A Harvard Business School professor put his finger on it recently when he said: “Google is the realisation of everything that we thought the internet was going to be about but really wasn’t until Google.”
Though it’s only about seven years old, it’s already having a bigger impact than earlier established internet business models such as Ebay and Amazon. That’s not to say its progress is unstoppable, or that it won’t come a cropper faced with systematic competition from the likes of Microsoft or Yahoo!. Simply that in its economic reach, the Google model has no peer at the moment, a fact that is reflected in its capacity to double revenues every year.
The foundation of this success is undoubtedly in search, but there’s a lot more to the Google recipe than that. In fact, prolific innovation might be a better way to summarise the essential culture of a company whose other recent achievements include blogging tools, instant messaging, software for searching personal computer files, news services, local and shopping information, mapping and satellite imagingâ¦ The list goes on, all free to the consumer and culminating in Google Print, a momentous and highly controversial plan to digitalise millions of books.
The point is an accelerating public engagement with the Google concept – symbolised by the company name becoming a transitive verb – which is having an adverse impact on existing businesses understandably less receptive to its charms. Even mighty retailers, generally regarded as the cutting-edge of business efficiency, must watch their backs. Comparative shopping services are empowering consumers to cut a better deal than in their local Wal-Mart or Tesco stores.
Among the many sectors apparently incapable of grasping the speed of this change is the marketing communications industry. A few telling statistics (beloved of IAB head Guy Phillipson) slice mercilessly through any rhetoric to the contrary. Television receives 40 per cent of ad spend for an equivalent share of media consumption; newspapers 35 per cent for ten per cent consumption; the internet, five per cent for 25 per cent. Now admittedly that five per cent represents prodigious growth over the past year or two; but if we then add a further interesting statistic to the equation – UK broadband penetration of 53 per cent – it can readily be seen that that growth is not sufficient to meet the digital challenge consumers have thrown down. At the very least it suggests that a lot of the current marketing budget is mismanaged.
There are many excuses used to explain this “disconnectivity”: the innate conservatism of the marketing services industry for example; or the fact that it (along with the rest of the media sector) was badly burned in the dot-com crash. But these are lame and irrelevant. This isn’t just some new channel to market that can be dealt with by bolting on a few entrepreneurial specialists. As Google culture becomes a way of life, and more and more everyday transactions migrate online, the whole idea of mediation, in the sense of a separate class of traditional brand communicators, is coming under threat. Rather like the Catholic clergy under Henry VIII.
Stuart Smith, Editor