Google Is Not A Cologne You Can Sniff : The Daunting Challenge Of Rebooting People’s Minds

Word of the Yahoo! layoffs are spreading around today. If anyone doubted Google’s Reality before, they won’t be now. Between Microsoft’s bid for Yahoo! – it’s largest buyout attempt ever at $45 billion, and the bleeding Yahoo!’s been feeling for awhile, the Big Google Monster seems invincible. When you’ve got Microsoft acting all fidgety, you know you’re doing something right.

So what is Google doing right? Well, they have the best search engine around. I use it at least twenty to forty times a day. I’m locked in and I don’t really consider going elsewhere. On a rare occasion, if I’ve hit a dead end here or there, I’ll look to Microsoft’s Live search or Yahoo. Still, it could be argued that Yahoo and Live’s search engines are as good as Google’s. I’m not sure if that’s the case. In fact, I haven’t bothered to try to find out. Google works and I have no reason to leave.

The Default Setting In Our Minds

Google is winning and is so difficult to unseat because they’ve established themselves as the default setting for search in people’s minds. Does it really matter that Live’s search is as good? Better yet, does it even matter that Live’s search is better? It’s too late. Changing the default setting in our heads requires a lot more than that. It requires something seismic to happen. Either an incredible new feature needs to arrive or Google needs to screw up badly. I don’t see either of those scenarios materializing any time soon.

As far as brand monopoly goes, Google is getting there. Google is starting to equal the search. The act of "googling" is already accepted as a newborn verb. This sort of brand domination is nearly impossible to unseat, regardless of whether your product is better or not. How much does mindshare and first-to-market matter? Take a look at this chart:

Maps Traffic

The above shows Mapquest’s dominance of map searching that persists to this day, as reported by Hitwise. Note that Google Maps is slowly gaining ground, but they’ve still got a long ways to go.

Mind you, Google wasn’t the first to do search. Alta Vista was supposed to be the premiere search engine. Or does anyone remember Hotbot? It turns out that Google was that much better. Google’s arrival really was a seismic event and we’re seeing the outcome of that shift today.

Still, this bit of reality persists: even if you’re better than your entrenched competition, if their stuff works and people are comfortable with it, you’re not going to eat into that mindshare.

This is as much about comfort and familiarity as it is about quality of service and feature sets.

"Mmmm! Smell My Magazine!"

So what of all those young, fresh brains that haven’t set Google as their default search just yet? How do Google and Yahoo get to that switch? Well, it’s tough. You need to somehow wedge your way into that first experience. The default laptop or desktop install. The default search setting on your browser. Today, Google enjoys excellent brand awareness. Friends and family are probably going to point you to Google. So its pretty tough.

There’s another snag though. Because Google is a service that really has no physical representation (i.e. a shrink-wrapped box on a supermarket shelf), there really is no shelf-space to vie for. How does Yahoo get people to try Yahoo?

oscar_perfume_oscar_renta_worldsfragrances If you pick up any men’s or women’s magazine, you’ll find a fold-out ad with some cologne or perfume infused in the flap. You sniff it while your cheek bumps into some attractive, brooding supermodels, and almost instantaneously, you make a judgment. It’s an incredibly effective way to experience a new product you may have never even heard of two minutes prior.

Microsoft and Yahoo are having a real hard time "stepping in" to your magazine-flipping experience on the Web. When you’re in Google’s ecosystem, it’s no mistake that you’ll never see a semblance of Yahoo and Microsoft. Google has done an excellent job of walling off and keeping you within their walls.

The challenge for anyone looking to unseat an entrenched brand like Google is significant. In light of all this, the definition of the challenge at hand is tweaked. It isn’t: "how can we deliver a better product and win new customers?" It’s more like: "how can we cause an earthquake to happen such that people’s minds are reset and are compelled, or even forced to consider our product?"

2 Comments Google Is Not A Cologne You Can Sniff : The Daunting Challenge Of Rebooting People’s Minds

  1. John Dowdell

    Hi Rich — Like you, I use Google for search. The main reason is that it returns results faster, and I don’t have to wait when trying sequential search terms.
    But it’d be easy to get me to switch. Options to remove all commercial offerings would help in finding certain kinds of actual information. Ability to process questions would help in searches with overloaded terms. Even being able to set a date range for “first indexed on” could be a persuader. Clustering of common ideas in recent webpages would be another must-switch factor… “as_qdr=d” helps but is not enough. Adding useful records from “deep web” sources would be another persuader, particularly if this was available in a fast, top-level UI. Google Websearch is a habit for me now, but it wouldn’t be hard to break.
    I’m not sure how important Google Websearch is to their overall business these days, though… the revenue is based on selling audiences to advertisers, and ads on websearch pages seem only a small part of that. How much would it matter to Google’s core business if most websearches were performed somewhere else…?

  2. Flüge Thailand

    Well, I have never heard anything about mapquest since today! Didn´t even know that it is the market leader! So it´s not astonishing that´ market share is rising constantly as google links to it from its´ homepage.


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