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.


  1. Seems to me Baidu are following your excellent "find what you believe" dictum. In limiting your search result they are reacting to the fact that most Chinese would be unable to believe what they find when it comes to some of your online appearances.

  2. Splendid Doddsy, just splendid! An autobiography beckons.

  3. I might keep my gob shut too Rob. Google didn't work for me a whole day yesterday for the first time in a decade of use!

  4. great post. wondering if they did not think about it or not taking it seriously enough.

  5. Hi Joaquin. I think Google sees hard media as old fashioned and ineffective. Its pretty much part of their culture although I have heard since that they do advertise in markets like Vietnam and Korea. I think they need to get moving in China before its game over.

  6. Charles,

    Hate to be a vinegar pisser, but in your last sentence did you not mean advertising/communications challenge instead of marketing? seeing as google marketing decided that advertising is in order. I've been noticing (in real life and here on the net) this for me new thing of mixing up advertising and marketing. marketeers are accused of behaving like advertisers and advertising folk need to be more marketing? wtf!! Either they are different functions and merrit the education and training they give and get, or one of the two needs to get his neck chopped as things are already crowded..

    It's time for education reform or I need to go and get some help

  7. Not at all Niko. I wish I was challenged or picked up on here a bit more. I understand your point. Advertising is a subset of marketing but I don't see myself as an ad man or as a marketing person.

    I'm here to solve a business problem largely through communications advertising is one way but if PR is the solution then I'm not interested in selling something I don't believe in. Marketing communications is a subset of marketing. I don't want to get into shaving a few cents off the top of a bottle of coke by reconfiguring the top to a new format. It doesn't interest me enough but I am nevertheless interested in product and design. If design is the solution then so be it. I'm not a designer but can see when that is the correct tool

    So in summary I always say I'm in marketing communications. It's what I do most of the time. But am I an adman? Hell no. I'm here to fix the problem.

    Most planners are admen. I've worked on enough different business including consultancy for market entry strategy in subcontinents to see things differently. I probably sound like a crappy old git don't I?

    I want to put you in touch with someone. I'd like it if you could have a chat with them like we did a while back. Then it's Campbell we need on board next!

  8. Set it up..

    As I just saved his beloved Italy from early exit, he is a walk over ;)

    Over on Age's blog he left a nice comment on the Iphone,, which does echoe your sentiments. It's about solving business problems.

    I myself am by nature a bit more opportunistic then you (balkans and all), because I do believe in any means neccesary when solving (business) problems, but that is another conversation.

    Funny u should talk about PR as I believe that to be the backbone for doing some of the stuff we talked about.

    I 've been thinking about our craft and reforming it for a minute now as well, so I might drop u some rough ideas about how to better our craft and young ones (myself included).

    But I also get the feeling, that this talk is symptomatic of a Western/white school of thought. East of Vienna people just think in terms of business. not saying it's the right way, but you gotta love the hunger.

  9. Yes I'm a pampered white boy. But they sometimes call me the Bedouin planner. I've got more years under my belt in foreign countries than the EU. I'm more East of Rangoon than Vienna. Hoping for New York one day though!

  10. the bedouin of many wifes..uh mysteries...

    I am hoping for Beirout one day, perhaps Washington