Almost every time I’ve turned on the television in the past week, I’ve seen an ad for Google Chrome. What started earlier this year as a sprinkling of ads here in the United States has become a torrential downpour.
For me, Google has long been one of the poster children for a new breed of company born in the age of the Internet that doesn’t need to rely on traditional advertising to build its brand.
So, as I’m sure many of you have, I started asking myself, why exactly is Google doing so much television advertising?
It’s no secret that Google has historically not been a fan of traditional advertising. In fact, it wasn’t so long ago (2006) that Google Chairman Eric Schmidt called advertising “the last bastion of unaccountable spending in corporate America.”
And Google is certainly an interesting paradox: a company that historically does little paid advertising itself, yet makes billions of dollars selling advertising to others.
I did a little research and pieced together some history about Google and television ads.
In May, 2009, the first ad for Google Chrome appeared on television in the United States. In the blog post announcing the new spot, Google sounded almost apologetic, saying the ad was originally just developed in Japan as a web video, but it sparked a conversation and received good feedback. So Google decided to run it as a TV ad, in part as a test of the new Google TV Ads program.
The next year you may recall that Google actually bought an ad on the Super Bowl, which they called Parisian Love.
Eric Schmidt announced the spot on the Google blog, justifying it by saying “we liked this video so much, and it’s had such a positive reaction on YouTube, that we decided to share it with a wider audience.” But his Twitter announcement of the ad acknowledged that this was quite a unlikely strategy for Google:
Earlier this year, Google began developing the current set of ads for Google Chrome in partnership with advertising agency BBH.
The work is compelling, as advertising goes (here’s a link to all of the spots on YouTube, if you want to check them out). Perhaps the most thoughtful one highlights the It Gets Better Project, which has resulted in thousands of videos being created for YouTube that are intended to give hope to LGBT youths.
The Dear Sophie spot has been viewed on YouTube over 3 million times, and there are ads featuring Lady Gaga (4 million page views) and Justin Bieber (almost 2 million pages views) as well. The newest pieces highlight The Johnny Cash Project (where artists are collaboratively developing a tribute music video for Cash’s song “Ain’t No Grave”), Frank Restaurant in Austin, TX (mmm…. so delicious… don’t pass up the waffle fries), and Angry Birds.
From a branding perspective, the ads make sense–as stories. By telling these stories, Google and BBH are invoking the transitive property of branding to associate Google Chrome with some incredibly innovative collaborative efforts. The math looks something like this:
Lady Gaga = open, collaborative, innovative.
Google Chrome = open, collaborative, innovative.
Therefore, if you like Lady Gaga, you’ll like Google Chrome.
Certainly getting ten million combined pageviews on YouTube for the campaign is pretty awesome—and free—so why spend the big money to put these ads on television too? Isn’t the beauty of the Google / YouTube model that it can be effective at eliminating the need for traditional advertising?
Perhaps Google is trying to expand its brand awareness with people it can’t reach via YouTube? But why spend the money on Google Chrome, a web browser (and a term Google itself has shown that almost no one understands), rather than the Google brand itself?
My first thought was that perhaps Chrome was losing the browser wars and the television ads were a desperate attempt to keep the Chrome ship afloat.
It turns out that is about as far from true as you can get. Chrome is killing it. According to StatCounter, Chrome is rapidly gaining new users at the expense of Internet Explorer and Firefox both.
In fact, some predict Chrome usage will actually exceed Firefox usage by the end of this year.
A victory for traditional advertising?
Not so fast. Here’s a good post from late this summer highlighting Chrome’s rapid ascent and documenting the reasons for it. From the post:
“Online, Google of course has a huge marketing advantage over basically everyone else since it can recommend its Chrome browser on its web properties such as Google Search, YouTube, etc. Not even Facebook can compare with Google when it comes to sheer web presence, reaching over a billion users.
That said, Google has clearly built a very good and highly popular product. If people didn’t like Chrome, the browser wouldn’t be able to retain users to the extent it seems to be doing.”
So the two reasons for Chrome’s success come down to:
1) the browser is good
2) it can leverage the power of Google’s online advertising engine (yes, the same engine that millions of companies have raided their traditional media advertising budgets to spend more on, causing the rise of Google in the first place).
But I didn’t see Google’s television advertising strategy mentioned here, or in any other article I read, as an explanation for Chrome’s rapid ascent.
Let me sum things up:
I get why Google is making the effort to create stories like these and share them with the world. Storytelling is an extremely powerful tool for building brands the open source way.
And overall, I like the approach Google is taking—many of the stories are really well told, and the focus on open, collaborative projects and artists (not to mention tasty hot dogs) sits well with me.
But I can’t for the life of me figure out why Google spending so much of its shareholders’ money putting these ads on TV.
If you have the answer, I’d love to hear it.
