Is Google Headed for Branding Disaster with Google+?

Google+ LogoBy:  Karen Pelletier

Google+ is headed for one of the fastest starts of any new social media network.  As of this Friday, the Wall Street Journal reported that they are up to 20MM users—in 3 weeks!  It’s a good omen for Google, even considering all of us in social media who are signing up to experience it first-hand.   With circles, 10-way video chat, and integration with tons of other Google products it looks like an excellent service. However, as a 30 year veteran marketer, I wonder about the branding of the social media service.

Jack Trout and Al Ries in their seminal book on positioning, Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind, argued that the only way to get into the consumer’s mind was to stand for one thing.  Right now that one thing for Google is search.  If the consumer defines search to include what is going on with their friends and colleagues then Google may get away with this branding approach.  If consumers don’t define search this way, then Google+ will erode the equity Google has built up in search.  Will kids say “Google me later” as they pass each other in the hallway at school (and if so, what would that mean?) or “+ me later”?

Add to that, the more you line extend, the more it weakens the brand. Ben Parr reported on 7/5/11 that Google will be eliminating their Picasa and Blogger brands in favor of renaming them Google Photos and Google Blogs.  Google plans to merge Picasa and Blogger features into the Google+ brand, making Google+ the central place to create and share all sorts of content.  It is notable that Google does not intend to rebrand YouTube, their highly successful video service.

This brings us to the question of should you create a new brand name for this social connective tissue product or line-extend the Google brand?   My strong point of view is that Google is mudding the water by naming this new social media product Google+.

This blog is called The Long View for a reason.  I have seen, over and over, how large companies make huge branding mistakes by line extending a key brand.  I can hear the arguments for this line extension right now…  Google is one of the most recognized brand names on the planet; we’ll be able to launch it with minimal incremental advertising or marketing support; it will be clear to the consumer that Google+ is the best of search with easier sharing capability; it’s search that includes your human connections.[1]  But is this corporate rationalization or the way consumers view it?

At Kraft Foods we had this brand extension experience in spades.  To the consumer Kraft meant cheese.  We had so many products that carried the Kraft brand (BBQ sauce, salad dressing, Macaroni & Cheese, mayonnaise, frozen & refrigerated entrees, marshmallows, caramels, jellies & jams, just to name a few) and in no category where cheese wasn’t the primary reason for being were they able to establish the leading brand position.  If you had a great new product, like Bull’s Eye BBQ sauce was, you had to introduce it under its own brand name.

What is Google?  If Google means “search,” then is adding social networking to it mudding the water?  What if I just want to research something and not get sidetracked by what my friends are saying or doing?  Would I then switch to another search engine?

Google+ may have the greatest functionality of any social media site ever, and with all of the integration features, Circles and 10-way video chat, it may be.  But if Google insists on naming their service Google+ will it succeed?

What’s your opinion?


[1] Jennifer Van Grove reported on 7/10/11 that “At launch, Google+ project co-leader Bradley Horowitz told AllThingsD that the name denotes how the product will make every other Google product social.”

  •  “Google+ follows you around the web and on mobile via an omnipresent and inescapable bar that includes a share box and notifications drop-down.
  • “Now, Google+ is your plus one on most Google products: Search, Images, Videos, Maps, News, Gmail, Documents, Calendar, Finance and so forth.”
  • “If Google at its core is algorithmic search and information sorting, then the plus symbol denotes a new humanness reigning it all in. Pushing that thought forward, one could deduce that with Google+ you’ll get more of what you already expect from the search giant, albeit with extra layers of humanness and personal relationships baked inside.”
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About Karen Pelletier

Karen Pelletier is an independent Marketing Consultant. She has over 30 years of experience in consumer packaged goods, new product development, technology marketing, and Internet Marketing. She can be reached at kjpelletier@marketing-consultant-k-pelletier.com.
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