Sunday, 15 June 2008

Is Google Stupid?

Baidu is the search engine of choice in China. Google has 27% market share here and it is growing, but Baidu has double at 55%. There are plenty of reasons, that extend from cultural inclination, history and product offering, but the one area that Google consistently fails to embrace is the notion that people can be driven to internet services from what I like to call hard media. Time and again I've seen very simple and effective advertising for Baidu. On Friday while taking a subway trip I saw yet more examples of invitations to use Baidu and took a quick picture.

That's a search box in Chinese underneath the English name with the search button on top to the right of it. It's quick, simple and effective. One of the dimensions of media that is talked about very little outside of the creative execution is the notion of trust and credibility. Just buying that media space says a whole lot to prospective Chinese internet search engine customers (think 'we're Baidu and we can afford this space), and I've been irritated for longer than I've been in China that Google has failed to grasp a window of opportunity by using simple and traditional media. I've noticed that the paper tray mats in KFC were also being used by Baidu for a co-promotion recently and the reason why I think Google has slipped up is that I really wanted their Google Talk feature to become more popular. It could have done that and created momentum for user growth in more of their products too, quite easily.

If the internet is today more understood to be about the power of community, then it smacks a little of brand arrogance not to approach people and potential communities in the media that they may have exposure to more easily, or even prefer! Its us that are the digital evangelists. Most people have lives to get on with.

I absolutely love Google and their products (Google RSS Reader kicks ass). There's no doubt that they have been one of the most exciting and innovative companies on the planet. They are also phenomenally successful, a veritable black swan, but I think they have missed an opportunity to make friends, by not talking to people outside of what we are increasingly glued to. Our computer screens.

It would be nice to hear their brand voice elsewhere. The medium is after all the message and the internet isn't the only one that matters. Or even should.

One last point as there is more depth to this issue than I want to get stuck into here, is that Baidu is better at finding free mp3 files which is a contentious point, but in terms of efficacy I understand that Google is better, and for sure in English Baidu's best search result on me is by a long chalk unrepresentative. Yet still my Chinese colleagues prefer Baidu in some contexts.

You know Google; if you're listening, sometimes people like to find what they believe. Not believe what they find. Baidu is better at that function in China and that is the marketing challenge for Google here.
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