[This post originally appeared on opensource.com]
Last weekend we stopped into Quail Ridge Books, a wonderful independent book store just down the street from where we live in Raleigh, NC. After browsing for a while and finding a few things, we went up to the cash register to buy them.
I have to admit, I always experience a little ounce of dread when I walk up to the counter at a bookstore. Most of this comes from my experiences at Barnes & Noble, where each time I approach the counter I’m alerted that I could save from 10-40% on my purchase just by joining their membership program and whatever else is in their rehearsed speech that has probably been tested to ensure each word helps optimize their chances of getting you to sign up so they can “capture” you.
I’m sure Barnes & Noble keeps detailed monthly metrics at their corporate office highlighting how many people sign up at each location due to this point-of-sale promotional technique. I’m also confident that there are incentives (either carrot or stick-based) that 100% guarantee that I’m going to not only have to listen to that speech each time I approach the counter, but also turn them down when they ask me to join. (By the way, I don’t have anything against these sort of programs, I just don’t need to join one for every single store I shop in.)
So I’m standing there at Quail Ridge Books, and I see the cashier reach for a yellow bookmark that I’m positive is going to be the entry point to Quail Ridge’s version of the membership club speech. Instead, the cashier simply says, “We have a membership program called the Reader’s Club. I’m going to put this bookmark in your book and if you like, you can look at the benefits there.”
Whoa. No speech, no sales pressure forcing me to say no. It was like a breath of fresh air.
I’m sure if the folks at the Barnes & Noble corporate office had seen this performance at one of their stores, they would have hit the ceiling. Multiply that approach all across the country at every Barnes & Noble and their point of sale membership spreadsheet would look atrocious. People would get fired.
The problem is, Barnes & Noble is only tracking the data they can see. They have no way of tracking the dark matter–the impact their membership strategy has on the experience of people like me, who now go out of their way to avoid shopping there.
I don’t expect I am the only person out there who is annoyed–not just at Barnes & Noble, mind you–but at every store that forces me to say no to a point-of-sale sales pitch… to give a dollar to this cause, or to join this program, or whatever.
Because the spreadsheets only track the revenue impact that come from these promotions and not the negative brand impact, they probably look stunning on paper. What’s the downside, right?
Well, the downside is people like me not wanting to ever set foot in a Barnes & Noble store.
Stores like Quail Ridge Books that don’t sacrifice the health of their brand community for the sake of hard numbers on a spreadsheet understand the importance of the customer experience in establishing brand reputation, loyalty, and even recommendation.
So next time, before you implement a strategy that is guaranteed to make the numbers look good, make sure you are also studying the dark matter impact to your brand experience and reputation at the same time.
Just because these impacts are harder to measure doesn’t make them any less powerful.
It has become a truism in marketing that you should stay focused on your customers. In most of our organizations, we are attempting to sell something to make a profit. We need customers.
But I often use the word community in places where most people would use the word customer. Why? Am I just being naive about what pays the bills for our organizations to continue to thrive? Am I committing heresy by not staying focused on just customers?
I don’t think so.
I believe that the dogged focus on marketing to customers alone has created a myopic view that makes us ignore many of the important people who interact with our brands.
Customers are important; most organizations couldn’t exist without them. So what is the issue?
Customers are not just listening to us anymore.
When organizations focus on only interacting with customers rather than taking a holistic view of the entire brand community, they forget that in the twenty-first century, the version of the brand represented by the organization might only be a small percentage of the brand the customer sees. Where is the rest of the story coming from?
Everyone else who interacts with the brand: the brand community.
When rolling out brand positioning, ad-free brands understand that it matters what everyone thinks about the brand—not just the customers. By understanding and planning your interactions with all of the communities around your brand, you have a chance to impact the customers’ views of who you are in a much deeper way than if you were just speaking to customers directly through marketing and advertising.
And that’s just if you are only concerned with the success of your business itself. If you are a nonprofit or a member of the growing breed of socially responsible businesses interested in benefitting the communities they serve while remaining for-profit, you’ll see even greater benefits from this approach.
So should you be focused on customers? Absolutely. But just remember that you aren’t the only folks talking to your customers about your brand. When you build a brand strategy that ensures the positioning resonates with all the people around your brand and not just customers, you’ll be on the path to much deeper, more fulfilling relationships with the communities surrounding your brand–and you’ll probably be heard by potential customers who would have never given you the time of day otherwise.
This is the eighth in a series of posts drawn from The Ad-Free Brand.
Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve had a few people ask me why my blog is called Dark Matter Matters, and since I haven’t told that story in a while, I thought I’d share an excerpt from The Ad-Free Brand explaining it (and appending some more recent information). Here goes:
In late 2008, I was struggling mightily with the question of how you measure and quantify the value of brand-related activities. As someone whose father is an amateur astronomer, I’d long been intrigued by the concept of dark matter in the universe. If dark matter is new to you, Wikipedia describes it as “matter that neither emits nor scatters light or other electromagnetic radiation, and so cannot be directly detected via optical or radio astronomy.”
