TechCrunch and other sites are reporting that Google is working on an online presentation app aimed to disrupt Microsoft’s ubiquitous PowerPoint at the low end. Dan Farber and Larry Dignan add some market perspective. If real, this application may initiate a brand battle royal between Google and Microsoft.
A Google presentation app has been long rumored as a final step in completing Google’s emerging online office suite as an alternative to Microsoft Office. PowerPoint, of course, is one of Microsoft’s crown jewels, and deeply entrenched in U.S. business culture. Making a dent in PowerPoint would be a huge coup for Google.
In the spirit of speculative brand building, let’s see where Google might take such a new presentation application. As part of its brand strategy, Google would want to do two things:
- Create a new customer
- Invest the app with the power of a platform
Microsoft’s brand vacuum is Google’s gain
Google’s challenge is made somewhat easier because Microsoft has often neglected real brand building in its era of market dominance. Microsoft’s market power has blinded it to the value of brands. It has tried to contain its customers as much as possible, assuming that what was good for Microsoft was always good enough for users. The result is a huge PowerPoint application that often overshoots its market, leaving a brand vacuum where a smaller, user-friendly application might fit. That’s a vacuum that Google is happy to fill.
A new Google app for a new customer
An online Google presentation app won’t be as slick as PowerPoint, but it doesn’t need to be. Its job would be to create a different model of “presenter” who would do more with less, aided by a different presentation cachet. The cachet would probably be cross-platform ease of use and collaborative efficiency. (And, OK, free.) Instead of trying to “wow” you with a special effects extravaganza, the Google presenter may be more of a team lead who uses the presentation format to share ideas and concepts. He or she would factor in contributions from those present in person and online, and re-assemble the pieces to speed the team forward. It’s more of a workflow model than a broadcast model.
With the new Google app, presentations could arise out of group meetings, spontaneously produced from available documents. (There’s evidence that the Google app will allow users to convert documents into presentations, and vice versa.)
Redefine “presenter” and “presentation”
In short, Google’s brand approach would be to redefine the context of “presenter” and the context of the presentation itself. It would create a new context for both of these that undercuts the traditional world of PowerPoint. It would shift the context of the presenter from the individual to the team. It would shift the context of the presentation from a one-man “show” to project-based workflow.
Bells and whistles out, results in
I’ll further speculate that Google’s presentation app will focus less on bells and whistles and more on translating ideas into products. From a brand perspective, Google might want to target some important (coin-operated) reference groups as early adopters. Students, entrepreneurs and venture capitalists come to mind. If VC’s were to embrace the new app as a no-nonsense presentation format that they want from entrepreneurs, the app could gain immediate traction.
Positioning will be critical
A Google presentation app might be best positioned as a special form of collaboration, as opposed to the top-down, broadcast model of PowerPoint. Thus, it becomes a working platform for project teams. Its aim would be to help the group focus its priorities, rather than to bend the group to a presenter’s point of view. Its essence is the social and the shared, vs. the conventional “mine” and “me” of PowerPoint. It’s an app made for teams and team players.
Google: the brand of innovators?
If you’re working at the cutting edge of innovation, cranking out fast prototypes, iterating new models and concepts as part of a team, the hierarchical broadcast model of PowerPoint just might divide your efforts, and slow your team down. What you need (as Google might say) is a cross-platform presentation tool to share visualization and ideation, to speed the prototyping and innovation results that can take you to the next level.
In other words, through its presentation app Google may want to become the brand of innovators. Think of all those entrepreneurs working on web-based applications, like the mashup crowd. Or small businesses that want less process and more production. Or any team-based, skunk works operation.
Weakness of the Windows Live brand
Of course, Microsoft might announce a competing online presentation app in an attempt to blunt Google’s initiative. Redmond has strong online capabilities in its Windows Live offerings. But Microsoft’s shaping of the Windows Live brand has been notoriously confusing. As a brand it seems more tuned to the machinations of Microsoft divisions than the needs of customers, a compromise solution rather than a focused brand approach.
This is where all those years of brand neglect exact their pound of flesh from Redmond.
The PowerPoint customer model is getting old
A generation ago, PowerPoint helped Microsoft create a new kind of customer, the incipient manager who used PowerPoint to stand out from the crowd and pave his/her career up through the ranks of the large corporation. That was a major accomplishment for Microsoft, but that customer model is now getting old. Businesses have changed. Work has changed. Unfortunately, Microsoft has kept the old model going in order to sustain the Microsoft Office franchise. In so doing, it has paid a high price in brand innovation: today the Microsoft brand looks backward and inward instead of forward and outward. PowerPoint has become a platform for office routine—and often the most boring routine. It’s hardly the platform of movers and shakers.
Google’s brand opportunity
And thus we have Google’s brand opportunity. Google’s online apps are emerging as a lightweight platform for innovation and project teams, where information is meant to be gleaned from the network and the cloud, shared and iterated, molded into pilot projects and prototypes, and sent back richer. Others see the same opportunity. Where Microsoft has become the platform of status quo, Google may become the platform of innovation. Google’s online apps might even become the “way” of a seamless and free-flowing innovation culture.
Awaiting the real world test
Well, so much for speculation. We’ll see how all this works out in the real world. Google first has to launch an online presentation app with useful capabilities. To make PowerPoint “irrelevant” Google will need to create a new context for the “presenter,” and for the presentation itself. Finally, just being “good enough” won’t be good enough. The new app will have to be the presentation platform of choice for high performance people.
Photo: Ianuiop — Flicker