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Google announced its Q1 earnings late last week and posted a profit of $2.3 billion. That’s billion. With a “B”. Pretty good, huh? For GOOG, anyways. But what about for you? If you’re like most businesses, you probably rely on Google to help you build your brand online. You’re a key contributor to those billions per quarter flowing to Google’s bottom line. But, the real question is, whose brand is Google interested in building?

Let’s take a look.

Google believes its mission is “…to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” Awesome, right? After all, there’s is no question that we’ve all benefited from that lofty mission time and again, in areas both critical and trivial. Want to find a great consultant to grow your business? Google it. Want to find the nearest hospital? Google it. Want to know who sang late-70’s one-hit wonder, “Hot Child in the City”? You get the idea.

The next question Google’s mission creates is “…universally accessible and useful” for whom? After all, one of the most important questions any business can ask and answer for itself is, “Who is my customer?” In Google’s case, its value proposition to advertisers (i.e., you), is its ability to provide increasingly targeted advertising to consumers. But, just because you’re helping pay Google’s bills, does that automatically make you Google’s customer? Are they organizing all that information just for advertisers?

Um… no.

The number one item in the company’s “Ten things we know to be true” states, “Focus on the user and all else will follow.”

Google wants to make the world’s information accessible and useful for users. Consumers. Its customer. Advertisers like you are just a means to accomplish that goal.

And this isn’t new in business. Loads of businesses use a multi-platform approach, using revenues from one source to subsidize another. For instance, I doubt The New York Times would ever refer to advertisers as its customer. American Express almost always prioritizes its cardholders over the merchants who pay for each transaction. And Google uses advertisers to fund its significant investments into improving search for its users.

None of this is to suggest “Google is Evil” or that they’re out to hurt your business. They’re not. It’s just that they’re unlikely to care if your business gets hurt. You probably never think about any of the bugs that splatter on your windshield. In this case, though, Google’s the one in the driver’s seat and its various platforms—search, mobile, local, maps—represent the windshields of its various cars.

By the way, you can usually substitute the “flavor of the month” in online marketing—Facebook, Foursquare, Groupon, and so on—for Google in this equation and get the same result.

Google is an incredibly useful tool to help you grow your brand. Facebook, Foursquare, Groupon and on and on and on may well be useful tools, too, to do the same. Use them for what they’re good for. But remember they’re just one tool in your toolkit. And always remember: the only brand Google wants to build is Google.

Oh. And, Nick Gilder sang “Hot Child in the City.” I Google’d it.

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About Tim Peter

Tim Peter helps companies put the web to work to grow their business. Since 1995, he has developed innovative e-commerce and digital marketing programs that have delivered billions of dollars in revenues. An expert in e-commerce and digital marketing strategy, Tim focuses on the growth of the social, local, mobile web and its impact on both consumer behavior and business results.

2 replies to this post
  1. Given that Google controls up to 70% of the Internet, they’re practically fending off other search engines so they can keep the top spot. A consumer-prioritized approach is the best way to do it.

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