team to “test the 41 gradations (of color) between the competing blues to see which ones consumers might prefer.”  (Forty-one?!)

For example, Gmail is a great email tool and I use it as my primary personal email, but it’s design could be best described as technically proficient, not utterly usable.  The fact that they just recently added the ability to sort contacts by last name is a case in point.

I also have Google’s Nexus One Android phone and absolutely love it (probably because the techie side of me “gets” the idiosyncrasies).  But comparing the experience to that of the iPhone, you can tell that Android was developed by engineers with little input from people with “softer” skills in design, marketing, and usability.  It’s the small things, like the way app names that are too long are abruptly cut off, with no wrap, no ellipsis, nothing.  Or the way music totally cuts out for a second or so before a new-email ding or an appointment reminder tone, and then takes a second or so to restart after the reminder (as opposed to the iPhone’s seamless, simultaneous sounds).  Or take the way you access the memory card when connected to your laptop via USB:   you find the settings to “mount” or “unmount” the card.  Not the most intuitive procedure, and I’m still not sure which is which.

But, Dan Cobley, a marketing director at Google, gave a short talk at TEDGlobal 2010: “What physics taught me about marketing.” It was highly entertaining to me because he connected physics and marketing principles, two things I get.  While the viewer comments are on the negative side, he’s obviously a techie at heart who takes a quantitative approach to marketing, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

While I try to restrain my quant urges as a marketer, it’s fun to see someone make an unabashed pitch for why marketing is ultimately a technical pursuit.  Watch his short (8 minutes) preso and let me know what you think.