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Google, circa 1999. Click the image to revisit the site as it was a decade ago.

Google, circa 1999. Click the image to revisit the site as it was a decade ago.

A week or so ago, I wrote a bit about Bing and its lousy attempt to de-throne Google. A few people didn’t agree that Microsoft had brought a Super Soaker to a gunfight. Okay, not quite a few. There was one and he worked for Microsoft. Nonetheless, there were a number of passionate defenses for Google; strong opinions about something that should weigh as heavily on someone’s mind as which socks to wear.

What I discovered is that Google, with its pre-school logo and its plain-jane aesthetic, has secured a cult following. Conventional wisdom would predict that this shouldn’t happen, since Google doesn’t advertise and has done little to step up visually in the past, like, ever. As many of us have come to realize, we are not living in the age of conventional wisdom. Things like that don’t seem to matter as much when people trust you in the first place. So, the question remains, how did they get that trust?

1. Know your limitations, and know that your consumer controls those limitations. Google doesn’t offer anti-virus. Not necessarily because it would do a lousy job, or that it wouldn’t be profitable, but because they understand that their limitations are set by their consumer’s expectations. They know what they’re good at and they realize that not every risk is a good idea. The first time you present a service to the public and it sucks, you may get a mulligan. The next time, your market will be less forgiving.

2. Avoid “kitchen-sinking”. This is a phrase that I came up with about 19 seconds ago and I’m sure has been used before. Don’t fluff up your offering with unnecessary bells and whistles to justify a cost increase. I have bought MS Office more times than I care to remember and I still don’t know what Clip Organizer is good for. I only know I had to pay for it.

3. Don’t raise your prices any more than you need to. It sounds rudimentary, but think about how many companies raise their prices simply to expand their profit margin. That’s just greedy. Always make sure that the value of your offering is readily apparent. I use Google Analytics to measure traffic to my website, which provides a wealth of detailed information that helps me grow my business. Oh, and it’s free.

4. Bad news for control freaks: you may have less control than you think. I don’t care who you are, a Fortune 100 CEO or a consultant working in your pajamas. Never forget that your business depends on, and is therefore extinct without, your partners and customers. They will determine how successful your business is. They will determine the value of your brand and whether or not you have a job next month. Heavy customer interaction and free services have contributed to Google’s image of a transparent, forward-thinking team of people that are passionate about what they do, instead of an organization bent on world domination, even if it is their mission…

Patrick King

Patrick is the Founder of Imagine and advisor to places on brand strategy and creative. His insights have been published in Inc. Magazine, SmartCEO, Washington Business Journal, The Washington Post, and Chief Marketer, among other publications, and shared at conferences throughout the US. He also has an amazing sock collection.

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