So much has been made in the past few years of how Google built its brand. Some of the most respected columnists covering media and marketing have attempted to tackle just what it is that has made Google such a household word, in addition to an unsurpassed Wall Street success story.
But, no matter how much you examine all these opinions about Google and its branding effort, you'll be hard pressed to find anyone talking about how Google did it. People always seem to start their dissertations on Google's brand with the notion that the company simply built a better mouse trap. Google's far superior search results made the company indispensable for hard-core Web users, we learn. This helped the company position itself as smarter than the rest. And the lack of advertising made the company's claims of benevolence believable. Somehow, a lot of people still even believe those claims, despite their irrelevance--and growing mounds of evidence to the contrary.
Using this as a starting point in deconstructing the brand is akin to teaching Intelligent Design in schools. It's less about science than it is about faith.
I say this because what's omitted from this starting point is the fact that Google's search results have never been far superior to Yahoo's, and probably haven't been much better than MSN's or Dogpile's, for that matter. (Which may not be completely fair, since Dogpile is essentially a search engine of search engines.) So, wait a second. The very basis of this brand has little or no basis in fact? How can that be?
It can be because of a very elemental tenet of marketing, and, in fact, of all communications, especially public relations: perception is reality. It's not as important that Google's results were better as it is that media, analysts, IT guys, and other influencers thought that Google's results were better. Without going too deeply into Tipping Point-ish thinking, try to remember how you first learned about the existence of Google. This probably occurred years ago, so it may be difficult to recall. But if you can, try to remember what the first thing you read or heard about Google was, and how this message was delivered.
I know it wasn't delivered via a TV commercial, print insert, billboard or banner ad. You probably learned about it the same way I did--at work, from someone who'd been in the business of the Web for a long time--someone whose opinion you respected. That person or journalist or pundit probably said that Google was known for better results and that it wasn't about making money ("see? There are no ads on the pages"), but that it was really about a better experience finding all kinds of stuff. The name itself implied it. Long before "to Google" became a household verb, the word meant something. Of course, this tidbit is provided on Google's own site:
The name "Google" is a play on the word "googol," which was coined by Milton Sirotta, nephew of American mathematician Edward Kasner. A googol refers to the number repre