To Google® Or Not To Google®

Full disclosure…I own Google stock.  I like their products and their potential.  However, I am more than a bit concerned about how they use their names and trademarks.

Microsoft® names its products in a traditional fashion.  Microsoft is the company; names like Windows, Silverlight, Bing are clearly the products.  A very logical naming architecture that makes it clear where the company ends and the product begins.

Google is a company and a trademark for several goods and services.  The Google trademark is perhaps best know for “Search engine services” (International Class 042) but Google can also be “Dissemination of advertising for others via the Internet” (IC 035) or “Telecommunication services” (IC 038) or “Financial services” (IC 036) or any of a number of different product or service ideas that carry the name Google.

Add other words to Google and you get more products and services…things like Google Checkout; Google Talk; Google Wave; the list goes on and on.  And a trip through Google Labs made me wonder if there really is an overriding naming architecture for the Google Brand.  

I think the heart of the issue is Google’s youth…let’s not forget that their IPO was only 5 years ago (August 19, 2004 if you are planning a celebration).  Google appears to follow a primary rule of the Internet as stated on the Google website: “At Google, we believe in launching early and often.”  Obviously the “put something out there and see if it works” strategy has been working for them.  But to apply a similar philosophy to names is potentially a recipe for disaster.

Look at Microsoft and the fiasco known as Vista.  The product was launched as Windows Vista, and quickly unraveled to the point where Microsoft had to get Windows 7 out the door quickly as a replacement.  What failure did consumers have in their minds?  Vista.  Vista was known as a dog to be avoided at all costs.  Not “Microsoft” or even “Microsoft Vista”.  Vista.

What if Google had launched Vista?  OK, it probably never would have happened but work with me here.  Following their most obvious naming architecture, they probably would have called it Google Vista.  And as it failed, the black eye would have extended to the Google Brand, which might have resulted in a lower Google stock price in the short term until people had a better experience with the Google name.  Microsoft had collateral damage with Vista…Google Vista would have hit an artery.

The recent announcement that Google was going to begin advertising its Google Apps as a better alternative to Microsoft Office pushed me over the edge.  In this blog there were several recent postings about “Verbing” brand names and the risks that are inherent in that effort.  Google has “benefitted” by “Verbing” over the years in search (“Let’s Google It”).  With their new ad campaign, Google found a way to weaken the trademarks of its company and products all in one swoop by telling people what “Going Google” means.

As a marketer, I love the idea of “Going Google” as much as I love owning “Let’s Google It.”  However, I fear that from a naming and trademark perspective, this is not going to make any of the Google trademarks stronger and in fact runs the risk of weakening them.  When you add in the blatant implication of monopoly (I suppose when you “Go Google” there is no turning back), I am worried even more.  Remember, the Department of Justice investigated Google as a potential monopoly earlier this year.

I am not trying to bring down the Empire…far from it (again, remember I am a shareholder).  But I would love to understand what Google is trying to do with its many names and trademarks.  Is there a plan?  Or is the Google Brand a victim of the “launch early and often” practice?  That has clearly worked to date in building a big business.  Is it Best Practice in naming?  Will it continue to work in the future?

– Mark Prus (mark.prus@nameflash.info), NameFlashSM (www.nameflash.info)

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