Google Glass’s clever marketing vision

If latest reports are to be believed Google is close to its latest and possibly biggest ever launch. You may have already seen the radical prototype being worn by someone. More interestingly, Google’s exciting product might already have seen you – because the launch in question is eyewear.

Mark Ritson

And not just any eyewear either. Google Glass incorporates a tiny prism display, an embedded camera, a microphone, a GPS locator and a bone induction amplifier that enables the glasses to make audible sounds despite not being directly connected to your ears.

Add all that up and you have a unique technological device that operates using voice control. You can do video conferencing as you walk around your garden. You can access Google Maps while on a hike and have your glasses project the right path onto your vision. You can take a picture instantly with a single voice command. The applications and implications are enormous and, according to several Google employees familiar with the project, Google Glass will launch by the end of the year, with a retail price of around £500.

The most interesting aspect of the launch, however, is not the technology, but the marketing plan behind it. A month ago Google quietly announced it was opening up its Explorer programme, previously reserved for software developers, to a first round of consumers. Applicants were asked to submit photographs and videos that communicated who they were and what they would do with their Google Glass. According to Google, the company will select the “boldest and most creative” applicants to become the first official wearers.

To understand what Google is hoping to achieve with this initial recruitment strategy, or rather what it is trying to avoid, we must step back in time 15 years and remember the early days of Bluetooth. Bluetooth was a technological marvel. The idea of not needing cables to connect devices over short distances was remarkable. And of all the applications the one with the biggest potential was, of course, the Bluetooth headset.

Even today, if I said that you could buy a device for £100 that enables you to leave your phone in your bag all day and simply touch your ear when you want to call anyone or answer your phone, I’ll bet you would be interested. Back in 2000 this was a revelatory idea and the confederation of companies behind Bluetooth – which included Ericsson, Toshiba and Intel – thought they had an amazing opportunity that would probably replace the mobile phone as the central telecommunications accessory.

They were so convinced of its potential that they made the classic technological error of becoming ‘product-oriented’. Sure that Bluetooth headsets would sell themselves, they were launched without extensive market research, clear segmentation, targeting or positioning. The result will go down in history as one of the great marketing blunders of all time. Bluetooth headsets went on the market in 2000 and instantly attracted strong sales, but from a very specific market segment – geeks. If you had a low EQ and a high IQ you could not resist.

But there was a catch. Bluetooth headsets are wearable and thus highly visible. Within weeks the product became associated with the consumers who were so clearly wearing it everywhere. It became a geek product. By 2001 anyone with even a vague sense of self-awareness would not be seen dead with one – unless they were hidden away inside their car.

Had Bluetooth targeted a small legion of cool executives in top companies and offered them the first headsets, I maintain we would all be wearing them right now. Same product, same price, but with the all-important first target segment being aspirational executives rather than off-putting geeks. Such is the importance of segmentation. A good marketer not only knows who the segments are, they also understand the dynamic relationships between them.

So it should be clear how smart Google really is – not only the R&D team producing Google Glass but also the marketing department launching it. The 8,000 consumers Google has selected from hundreds of thousands of applicants are those who submitted the boldest suggestions on how they would use and wear Google Glass. And I’ll wager Google also took a long hard look at their profiles to ensure these people were cool, aspirational and un-geeky.

The first consumers will soon be invited to collect their Google Glass spectacles in person in New York City. Google will get first-hand feedback from their new consumers on the usability of the product. But, more important, this newly formed army of cool will spread out like a branding diaspora. The first time you will see Google Glass will not be in a print ad, it will be when someone in your office or gym turns up with the product on their face.

And you can bet it will be a cool face. A smart face. And certainly not a geeky face.


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