In other words, it is matter out there in the universe that is incredibly difficult to see, basically invisible, but that has a large gravitational effect. What’s particularly interesting about dark matter is that, apparently, there is a lot of it. Again according to Wikipedia:
“Dark matter accounts for 23% of the mass-energy density of the observable universe. In comparison, ordinary matter accounts for only 4.6% of the mass-energy density of the observable universe, with the remainder being attributable to dark energy. From these figures, dark matter constitutes 83% of the matter in the universe, whereas ordinary matter makes up only 17%.”
I find this fascinating.
And dark matter is still a theoretical concept. Again from the Wikipedia entry: “As important as dark matter is believed to be in the cosmos, direct evidence of its existence and a concrete understanding of its nature have remained elusive.”
But it was actually reading about all the problems with the Large Hadron Collider in 2008 (at the very same time I was having my own problems figuring out how to measure the value of brand-related work) that helped me make the connection between what I do for a living and this concept of dark matter.
The Large Hadron Collider is the world’s largest particle accelerator. It was built on the border of France and Switzerland and is about 17 miles wide. One of the things that particle physicists hope to prove with this enormous project is the existence of dark matter.
I’m no physicist, but as I understand it, the accelerator shoots protons at super-high speeds around the collider, and, if these scientists are lucky, the collisions eventually might produce a few particles that will exist for only a few milliseconds and then disappear again. And these particles might prove that dark matter isn’t just a theory.
Might being the key word. In fact, noted physicist Stephen Hawking bet $100 that they won’t find anything (a bet which he may soon win). The cost of building a collider to maybe prove the existence of dark matter? About $9 billion dollars. (And as of this post, written in September 2011, three years since its was first fired up, we are still looking for evidence.)
Another attempt to prove the existence of dark matter used the Hubble Space Telescope. This image below (which I also used for the header of the blog) was taken by Hubble and first shown by NASA in May, 2007.
In this picture, you are looking at many galaxies a really, really long way away. But you can also see fuzzy gray areas all over that look like clouds. When the astronomers first looked at this photo, they thought the fuzzy areas were a problem with the image. But after analyzing it for over a year, they realized that the fuzziness might actually be evidence of dark matter.
Their reasoning? The fuzziness is actually a gravitational distortion of the light rays from distant galaxies that are being bent by dark matter on their way to Earth. The effect you see is kind of like looking at the bottom of a pond that is being distorted by ripples on the surface.
So finally, scientists had discovered some real visual evidence of dark matter.
I believe the type of activities I talk about in the book and on this blog—those related to building brand, culture, and community—are the dark matter within organizations. Often brand, culture, and community are extremely difficult to measure well, and sometimes accurate measurement is simply impossible.
That’s not to say we don’t try anyway. I’ve seen and even tried many formulas, processes, and products that attempt to measure the value of brand, community, and culture-related efforts. Some of them can provide valuable information.
Others, not so much.
Yet here’s the kicker: brand, community, and culture are having a huge impact on your organization, whether you can effectively and cost-effectively measure that impact or not.
Just as dark matter is a strong gravitational force within the universe even though it is notoriously hard to see and measure, so are many of the things that will lead to the long-term success of ad-free brands.
So that’s how the blog got the name.
One last thing: I’ve been toying with the idea of changing the name at some point down the road, perhaps re-naming it The Ad-Free Brand and simplifying things. If you have any thoughts on that, or if you like the dark matter analogy and think I should keep it, I’d love your opinion. Feel free to comment below or send me an email at chris(at)newkind.com.
In an earlier post, I highlighted one of the key concepts behind the ad-free brand approach: building your brand from the inside out, starting with the folks who are likely to know and care most about the brand—the employees.
When building the brand from the inside out, the goal is to embed the core positioning deeply within the mind and actions of each employee of the organization so that it comes out consciously and even unconsciously in their interactions with the external brand community.
This is very hard.
You can’t force people into “living the brand.” No one likes to be told what to do. I certainly don’t.
Ad-free brands work from the core principle that those who are not invited on the journey will usually reject the destination. So, broad participation in the brand-building process is often a prerequisite for the brand positioning to really take off. Unfortunately, the larger the organization, the harder it is to achieve consistency in the way the brand positioning is rolled out.
I like approaching the internal rollout of brand positioning by channeling the mindset of the conductor of an orchestra. An orchestra conductor is able to create amazing, complex, and beautiful music just by using a tiny baton.
The conductor’s role is to organize, motivate, and inspire a group of people to make music together. The conductor chooses the piece of music, interprets the piece, gives every person in the orchestra a part to play, and helps each musician rise to the level of his or her talent or experience.
