Friday, January 27, 2012

Us vs. them

Google: "Ads Are Just More Answers"

There's a challenge that every business has to struggle with: the need to see things from the customer's point of view. Even in communications, I run into this all the time -- my colleagues are asking themselves what Communications needs, what serves the ends of Communications as a department, and they have to be reminded to ask whether the actions they're contemplating also serve the needs, desires, and aspirations of the people they're addressing. 

Google seems to be really struggling with this of late. They started out as a company with a clear and consistent customer focus, and people loved them for it. Lately, though, Google's decisions are about what Google needs and wants, and not so much about what the people who use Google's services want and need. 

Of course, in Google's case the situation is complicated by the fact that, over time, it's become clear that people like you and me are longer Google's customers (if we ever were). Google's customers today are the businesses who buy advertising across Google's services, and to a very real extent Google's users are the product that they're selling to advertisers. This, however, is a situation at tension with itself, for if Google's users become alienated from Google's services, Google loses its product. 

It's not going to happen quickly. It may not happen at all. But whereas it once seemed that search as a problem was solved, and that Google was the winner once and for all, now it seems increasingly possible that someone will come along and steal Google's users (and, with them, their customers) out from under them. The more Google sees things only from its own perspective -- only in terms of what Google wants and needs -- the more likely it is that this will happen.