In defense of Google

Michael Martinez and Jim are both oh-so-wrong! Michael responded to Derek Gordon’s column on Tuesday about the Google “Dog pile” with this rejoinder:

“No market-dominant company ever gets to the top through “quality of the service it provides” — they get there through marketing, and Google has done PLENTY of that.”

Then, Jim Rudnick “piled on” with this addition:

“As Michael stated, Google has more “marketers” IMHO, than engineers!” (which he later qualified with a “well, not really”)

This wasn’t even my column they were responding to, but I just couldn’t let those two obviously ill informed comments go unanswered.

Mr. Martinez and Mr. Rudnick, its reality check time. Anyone who has ever spent any time at Google, knows anyone at Google, has read anything on the history of Google, or has spent any time trying to understand the culture at Google, knows that engineers rule supreme there and marketing is considered at least two rungs below a necessary evil, which is somewhat ironic for a company who’s revenues rely solely on…that’s right…marketing!

You can possibly hate Google for a number of things, but subjugating the quality of their results for a quick marketing win has never been, or never will be, one of them. I’ve been following this company pretty much since day one and they are obsessive about the quality of their user’s experience. I may debate their approach to design or the aesthetic appeal of their interfaces. I may question their need to dominate everything. I may take exception to the intellectual arrogance that seems to occasionally seep out of Mountain View – but I have never ever questioned their priorities. Their domination in search comes squarely on the shoulders of their high regard for their user, and not one of their serious competitors would ever dispute that.

This Google “marketing” that Michael speaks of is a meager trickle compared to the millions that Microsoft pumped into the launch of Bing, or, lest we forget, the failed advertising campaigns of, Yahoo or even Infoseek, when they were bought by Disney and became Tell me, when is the last time you launched a search on

Marketing alone will never establish a dominant search player. They are established solely on the strength of their user’s experiences. You might want to do a comparison of market shares and marketing expenditures to get that point driven home more forcefully, Michael.

In fact, I would shudder to think that any dominate player in any industry got to where they are based on marketing alone, and not by adequately meeting or exceeding their customer’s expectations. I live by another adage, “Nothing ever killed a bad product faster than good advertising.” I talked about Jim Lecinski’s concept of the ZMOT a few columns back. Marketing provides just one input into the chain reaction that Lecinski chronicles. Let’s walk through this again; because this is more than just a rebuttal, it’s an illustration for anyone who shares the same delusional view that marketing is all it takes to win a market.

Marketing provides a stimulus that can spark a buyer’s interest. After this stimulus, the buyer then researches to make sure the hyperbole of the marketing message bears at leas some passing resemblance to reality. This is Lecinski’s ZMOT (Zero Moment of Truth). Then, there’s the FMOT (First Moment of Truth). This is when a buyer actually picks up a product off the proverbial “shelf”. Finally, there’s the SMOT (Second Moment of Truth), which is the buyer’s actual experience with the product.

If marketing and the buyer’s reality are aligned, these elements create a virtuous cycle, where the promise of the ad matches the experience delivered. The result is ongoing brand loyalty.

But, if all the company cares about is the marketing, then it all starts to fall apart in the ZMOT and the SMOT. The cycle is destroyed and you have a pissed off customer telling anyone who will listen that they’ve been duped. That’s why Jim Lecinski (speaking on behalf of Google) rightly stresses the importance of the ZMOT for marketers. It’s where the rubber starts to hit the road.

I don’t care if Messrs. Rudnick and Martinez have a sore spot for Google. I do care when they imply those 13 years plus of producing high quality search results and deeply caring about the user are irrelevant and that Google bought their way to the top of the search engine heap through marketing. That’s dangerous thinking, for any industry. We have enough crap to fix in corporate America without letting off-hand comments like these go unanswered. It’s this kind of thinking that got us into the mess we currently find ourselves.

Let’s appreciate quality when we see it, and not assume the whole world is a sucker for a quick pitch!

Orig­i­nally pub­lished in Mediapost’s Search Insider August 18, 2011