Seven mistakes for Google to avoid in 2009

This year is either going to be an amazing year for tech or it will fall off a cliff like every other industry. I wrote about how Google has recently shut down some superfluous projects, a sign of some belt-tightening and probably not a major cause for concern. Yet, the reality is that every company needs to keep innovating even in a downturn because any of them could become another sad Circuit City horror story. (Unless you're Cisco and Apple with billions in the bank, that is.) This year, Google can shine even brighter, as long as they avoid these colossal mistakes. 1. Be incredibly selective with your PR. I know as a journalist for the past decade that a choice few companies (Apple) are very unresponsive when it comes to (Apple) PR. They rarely return requests, they only (Apple) let the three golden boys of tech review their products, and they can be a little coy. One of the best companies in dealing with the press, interestingly enough, is HP: they are prompt, courteous, and generally provide information and products for review as needed. Late in 2008, Google showed some signs of being more selective, and I think it worked against them. Everyone -- customers, analysts, journalists -- need to be fans of the company, not just the chosen elite. 2. Pull the plug on marginal projects. I remember when I talked to a Google PM who said Gmail was not wildly successful. At that time -- circa 2006 -- it was a pale shadow of Outlook. It has picked up steam, but no one would say that Gmail is an e-mail standard, especially in business. Some things take time to germinate, and I think Google should avoid the IBM mistake, which is testing the waters with a new product segment (e.g., Second Life) for a short time and then moving on to something else. 3. Talk a lot about green but never actually do anything. I realize that greentech has been almost put on hold industry-wide now that no one can get a loan to buy a coffee at Starbucks. I'd like to see the company really circle the wagons and become more than just a sponsor for greentech, and not just a company that promotes it, but really becomes a risk taker. Go ahead and get most of your HQ powered by alternative energy, build a windfarm, install turbines in the ocean that power your data centers. You are known for your search algorithms, parlay that into something synonymous with green computing. 4. Make strange impromptu deals with companies like Yahoo and Microsoft. It's tempting, I'm sure. From a short distance away (say, across the street from your campus), these negotiations look like compromises. The average person thinks: okay, you are going to try and do an advertising deal with Yahoo, which is sort of like David going for a picnic with Goliath. Consumers want there to be a fight, they want Google to own search and defeat Yahoo and Microsoft. They play a part in that war every time they type instead of something else. 5. Make an awkward foray into the offline world. I read about how Google is going to use their advertising prowess in the television market. Big mistake. It means branching out into an area that you do not fully understand and using principles that only work online. It cheapens the brand by making it too broad and far-reaching. What will they do next? Fly a man to the moon? 6. Turn into an actual television network. You know this one is tempting as well, but people love YouTube for what it is: a place to watch viral videos. It's allure is immediate gratification. No one chooses to watch a two hour movie, and if they ever do, it is a onetime affair and never again. Just keep YouTube the same, with better quality. 7. Change your culture so it matches up better with the corporate dogma. Oh, this will kill you dead. Part of what makes Google such a great company is that they bend the rules: laundry services, free food, a hot tub on campus. This stuff costs money but builds the legacy. The worst mistake Google can make in 2009 is bleaching their culture, which reduces them to nothing but a search giant. And then, as a search giant, consumers will figure they might as well switch to a company that's cool. Dogpile anyone?


Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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