While brand builders usually craft brands to be as highly visible and as “hot” as possible, disruptive brands often call for a different strategy. Truth is, disruptive brands can be at their best when they’re kept to a low profile, and served very, very cold. Like the underwater mass of an iceberg they attract little notice as they glide into position. Then, when the time is right, they discretely split the seams of the reigning Titanic as it cruises past. One second they hide beneath the surface, and the next second they own the ocean. Bright lights and fanfares would only alert their intended prey.
Can Google disrupt the Microsoft brand?
Thanks to the always insightful David Berlind, we can see a potential brand disruption taking shape in the sea-change confrontation between Google and Microsoft for computing platform dominance. From a brand-builder perspective, this is largely a brand context battle about which brand will define the future context of computing. It’s the emerging Google brand context vs. the prevailing Microsoft Windows brand context. What appears on the surface is far less important than what’s going on down below.
Over several posts David outlines how Google is stealthily creating the infrastructure and applications for a powerful (hosted) brand platform that stands to cause Microsoft serious damage. In the best disruptive tradition, the Google brand is readying itself for this conflict calmly and quietly, barely causing a ripple.
For some background on disruptive brands see this previous post.
What is brand context?
Brand context is an amazing property of brands. It’s the world of opportunity that a brand presents to the customer, the real deal of possibilities that the brand conveys and incarnates, across all human dimensions. For the customer, it can be “the new you, in a better place” that only a brand can deliver. The brand context has the potential to extend the customer’s horizons, and provide a means of reaching them. It’s the opposite of artificial worlds fabricated by hype, spin and mind games. (These are properties of propaganda, not brands.)
Of course, a brand context can also be decidedly negative and restrictive. That invites disruption by a brand context that offers more freedom to customers.
The iPod offers a wondrously rich brand context of music compared to the restrictive context of CD’s. In the 1980’s and 1990’s, Microsoft and the PC makers offered a superior brand context in the business world compared to the old way of working with pencil and paper. Now, it’s Google’s turn to offer a more liberating brand context of computing than that provided by a mature Windows Office.
The challenger: Google Apps
The heart of Google’s challenge is a new domain-oriented platform (and potential brand context) called Google Apps, which consists of Google Docs and Spreadsheets, Gmail, Gtalk, Google Calendar, a forthcoming presentation app, and a basic intranet structure to manage them for domain users. Google Apps is aimed not at individual web surfers but at groups such as organizations, small businesses, enterprises and schools that share a domain. As David explains, Google Apps has many features the average Googler will never see. Its strength is a hosted set of core office applications plus workgroup and application connectivity in a single, extensible package. Currently it’s free for families; other groups can get a free trial through May.
Google goes after the disruptive 10%
As David notes, Google’s objective with Google Apps is to gain market share by offering the key 10 percent of Microsoft Office features that customers use most, at a fraction of what they pay for Office. This 10 percent equates to 95 to 100 percent of the features found in Google Apps. Gee, this might just ring a bell.
The promise of Google Apps
Google Apps holds the promise of being far cheaper and easier to administer than Microsoft Windows, while being largely compatible with it. If it’s reliable, costs far less, delivers equal or better productivity, doesn’t force hardware upgrades (a la Vista), causes fewer headaches, and comes with painless updates, it may indeed usher in a computing sea change for customers.
For Google Apps, brand context is critical
The strategic task for Google Apps is to become much more than low-end disruption. It needs to represent a liberating context of computing, where organizations and individuals can wield more power over their digital platforms and tools, and thus gain more control of their destiny. When we’re talking about these kinds of holistic changes in the customer world, we’re talking about the power of brands, above and below the surface.