Several years ago, I wrote a post called What’s Google’s Strategy? where I broke down the search giant’s real business model: advertising anything everywhere. And while I have had more to say over the last few years, I never really felt the need to redo that post because I hadn’t seen anything fundamentally changing about Google’s strategy. But with Larry Page now at the helm, I believe that we have enough evidence that Google’s strategy is changing. It’s not that Google is moving away from advertising, which will comprise the lion’s share of revenue for a very long time. But Google is turning into more than a one-trick pony, and its strategic moves are as much defensive as offensive.
To me, Google’s purchase of Motorola signaled a different approach than where they have been in the past. It’s not that they haven’t done these things before, but the sheer accumulation of initiatives, including Motorola, are leading me to look at Google’s strategy in a new way: Google is doing everything. You name the company–it feels like Google is trying to get into their business:
- Microsoft. GoogleDocs is after Microsoft Office and Sharepoint, ChromeOS stalks Microsoft Windows, Android is up against Windows Mobile, and Google Search Appliance is directed at Microsoft’s enterprise search business.
- Facebook. Not sure if you noticed, but there’s this thing called Google+.
- Yelp. Google just bought Zagat after Yelp spurned its offer.
- eBay. Google Checkout and Google Wallet are pointed directly at the online payments leader, Paypal.
- Adobe. Google Analytics has long been a thorn in the side of Omniture and other premium Web metrics systems, but now Google is announcing a premium version that even goes after those systems’ large company market.
- Amazon. Google has long tried to get into the e-book business and don’t expect them to stop.
- Apple. Perhaps Google’s favorite target, Android goes after iOS, Google Music is up against iTunes, and Motorola now goes after Apple’s hardware business. Some believe that Google will sell the hardware business and just keep the patents, but folks, that is just a different way of going after Apple’s hardware business.
I am sure that I am missing a lot more here, but that’s the point.
Google is going after everything that is even remotely connected with its core business–it is after anything it can possibly get its hands on.
“Why?” you might ask.
- Google needs new revenue sources. Advertising is great but Google has bigger ambitions. They like Apple’s hardware revenues and they like Amazon’s e-book revenues and they probably have designs on other areas that we don’t know.
- Google wants to throw its competitors off-balance. Every dollar and every minute that Facebook, Microsoft, Apple, and all these others spend defending their core businesses prevents them from coming after Google’s core search and advertising business. A good offense is a good defense, or is it the reverse? Regardless, I am increasingly convinced that a core Google strategy is to disrupt everyone else.
- Google has the money to do whatever it wants. Most companies could not adopt this kind of strategy because they would stretch their precious resources too thin. Google, so far, doesn’t have that problem. Page has been smart to shutter all sorts of businesses that weren’t working but he remains laser-focused on going after these competitors at every turn.
Can any company have ambitions this large and fulfill them? No. Nobody hits on every initiative, and while critics have claimed that Google has never succeeded at anything but search, they are wrong. YouTube is a huge success, despite years of naysayers slamming the acquisition. Android is a hit by any measure, even if Google has not yet monetized it. Gmail and Google Docs are doing exactly what Google hoped and might still become a revenue source rather than just a threat to Microsoft.
To me, the most interesting part of this strategy is the almost complete lack of sustained partnerships. Google’s previous leader, Eric Schmidt, served on Apple’s board before being asked to leave as Google’s plans to compete with Android became clear. Google was a wonderful partner to handset makers with their free Android operating system until they bought Motorola. They don’t partner with anyone for very long–they buy them or go into business against them. Sometimes they try both. (Sound familiar, Yelp?) Watch how long Google partners with credit card companies on Google Wallet–it will last as long as their partnerships with the phone carriers and Apple.
While even titans like Facebook and Microsoft feel the need for partnership, Google is its own ecosystem. People often accuse Apple of doing everything itself, and they have a point, but it would surprise me less to see Apple throw in with Twitter, say, than to see Google partner with anyone for the long haul. I am not criticizing Google for this–whatever works–but just pointing out that even giant companies in this space feel the need to align, but not Google.
As a marketer, you need to watch carefully to see what Google is doing, but also watch what everyone else is doing, because their moves are more and more carefully choreographed in response to Google. Google won’t succeed at even half of these ventures, but neither will their competitors. The difference between the Big G and the others is that Google has the cash to try almost anything, with only Apple in even a remotely similar position. What do you think Google will go after next?