(This is the third and final post in a series about Google, the flexible brand. My first two posts covered the ways in which Google has traded rules for flexibility in its branding and brand architecture. Now I turn to the reason behind Google’s approach.)
The practice of brand-building is guided by proven principles – but, as the adage goes, rules are made to be broken. And in Google’s case, it’s breaking rules for very good reason.
Google’s mission is “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” It has acquired over 100 companies and has developed hundreds of products, services, and technologies. So Google is at once a search engine, software, a service provider, an OS, a product manufacturer, a data aggregator, and a technology developer.
Such a far-reaching charter and expansive footprint requires a new kind of brand — one that isn’t defined by product category or even business sector. Instead Google is a brand that is characterized by its commitment to make deep, rich, strong connections with consumers and that stretches in pursuit of new ways to make those connections. As such, the brand functions less as a frame within which all activities must fit, and more as a glue that binds together seemingly disparate activities.
Google’s emphasis on emotional connections explains why it embraces different visual representations of its logo. Google says Google Doodles (discussed in my first post in this series) “are meant to surprise and delight people when they visit the Google homepage.” It explains the Doodle 4 Google contest, “Google would not exist today if it weren’t for creativity, passion, and imagination so we love to celebrate and promote these values in our younger users.”
I suspect a similar rationale explains the brand architecture strategy I explored in my second post. Although my research didn’t reveal any explicit statements from Google about this, I did find a few clues. In 2007, when it changed the name of its product search service from Froogle to Google Product Search, it explained that the service “offers a lot of great functionality and has helped many users find things to buy over the years, but the name caused confusion for some because it doesn’t clearly describe what the product does.”
In 2009 when it introduced new logos at the top of some of its pages, including Google Labs and Google Moderator, it explained its intent was to improve “consistency and ease of use across our sites…This should make it easier for you to recognize which site you are on and navigate to wherever you want to go. They are also consistent across all our international domains, which is especially helpful for people using right-to-left languages such as Arabic and Hebrew.”
And when it introduced a restyled Google logo in 2010, it described the new design as “lighter, brighter and simpler” and explained the change, “We took the very best qualities of our design — personality and playfulness — and distilled them.”
So it seems, at Google, branding decisions are driven by ease of use and clarity in the user experience – essentially the core tenets of the Google brand — as well as brand tone and manner. This is exactly as it should be.
There’s also evidence that Google isn’t as careless or ignorant about brand nomenclature as some critics suggest. A couple of years ago, Google pulled a funny April Fool’s Day joke, declaring that it had officially changed its name to Topeka. It explained that its product names would change to Topeka Maps, for example, and Google employees once known as “Googlers” would be referred to as either “Topekers” or “Topekans.” The announcement explained, “We didn’t reach this decision lightly; after all, we had a fair amount of brand equity tied up in our old name. But the more we surfed around (the former) Topeka’s municipal website, the more kinship we felt with this fine city at the edge of the Great Plains.” I may be reading too much into it, but underlying this prank seems to be a real appreciation of the value of the Google name, as well as the value of unifying its brand nomenclature.
No other brand – perhaps with the exception of Richard Branson’s Virgin-branded companies — has broken into so many different industries as Google. By applying its values and focusing on making connections grounded in emotions instead of products, Google has opened up entirely new ways of doing business,. By refusing to limit itself to narrow categories of product lines, Google has become a different kind of brand – the flexible brand.