Google has to provide a "+" to users and provide a completely different experience if it wants to surpass Facebook.
For the past three months, I've been trying to rationalize how Google+ would become a serious threat to Facebook. I've considered the success that Google+ has experienced in the short term, boasting 25 million users before going to beta as well as current reports of its more than 40 million users. But I then thought, that's still a drop in the bucket against Facebook's now 800 million global users. Now, less than 24 hours after the announcement of Google+ Pages, I think if Google is truly going to compete with Facebook, then it needs to act like yesterday never happened and go somewhere Facebook can never go.
Before I delve into the abovementioned, a little history lesson on the search wars between Google and Microsoft is necessary to best illustrate the path I believe Google should take. In the latter part of the last decade, before Bing branding and a Yahoo alliance was forged, Microsoft made a strategic decision to try and move its appeal into a rabbit hole that Google could never go down. The move? Microsoft introduced Cashback, a program designed to reward users for purchasing from Microsoft's search engine by rebating a variable percentage based on the merchant and product being obtained. Microsoft underwrote a substantial amount of the program and ultimately determined it to be an unsustainable model. So while Microsoft was correct that Google would not follow, it was proven wrong in its views on the possibility of marketshare growth from the exercise.
That brings us back to Facebook and Google (and the threat it poses). At this year's f8, Facebook introduced radical advancements in the core wall experience with Timeline, important shifts in the "serendipitous" connects made between users using verbs, and expanded the canvas for advertisers accessible through Sponsored Stories. In these moves, Facebook further aligned its own future success with the advertising community, at least financially. Little has been developed to suggest Facebook is going to suddenly improve as a customer acquisition utility versus the retention and loyalty success Facebook is today. This is where Google has the opportunity to strike.
In its early days, Google intentionally avoided taking advertising on any search results pages, a practice it upheld for several years. The founders believed it inappropriate for the user experience connection they were trying to foster. Now, with an empire that includes leadership or near top of category positioning in search, display, and mobile, one could argue that the presence of brand advertising inside Google+ is equally unnecessary at this time.
While Facebook continues to cozy up to brands and encourage the ability to tell stories to an enormous audience, the proposition from Google+ is clearly different for brands in that their opportunities to target and advertise may come from everywhere but Google+. As a marketer, I crave the ability to engage with consumers in natural conversation, to bring to the dialogue content and relevancy to match their intent - be it for discovery or to reach a destination. But that has never been a prerequisite for Google. In fact, there are many signals that suggest Google would prefer a world less-burdened by advertising obligations.
With yesterday’s announcement of Google+ Pages, it's impossible to now imagine a Google+ without brands. In fact, the starts and stops of user growth on Google+ now suggests that building the platform itself will only get so many to come. Now, Google finds itself needing brands to add consistent and relevant content to drive more widespread adoption.
That said, I believe that a Google+ free of brand advertising inside the platform in exchange for user data usage across all other properties would be a highly valuable transaction for all parties involved. The result - Google gains what drives its engine, user data, and users gain the equivalent of commercial-free programming. Brands are responsible for creating unique content opportunities and sharing environments without directly soliciting inside the space. That would happen elsewhere across the Google network.
If Google+ wants to surpass Facebook and its 500 million daily users, it has to provide a completely different experience. One way to do that would be to amplify the value of consumer control. It would not only distinguish the platform, but it would also put the interjection of Sponsored Stories and Promoted Tweets into conversations on tilt by a Google+ world free from noise that consumers generally wish to avoid while playing up relevancy to match consumer intent, a Google trademark.
Given that Google has gone to market with +Pages, there are two options left. Pretend that Monday never happened and kick brands off. It has already done it once without fatal results, so it's not impossible - yet, certainly unlikely. Or, the other option is to turn +Pages into a non-marketing-specific vehicle. Allowing brands to be creators and curators of content while requiring the connections and investments to stay outside the realm of Google+.
Google has to provide a "+" to users, and brands will do that through content. Creating a world less beholden to brand paid media, in exchange for a data gold mine, might just be the way to attract users and distract Facebook in the battles to come.
Chris Copeland is chief executive officer of GroupM Next, the forward-looking media innovation unit of GroupM. Chris is responsible for curating and communicating insight-focused media solutions across established and emerging platforms. Leveraging his multi-year experience with emerging media companies, Chris is tasked with stewarding GroupM Next in partnership with agency leadership from GroupM's four media marketing and marketing service agencies (Maxus, MEC, MediaCom, and Mindshare). The focus is participating with those companies leading changes that most impact consumer media consumption, brand favorability, and purchase behavior.
Guiding the Predictive Insights, Technology, Research, and Communications teams at GroupM Next, Chris is responsible for overseeing the amplification of insights into opportunities that directly benefit the business of GroupM agencies and their clients. GroupM is the world's largest media investment management group and the media holding arm of WPP. Together, GroupM agencies represent almost $30 billion in overall North American billings (RECMA).
Chris helped guide the development of GroupM Next, which was established to deliver the best thinking and new insights from within the GroupM community. The unit also focuses on technology innovation connecting all media channels, but especially, online, social, mobile, and addressable.
Chris was selected to lead GroupM Next after nine years of leading the search marketing practice within GroupM. Among his accomplishments are the development and integration of the global search marketing offering for GroupM agencies, GroupM Search, which managed $1.3 billion in search billings globally and grew to more than 1,000 search marketing strategists serving 40 countries. In 2009, Chris created the research division of GroupM Search and developed research studies that deepened the understanding of consumer behavior across search and social media for leading brands and garnered global traction - most notably: The Influenced: Social Media, Search, and the Interplay of Consideration and Consumption; The Virtuous Circle: The Role of Social Media in the Purchase Pathway;and From Intent to In-Store: Search's Role in the New Retail Shopper Profile.
Chris entered the digital industry in 1996 when he joined search marketing agency WGI (later acquired by Tempus Group). He has been with the WPP and GroupM family of companies since 2000 when, recognizing search as an emerging media channel with incredible potential for brands, WPP acquired Tempus Group and CIA, and ultimately rebranded the search marketing agency as Outrider. As senior partner and managing director of Outrider, Chris delivered on GroupM's vision for the channel, leading the organization to 500 percent growth with global presence over five years, and establishing award-winning search marketing strategies that have become industry-wide best practices. In 2002, Chris successfully implemented the integration of search into the cross-channel media planning process at MEC, creating the first search marketing practice to sit within a media communications and planning company. In 2007, he guided the business expansion of search marketing practices into all GroupM agencies. In 2009, Chris was named CEO of GroupM Search, where he was responsible for driving global search strategy for the organization, while fostering the innovative application of search as an integrated channel. In his role, Chris also provided digital strategy counsel for clients, including AT&T, Dell, Audi, Volkswagen, and more.
Chris is an active member on advisory boards at the 4A's, Google, Yahoo, MSN, and I-COM. He is a frequent speaker in global forums discussing the digital marketplace and how the space is evolving, and serves as a regular resource to national and industry press. Chris contributes editorial commentary regularly to Advertising Age, ClickZ, MediaPost, and MediaBizBloggers.com. In fall 2013, Chris was honored as an inductee into the ClickZ Digital Hall of Fame.
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