I had an epiphany when I was in New York last week and Google announced its G1 phone:
Google is the new Microsoft.
The parallels are scary: personality-driven, world-changing businesses that each had a core capability that was stunningly important -- Microsoft's OS, and Google's Internet search -- that subsequently convinced them that they could apply their brilliance to pretty much anything else they so chose.
Only there's not so much world-changing going on with those follow-up activities.
For Microsoft, the business has been stuck in the delusion that it actually sells stuff that consumers want, instead of realizing that its OS comes pre-installed on devices...so it's pretty much a component manufacturer, albeit a really, really big and successful one. It could be argued that the company has no idea what consumers really want, and certainly doesn't bother with even trying to give it to them.
After zillions spent on product development and outbound branding, the company has succeeded in giving the world a music player it didn't need, a game platform that doesn't make any money, an online operation that couldn't survive without acquiring profitable third-parties, and a regularly-updated OS that nobody asked for.
All the while, Microsoft's founder(s) have been celebrated as visionary leaders, prognosticators about the future of all mankind, and very successful businesspeople. Well, you can't argue with the successful business part. But I think there's a lot of room to debate the why of that success...and the mistaken decisions that followed.
Google seems destined to pursue a similar path.
Google's delusion is that it provides a consumer service, only it doesn't: rather, it manages a producer platform for ad placement. It's really, really successful, and I happily use it many times a day. But people don't choose it the way they have a preference for, say, toothpaste, or clothing. Google is a synonym for "Internet search" and, as such, it is without compare.
So what does it do with the zillions it earns from placing ads for advertisers?
The visionary, prognosticating, business leaders apply their brilliant gaze to other products, like a video viewing site that still doesn't make money, a web browser that nobody asked for, and now an open-source mobile OS, called Android, that enables a 4th or 5th choice in smart phones.
See what I'm talking about re similarities?
There's no shortage of analysis on why these companies make such moves. But I'm curious about the broad parameters of their conceptions of their brands.
I'm sure that many insightful and thoughtful debates have occurred within both companies, talking about innovation, brand equity, customer-centricity, and all of the other buzzwords of our age. There's lots of deferential obedience to "the Microsoft Way" or "the Google Way," yielding conclusions that have to pass rigorous muster to get elevated into agreed strategy, and then implemented to the tune of many billions in expenses and hours of effort.
But why do they ignore the businesses for which they're rewarded, obviously brilliant at, and arguably could own for the next decade or more?
Imagine if Microsoft decided years ago to skip extending, applying, or otherwise dabbling its brand in other things, and instead focused on reinventing its OS. No, not upgrading or enhancing it, but really innovating...finding ways to fundamentally change the way people interface with intelligent devices and objects? OS is what Microsoft does, so why couldn't it be the company that consistently does it better (not just newer, or more expensively)?
And imagine if Google spent its apparently limitless cash hoard on truly reinventing Internet search...exploding its own algorithms and revenue model, and figuring out how to integrate all the information available via the web with all of the moments in our lives said information would be useful? Shouldn't a better search interface come from the folks to gave us the current one?
Talk about staying true to the brand.