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Google’s Big Idea

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I thought it was time we joined in all the speculation about what Google’s grand vision is, especially as I’m increasingly convinced that, unlike Microsoft, they really “get” what’s happening vis a vis mobile technology.

If you haven’t been following recent events, let me start by summarising some of the key ones recently:

Google Talk takes them into VoIP. This means that they can offer free (or cheap) phone calls to anyone with a net connection.

This includes people connected to public or paid-for wifi connections. It also includes calls via a PC, or with a phone capable of hooking up via wifi. There’s already models that can do this (Nokia’s brick-like Communicator, as an example) and a lot more expected soon, subject to operators agreeing to distribute them.

Om Malik wrote a Business 2.0 story, which is a fine piece of investigative journalism and deduction. Om suggests that some of Google’s recent moves indicate that they’re planning (get this) to offer free wifi access to everyone in America. I know it might sound far fetched, but Om explains how it’s possible and I certainly think it’s more than plausible.

Google likes to think big and how much bigger can you get than becoming everyone’s ISP and phone provider?

Google is about to raise another $4 billion by selling 14.159265 million shares. What do they need this kind of money for? Something big, obviously.

In case you missed the story or the point, the number of shares is based on the first eight numbers making up Pi. Clever or smug?

Google is about to launch Google Wallet, to compete with PayPal, based on numerous rumours. Again, I think this will happen. It’s a great market opportunity that PayPal has had to itself for far too long. Enough people hate PayPal to flock to a rival offering, especially if it was run by Google. I’ve had a few run-ins with PayPal myself, so I’ll shed no tears if they get done over.

But Wallet also offers their advertisers a way of charging for goods and services, especially for micropayments, where credit card charges are usurious (c 30% for transactions costing $1, for instance).

Google have also just announced plans to move into offline media, by buying up adspace at wholesale prices and selling to its advertisers for a better price than they could get on their own.

So they’re exploring the offline world now.

Google has already launched a form of local search, based on sms.

OK, so that’s some of the key trends and clearly, there’s probably a lot else happening at Mountain View that we’re not privy to – either by announcement or rumour and gossip.

All this suggests to me that they’re going to make a play for the Long Tail of offline media, just as they’ve captured the Long Tail of online media.

Let me give a scenario, in maybe 10 years time.

You’re out shopping, with your mobile phone, obviously. Your mobile has taken over as your primary means of making all voice calls – using Google Net’s VoIP, naturally. Why would you use anything else, when it’s free and works everywhere? You don’t even have to search for a good connection like those old GSM phones.

Your phone has also become your primary means of accessing the internet, again via Google Net, obviously. Your phone is a thin client, with most storage and processing done on the web. Most people don’t have even a PC anymore. If they want to do work that involves a keyboard and a bigger screen, they just pop their phone into the nearest docking station and away they go. With the added advantage that the phone has ensured that the screen layout, favourite apps, bookmarks and files are all available exactly as you’d want them.

Your phone also knows your location at all times – not through anything fancy, like Assisted GPS, but because Google Net knows exactly where you are on the Google Grid.

So suddenly, true location based marketing becomes a reality, no longer a question like “when the tech is available” or “providing you’re in line of sight” or “if it’s accurate enough”.

Shops log on to Google’s ZagMe service (indulge me!) and in the same way as they can tell AdWords who they wish to target and how much they’re willing to pay, they can alert shoppers to offers they think they’ll like. Unlike AdWords, where the merchant chooses keywords, ZagMe will work by matching merchants and shoppers, based on the shoppers’ preferences.

Because the ads are served over wifi, there’s no cost of transmission (unlike today’s sms), so ads can be cheap and gross margins for Google, humungous.

ZagMe will also be a self-learning application. So if the shopper doesn’t like a merchant or the type of offer, they can tell their phone and they don’t get that again.

The shopper can also decide when and where they want to get ads. And how they get delivered – with an audible alert, or just a silent pop-up on the screen. They can opt out of any and all messages too, if they want, permanently or for a period of time – say, two hours.

So ZagMe tells you about an offer you want and you decide to go into the shop and buy it. You pay for it, with your mobile phone’s Google Wallet.

Google Wallet is more than just a payment system though. It’s a feedback loop providing information to the ZagMe ad server. If you’ve just paid for a coffee, for instance, you’re not going to want another coffee ad for say, an hour.

More sophisticated that this, it builds up a pattern of your responses to offers and presents more of the same. It learns what’ll make you buy a Hugo Boss suit as opposed to an Armani, and pitches the incentive just right.

ZagMe and Wallet become a useful and valued tool for shoppers, as great targeting, relevance and location make everything they send you welcome.

One of the things that Google has managed to do online and why they make so much money is that they’ve found a way to exploit the Long Tail of advertising – tapping into billions of marketing dollars that didn’t really exist before. My bet is that they want to do no less than to open up the same Long Tail for real world merchants.

This would allow them to become the most dominant media owner on the planet, cornering the ad market on and offline and at the junction where the two meet. If they can have all that for $4 billion, it’s a bargain.

A word of warning however. Moving from their existing model to a service where customer care will suddenly become important, will not be a stroll in the park. People don’t generally call you to complain that their search engine results aren’t very good. But they do to complain that their phone doesn’t work, their internet connection is down or that their Wallet won’t allow them to make payments.

So if you want to run the world’s biggest customer care programme, maybe your should be applying to Google.

This has been rather long already, so what do you think? Am I on the right lines?

Om Malik thinks that it’s about Pay Per Call and I agree that this could indeed be part of it. Oliver at my alma mater comes to the Pay per Call conclusion too, but speculates that they’ll then launch an ad-funded free calls programme, which is the point where I have to say, our opinions diverge.

But do leave a comment and join the conversation on this one. Whatever Google ends up doing, it’s going to have fundamental repercussions for business everywhere, as well as for all of us as technology users.

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About Russell

  • Free ASINs, pick at least one: 0793148375 (0793148375); 1578519314 (What’s the Big Idea: New Management Thinking); 3895782386 (How to Catch the Big Idea – Creative Strategies).

  • TBJ

    Yes and then Skynet..errr Google.net takes over all of our internet-connected appliances and computers and destroys humanity..

    Now where have I heard THAT before…

  • Nice one…

  • TBJ – yes and the trouble is, no one will ever believe us 🙂


  • Russell, great story but next time please add some Amazonia. You do know how to post here, right?

  • There, did it for you. Thanks to DrPat for looking them up.