Monday, February 07, 2005

What Google can teach Youth Marketers

Can one company be everything to all people? Such a positioning defies logic - and laws of marketing gravity - but that's exactly what Microsoft is attempting.

At a big PR-orchestrated do in Mumbai, the company announced its 'new and improved' MSN Search. Is it? Not as far as I can tell.

But the main point is why would a young person want to type the long and cumbersome when a simple does the trick?

Why Google rocks
Google entered the search engine game late but it quickly became a favourite because it offered something different. It was a "pure" search engine whereas others like yahoo were portals. And it got the job done faster and better (more, relevant results).

The other thing going in Google's favour is its brand name. It's got a strong and loyal user base because it not only claims to 'think different', it actually IS different. Visibly so!

Its coolness is reflected in little touches like its 'google artworks' which change from day to day on the site. And in its radical definition of what 'new and improved' means. 10 or 20% better is not good enough for google. When it really takes on the market - like it did with Gmail - it alters the rules of the game.

The tech savvy bit was to offer a better user experience with a HUGELY attractive carrot - 1 GB storage space. That made the effort of switching ids worthwhile.

But there was marketing savvy too. The fact that only Gmail users could invite others to open an account made the service cool and exclusive - and was also a factor in making the decision to shift one's loyalty.

It's this combination of superior offering/ technology + inherent coolness that makes Google, in my opinion, quite unbeatable.

Can Microsoft rule everything?
Practically every email provider upgraded its storage space post GMail . In the long run EVERYONE benefitted from the Google email launch.

So the trouble with MSN Search is, no one believes that Microsoft can actually come up with a product better than Google.

What we do know is that Microsoft is Master of the Art of Me Too. It jumps onto a new idea or territory created by someone else. And then, by sheer muscle and money power, succeeds in overwhelming the original innovator.

Microsoft reduced Apple to a tiny shadow of its original potential, by incorporating Apple's Graphical User Interface (GUI) in Windows.

Then, it ousted Netscape from the browser space with IE Explorer. Here, the master stroke was bundling it into the Windows OS.

Next, it got into the email game by buying out Hotmail. Big deal (pun intended).

Now (along with yahoo) it dominates the instant messenger space (originally created by the all-but-forgotten ICQ).

But I don't think the'Me Too' strategy will work anymore - not with Google. The company is really smart, really quick - and has enough cash, thanks to its IPO - to take on the challenge.

Why 'good' isn't good enough
What Microsoft needs to do in response is something it hasn't attempted for a long time. Produce a new and revolutionary product.

There's a lesson in this for every youth marketer, but especially so for companies in the 'non physical' (internet, media) space.

The consumer is a lot more discerning today and large corporations better realise that 'marketing' will fall flat unless you have a product that not only matches consumer expectations but exceeds them.

That's why TOI's Zoom TV has been rejected by the youth audience (it may claim anything, in the articles plugged into its own newspaper but that is the truth) while Star One is steadily gaining popularity.

Both channels advertised heavily - and projected a cool, youthful image. But only Star One's programming matched up. It took the risk of launching a range of new, different shows - such as the boarding school soap opera Remix, which has attracted a decent fan following. As have comedies like Instant Khichdi, Sarabhai vs Sarabhai and the Great Indian Comedy Show.

Charity begins at home...
So does a reality check. The sad fact is even TOI employees themselves do not watch Zoom - in fact, many shudder at the mention of the channel. When your product has no respect in house, can you expect to convince the world outside how good it is?

Microsoft's entry into the digital music market, similarly, looks destined to fail. It is estimated that Apple's iPod commands 65 % of the portable player market, and its iTunes Music Store 70 % of online music sales. Microsoft is trying hard to compete in this market with its Windows Media Audio (WMA) format which is supported by several online music stores (Napster, MusicMatch, Wal-Mart) and hardware (Creative etc)

But, as a recent Wired news report noted: Apple IPods are 'wildly popular' on Microsoft campuses (to the growing frustration and annoyance of the management).

"About 80 percent of Microsoft employees who have a portable music player have an iPod," said one source, a high-level manager who asked to remain anonymous. "It's pretty staggering."

So popular is the iPod, executives are increasingly sending out memos frowning on its use.

