An inside look at Google's approach to marketing

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Introduction

Note from the editor: The following is an excerpt from "I'm Feeling Lucky," by Doug Edwards. Edwards, former Google employee no. 59, offers a first-ever inside view of the titanic company. In this excerpt, Edwards discusses his attempts at formulating Google's marketing plan.

"In late summer '99, we had such a hard time getting anyone to return our calls or take us seriously," Cindy later recalled. "We did hire one firm, but we had to let them go because they only worked with clients that allowed them to invest, and Larry and Sergey said 'no.' That set us in the direction of going it alone -- hire a small team, build institutional knowledge, and establish direct relationships with the media, analysts, and influencers." But in a classic chicken-and-egg conundrum, the media wouldn't talk to Google, because Google wasn't a company people were talking about.

"I contacted both the San Francisco Chronicle and the Merc," Cindy said. "I just wanted to get a relationship established. The Chron never called me back. I finally got hold of someone on the business desk at the Merc who told me they would not be covering Google because our Palo Alto office was 'too far north.'"

Growing by word of mouth suited Larry and Sergey's animosity toward advertising. They scoffed-at profligate startups and their Super Bowl spots because TV ads lacked accountability. You could dump millions and not know if you had converted a single viewer into a user. Engineers rebelled against such inefficient excess in the name of "brand building."

"Brand is what's left over when you stop moving forward," was a sentiment engineer Matt Cuts heard expressed in a meeting with Larry and Sergey. It was only when a product stopped working better than the competition that branding became a factor. Then you'd already lost. For a long time, Larry refused to even use the "b-word" because "branding" implied that technology alone was insufficient for success.

My marketing plan would change that. Larry and Sergey would see all the ways in which we would get the attention of users and companies and convince them to try Google. I sat staring at my monitor with my feet on the door-desk and my keyboard on my lap and started typing.

"Google's ultimate goal," I wrote, "is to become a mass market search solution, directly serving end users as well as supplying search technology to other destination sites." Then I started laying out the marketing initiatives that would take us there.

My first week, I asked Cindy for a copy of Google's strategic plan. She just looked at me. Google didn't have a strategic plan. Other than the handful of PowerPoint slides used to secure our venture capital, nothing existed in writing about what the company was trying to accomplish. It all resided in the heads of Larry and Sergey, who were never in the mood to discuss it.

I found a copy of the VC presentation, and sure enough, our strategy was right on the opening slide -- a "Doonesbury" cartoon in which entrepreneur Bernie says, "Look at the search engine guys. They've got no hard assets, just software that drives everyone crazy. And yet they have market values in the billions! Of course, if someone comes along with a smart search engine, one that actually works, those companies evaporate overnight."

I flipped through the slides, but there wasn't much more than a broad outline of Google's management team, a list of competitors, some market share numbers, a budget, and a slide that read, "What's the secret to Google? 4+ years of R&D at Stanford and Google.com + Highly skilled team." That really cleared things up.

 

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