Google made us uncomfortable!
On a recent midsummer Silicon Valley afternoon, the Co-founder and CEO of Google morphed into the CEO of Alphabet before our eyes. What’s Alphabet, we wondered?
Larry Page opened his official blog post saying, “We’ve long believed that over time companies tend to get comfortable doing the same thing, just making incremental changes. But in the technology industry, where revolutionary ideas drive the next big growth areas, you need to be a bit uncomfortable to stay relevant.”
Image via https://abc.xyz
“Uncomfortably excited” is a state of mind that Googlers are well familiar with; they say it comes up frequently during internal meetings. When Larry Page addressed the graduating class of the University of Michigan in 2009, he counseled, “Always work hard on something uncomfortably exciting.”
“We Do Search”
With the perspective of a few days and hundreds of pieces of content produced by Google observers, the picture came into focus. People realized that Google wasn’t disappearing (audible sigh of relief), but rather that Alphabet was born to give Google the space to be Google. The bottom line is that from a consumer perspective, it’s business as usual!
Google is a search engine and an advertising platform. And clearly, it’s a cash cow — which has everything to do with funding the next big breakthrough and nothing to do with Google’s (um, Alphabet’s) next passion project, whatever it may be.
As an obscure campus startup, Google’s mission was “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” Two years on, Google AdWords launched with 350 customers. Overwhelming success has been declared in the blink of an eye, in about one and a half decades.
The authors of “The Google Story” discussed the profound impact of the founders’ vision to make all web-based information searchable via PageRank algorithms, comparing it to the first mechanical printing press in 1440. They wrote, “Not since Gutenberg…has any new invention empowered individuals, and transformed access to information, as profoundly as Google.”
“We do search,” was the core of Google’s philosophy as expressed in its original “Ten Things We Know to Be True” document. However last winter, Larry Page said, “Google has ‘outgrown’ its 14-year-old mission statement.”
So, on second thoughts, no one should have been surprised by Google’s big announcement. In October 2014, Page laid it out in an interview with the FT, expressing his desire to step away from daily chores at the colossal search engine. “The world’s most powerful internet company is ready to trade the cash from its search engine monopoly for a slice of the next century’s technological bonanza,” is how the FT put it.
Spelling it Out
Alphabet is about brand innovation. When Larry Page titled his announcement “G is for Google,” the implication is that it leaves another 25 letters for Alphabet to dream big.
Several of the spaces on the virtual Scrabble board have already been filled in: Life Sciences, working on the glucose-sensing contact lens; Calico, focused on longevity; Nest for smart-home products; Fiber for super-connectivity and whatever words are played next, sometimes via acquisition.
Google X is the think tank for moonshots, artificial intelligence, robotics, longevity, health advancements, biotech, self-driving cars and smart glasses. Google Ventures re-invests.
It’s all about staying “uncomfortably excited” and attracting the best minds for collective ideation.
Brand Architecture : A House of Brands
Alphabet is now an umbrella for one of the largest brands we’ve known. From a brand architecture perspective, Google bucks the trend of the last decade which has seen large brands consolidate toward a single ‘brand house’ approach e.g. Unilever (2004), P&G (2011), Coca-Cola (2015). Google is doing the opposite by creating a ‘house of brands.’
The scale of Google’s size and scope demands a more efficient approach for managing multiple brands with different cultures, complex mergers and acquisitions, innovation, brand sub-cultures whilst satisfying Wall Street demands for accountability.
As an article published in the Harvard Business Review points out:
“…the financial returns of the search engine and advertising business could not be observed separately from the investments in all of the new businesses. The new structure ensures that there will be, at a minimum, independent accounting numbers produced for the Google business, and perhaps for the others as well.”
The Alphabet umbrella brand also reduces risk in terms of brand reputation management, with risk being ring-fenced around each individual brand and its own CEO within the ‘house of brands’. Alphabet will be much less vulnerable to major scandal or irregularity and it will also not be a consumer brand.
The point of a ‘house of brands’ structure is that the corporate brand becomes essentially invisible to the outside world, only relevant to senior employees and investors. How clever is Google?
What are the Branding Takeaways?
For smaller businesses, it’s more advantageous to manage a single brand or ‘brand house’ with one budget, one culture, one organisational structure, one employer, one leadership team and so on.
At first blush, the immediate branding Alphabet/Google learnings or takeaways from their initial announcement, for any size company or organisation, are as follows:
1) Continually evaluate your core business, product or service and re-evaluate ancillary revenue streams, products and services to remain properly focused. [Note: Apple’s Steve Jobs used to tell Larry Page that he was trying to do too much. Page told Jobs that Apple wasn’t doing enough.]
2) Secondly, re-visit your mission statement. It doesn’t belong in a box file in a drawer, but in a frame on the wall at reception and in the lunch room. Dust it off and discuss it, make it the heart of your business, a living breathing, authencitic expression of who you are and what you do and the true reason why you do what you do.
Image via http://www.gapingvoidart.com, Hugh MacLeod
4) Does your existing brand name properly represent your business today and into the future or has it become something of a misnomer as your business has grown and evolved? Do you need some help re-evaluating your brand name relevance?
Larry Page explained the decision behind their new name.
“We liked the name Alphabet because it means a collection of letters that represent language, one of humanity’s most important innovations, and is the core of how we index with Google search! We also like that it means alpha-bet (Alpha is investment return above benchmark), which we strive for!”
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Are you getting uncomfortably excited about your own business? Or just excited? Let us know what you think about these questions that pop into your mind as we ponder the changing Google landscape.
- Something’s gone wrong. How do I determine if my entire brand is in trouble or if there are other solutions?
- What are the signs that a true rebranding strategy is in order and where do I begin?
- How can I know whether a rebrand will help or hurt my business and its reputation?
- How can I budget properly for all that a rebranding entails?
- Are there potentially moments in the life of a business when a brand health check or rebrand is the right strategy, even when the company is performing well, like Google?
 Larry Page’s University of Michigan commencement address
 Vise, David, and Malseed, Mark. The Google Story, Delta Publ. (2006)
 Samuel Gibbs (November 3, 2014) The Guardian.
 Richard Waters (October 2014) Financial Times.