An orchestra in which every musician plays the same notes would be boring, to say the least. In an orchestra, the diversity of instruments—woodwinds, percussion, strings, and brass—allows for the complex and beautiful expression of music. Yet many organizations attempt to roll out their brand positioning by expecting everyone to toe an explicit company line, sticking to a rehearsed speech.
This kind of approach does not play well for ad-free brands.
To me, the rehearsed expression of the brand positioning comes off as canned, corporate BS that most people will ignore. To be effective, ad-free brands take advantage of the talent and voice of each employee, allowing each person to utilize his or her own strengths, interests, and passions to explain or begin to live the brand positioning.
The goal is not getting everyone to play the same notes—it’s getting everyone to play in the same key.
Different people prefer the sounds of different instruments and types of music. One of the benefits of having many people playing in your orchestra is that you are likely to create music that appeals to all types of people, which will in turn attract even more people. When you create a situation where many people are communicating and living the positioning in their own ways, you increase the chance that other people will begin to hear, understand, value, and live it themselves.
And that’s when the brand has a chance to really shine.
This is the seventh in a series of posts drawn from The Ad-Free Brand.
This morning, NPR ran an interesting story entitled Entrepreneurs Emerge As Cuba Loosens Control (thanks to Elizabeth Hipps for pointing it out), highlighting the rapid expansion of small, privately owned businesses in Cuba as part of Raul Castro’s broad economic reforms.
According to the story, business is booming: brightly-painted storefronts, prices that significantly undercut those at official state-owned businesses, more choices than Cuban consumers have ever seen before.
Yet at least one thing remains heavily restricted: advertising.
From the article:
“It’s not clear how big Cuban authorities will let these new businesses get as they try to build their brands and open new locations. The government’s political messages and propaganda must now compete with more and more commercial signage, but advertising is still essentially banned.”
Oh no! How can these businesses succeed without advertising? Are they doomed to fail?
Turns out they are doing just fine. Without being able to resort to advertising, some have developed more creative, albeit somewhat rudimentary brand strategies. For example, one Havana snack bar featured in the story seems to be building a budding community of fans of the local baseball team by making every item on the menu baseball-themed. While this may not seem like much, it is definitely a start toward differentiation in a country where sameness has long ruled and choice has been scarce for decades.
As Cuba begins the next stage in its entrepreneurial adventure, I wonder whether there is a chance that the current restrictions on advertising might have the interesting side effect of helping Cuban businesses build successful ad-free brands, meaning brands that are built using a community-based approach rather than an advertising-based approach.
Over the long term, will Cuba be able to leap past the advertising age in much the same way that Africa leaped past the age of land-line based telephones?
It’ll certainly be interesting to watch.
My publisher recently filmed a series of short video interviews where I discuss my new book The Ad-Free Brand. This is the second in a series of tips from the book, entitled “Don’t Think Like Tom Sawyer.”
My publisher recently filmed a series of short video interviews where I discuss my new book The Ad-Free Brand. This is the first in a series of tips from the book, entitled “To get the brand out, get the community in.”
My publisher recently created a series of short video segments where I discuss The Ad-Free Brand. They were filmed in our New Kind office with a laptop internal video camera and Skype connection, so keep your expectations low (and certainly don’t confuse these videos with the kind of expensive advertising I rail against in the book:)
Today, I’ll share a five-minute overview of the book itself, and next week I’ll feature three separate Ad-Free Brand tips.
In my last post, I shared some of the sources of data that you can use to inform your brand positioning. But once you’ve collected all of the information you can get your hands on, what do you do with it? In this post, I’ll share some tips for how to synthesize your brand positioning research so you can begin to draw some meaningful conclusions from it.
My advice? Get a room. No really, try to find a dedicated space inside your office where you can begin to hang materials on the wall, sort them into piles, and write up your ideas. The physical act of organizing materials often helps you draw connections between them.
You might want to create a wall like the one we created for the Red Hat brand inventory. Here’s a picture of it:
Consider hanging things by where they were created, or how old they are, or whatever other variables are important to you. You might want to reorganize them multiple times in different configurations to see if that gives you new ideas.
If you can’t afford the space or don’t want to create a big messy room, you can create the equivalent on your computer. Organize your research into folders, one folder for each of the four key questions. Make duplicate copies of or shortcuts to research that informs the answer to more than one question, and put one in each folder that applies.
Once you have all the research that informs the answer to each question in one place, it’s time to start doing some analysis. If you are like me, you aren’t starting from scratch, but have been beginning to analyze the data and information as you’ve collected it. But looking at all of the data at once will help you see it differently, making new connections and revealing things you might not have noticed before.
At this point, your goal is to synthesize all your sources of information into the clearest, simplest possible answers to the four key questions. Are the data points revealing common themes, ideas, or opportunities?