"These guys are really quite scared...It shows how their backs are against the wall.... Even though it's Microsoft, no one is interested in what we have to offer, even our own employees."

Apparently, several executives who dutifully bought Microsoft-powered players, tried them, failed to get them working, and returned them in favor of an iPod.

Now one can get paranoid about this - or accept this as feedback from the market - and act accordingly to make something even better than IPod (Don't tell me it's NOT possible. Just saying that should be challenge enough for the geeks at Redmond).

Maybe there's someone at Google already thinking about it :) In the interest of the consumer... I sure hope so.


  1. Totally agree with you.

    Being different and exceeding expectations are the key. But its
    a _very_ difficult thing to achieve.

    - Swaroop

  2. Google is indeed doing extremely well. They are getting into so many things that like someone aptly said on Slashdot (
    "In a few years you'll be driving your google to the google to buy some google for your google."

    Also, the Wired article and it's author are taking a lot of flak for it.

  3. Hmm..let's talk about Google for a second shall we?

    You spoke about The truth is, works too - and I don't think it is too far away from

    Also, over 80% of the internet run IE (different ratio with Firefox in the geeky crowd). For all these people, search would mean clicking 'search' in the toolbar - and guess what? That invokes MSN Search.

    You say "no one believes" that Microsoft can come up with a better search product. So let's talk a bit about history - and what people "didn't believe in".

    - No one believed that MS could produce a browser to beat Netscape - after all, Netscape had over a 95% marketshare

    - No one believed that the XBox would be a success. And then Halo 2 happened

    - No believed WinCe would beat Palm. And now, MS has over 47% of a market 'new' to them. No muscling, no monopoly, no nothing. They've won the majority market share on sheer innovation

    - Going back in history, no one believed MS could beat Apple in GUI. After all, the Mac made the GUI commercially famous.

    - No one believed that Word could ever touch WordPerfect and WordStar.

    - No one ever believed that Excel would kick Lotus 1-2-3

    -No one ever believed that .NET would succeed over Java. Look at Netcraft - there are more ASP.NET sites today than JSP sites.

    - No one believed that MS-DOS and PCs would ever make an impact.

    See a pattern here?

    Gmail is an awesome product for sure. But look at the market share- they have barely 3-4% of the market. While Hotmail and Yahoo have over a 100 million users each, GMail lags far behind. Now, imagine that Hotmail and Yahoo start giving the same features (nice UI + more space)..and suddenly, people won't go to the trouble of switching their mail ids. I know some people who haven't switched to Gmail because they're happy with the 250MB space Yahoo gives them. My parents would never want to switch their mail ids.

    Now, let's talk about Google - and them getting in everywhere.

    I think it's their biggest problem rather than a strength. Look at Orkut - a total failure shattering the conception that Google products can always scale. Google News- has spent years in beta. Google Desktop Search..totally outclassed by Yahoo and MSN Desktop Search.And on and on... And their bread-and-butter - search- isn't safe either with both MSN Search and Yahoo search nipping at their heels. I have a blog and I'm seeing a slow but steady increase of hits from non-Google search engines.

    You're a blogger - so I'm surprised that you didn't check the blogosphere before posting this. Check the reactions around the blogosphere about the Wired article ..and what a big joke it is.

    Microsoft is not a hardware company - they're not going to manufacture an iPod. But what they're doing is to manufacture software to run several iPod-killers. Don't believe me? Read Russell Beattie's post on Microsoft's Play4Sure.

    I'm a fan of Google - and I agree with your post on backing up marketing with substance - but please do get your facts right.

  4. Anonymous1:27 PM

    The point is Google inspired all the changes in Email, once it started giving 1 GB others followed suit.

    But not money minded microsoft who gave 250 MB only to european countries, I still have a measly 2 MB account where I have to clear my junk mails everyday.

    The point is Google News is better than other news service with 6 Million visitors a day

    The point is Google Scholar is a new innovation in the scientific papers search, No one thought of ranking papers on citations before..

    The point is Yahoo and MSN search are suceptible to Link Spam (the way this is called, ) and google got over link spam a year agao with its so called SandBox

    The point is that Microsoft is a Big Bully who deserves a beating,

    The Other side is that Google does not delete GMail Trash messages, leading to privacy concerns,

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