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One difference between Unilever and Google

Many, many years ago I worked on the Unilever business and learnt a little bit about the way they work. ( I hope I am outside the statute of limitations wrt sharing what I learnt. It was 20 years ago!!)

Specifically bringing a new product to market.

It all starts off with someone somewhere unearthing an opportunity eg in some focus group a stray comment that ‘ today school uniforms are mostly blue so who needs a detergent that washes white as snow’.

A smart person will pick that up and say ‘why don’t we launch a product that keeps blue blue?’

Many months of R&D activity will ensue and finally they will have created a product that keeps blue clothes blue.

Then it moves along to market testing of various types from sizing to concept testing.

Finally, when they have everything right a test market is chosen. This is an important part of the process and a market that represents the national market and can be isolated from a media stand point is chosen.

Then the product goes into test launch. Parameters studied and then the product is launched. Or not.

That extremely simplistically speaking, is the Unilever (and P&G and Colgate and Nestle and pretty much any FMCG) process.

Now let’s turn to Google. Specifically Google+.

This is one product whose launch/test pilot is very recent and I watched pretty closely.

Firstly their product was launched with an eye on competition viz Facebook.

Some of the obvious areas they focused on were

It is odd to have someone’s b’day party picture, next to an article on the US economy next to one about the fires in Texas. So let’s create circles for people to focus their broadcast/reception.

Why limit connectivity to text. So let’s Huddle over a video chat.

And so on.

They followed their process to arrive at a product they were happy with.

So far, to my mind, Unilever and Google have followed a scientific, well thought out process to get to a product they were happy with.

Now they diverge.

To launch Google+, Google chose a nifty idea of limited distribution creating huge interest and desire. Remember Gmail did the same thing.

But in execution terms they went after power users. So those who got on to Google+ first were the techies.

So initially the Google+ stream was full off stuff to do with Google+.

The next level of entrants were the social media folks who talked about social media and the cool stuff they were doing.

Not to forget that invites were still being distributed rather sparingly.

Somehow someone who didn’t fit in the above groups got an invite and posted a bunch of animated gifs of cats. That didn’t go down well and seemed extremely out of place given everything else going on in the stream.

The stream has reverted to being a whole lot of left brain driven activity.

I don’t know Google+’s plans and how they plan to roll this out but I was struck with the stark difference between the test market approach of Google compared to most marketers.

For eg : I don’t know that P&G launching a shampoo would test market it amongst salons before launching to the public.

I understand that in the tech fraternity there is a practise of launching the beta to a bunch of techies to power use it before a release. This, I believe, is to iron out any bugs before the end user gets it.

But Google+ is less of a tech product and more of a mass brand. I wonder if they couldn’t have taken a leaf out of a marketer’s book and launched the product that represented their end customer segment a bit more.

So still do selective invites but distribute amongst teenagers, moms, grandfathers, geeks, social media hogs etc.. Stratified in some proportion to users. They do have the contact and demographic details of these folks from Gmail. If that is construed as invasion of privacy, creative ways to reach this lot is just a click away.

By doing this they get a wide variety of people to use the product. Watch them use it. Learn how the different segments are playing with it. Course correct and launch widely a product that has been tested by different segments.

I repeat that I don’t know Google’s marketing strategy and they are better marketers than I can hope to be, so there will be good reasons for them to do what they do.

From an outsider’s POV I found the difference in the go to market strategy between Unilever and Google rather striking. So this blog…

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  1. Uma
    September 8, 2011 at 12:27 pm

    Thanks for an interesting perspective. One might make comparisons between a web-based product and a consumer good  based on how each deals with competition. However, I am not sure if this is a fair comparison as the type of products being marketed in each case is very different. I am a Computer Scientist so pardon me on my lack of FMCG marketing knowledge. A web-based product is a much lower risk one than a consumer good. The risks and harm to one’s basic life are minimal when compared to the impact of a consumer good. If a shampoo damages one’s scalp, the liabilities are more significant than if Google shuts down for a day or faces a DOS attack. Since it is web-based, updates and fixes can be rolled out without the consumer’s knowledge. One cannot provide updates to a shampoo after selling it to a customer. In the case of a web-based product, revenue is generated mostly through ads, whereas a consumer good generates revenue, and hence needs several years of research before launching. 

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