From the Corner Office – March 2010

March 5, 2010

Peter Smyth

What Will v2.0 Look Like?

I just finished a fascinating book by Ken Auletta, “Googled: The End of the World as We Know It”.  It’s an up-close recounting of how this company has grown in the past decade into a $20 billion goliath, with more revenue than CBS, NBC, ABC and Fox combined.  Google has entered our common vocabulary as a synonym for “search” -  the ultimate compliment for any brand, but even more striking for one so young.  That’s the well-known business school rags-to-digital-riches story that everyone knows.

But that often-told story is not what captured my attention.  What got me thinking was the glimpse at the culture inside Google.  The author gives us just enough to draw some conclusions that may surprise you.  Google makes mistakes; Google fails; Google doesn’t think everything through.  But here’s the key takeaway:  Google learns from its failures, and adapts, refines, and goes back again to attempt to capitalize on opportunities.  Google has great faith in its core competency, engineering.  Some may even say that it’s arrogance, but it is a deeply-held part of the DNA of the company.  And that comes from the top down.

When we read a headline about the next new thing out of the Google shop, it is easy to forget the things that have not worked.  YouTube is just now starting to gain traction as an advertising platform despite being the online video darling for the past five years.  Google Buzz, their recent introduction of social networking for Gmail, had to be reworked immediately because of the privacy howls from users.  We in radio know firsthand that Google Audio tried to redefine how spots are sold, and after several different attempts and iterations, was withdrawn from the marketplace.

So I learned that Google is not invincible.  Comforting, I suppose, to know that they’re human.  But my conclusion is that they have the courage to try new things, and the creativity to start with new assumptions about the media.  They focus firmly on the user and the authenticity of their experience.  That’s what allowed them to defeat their search competitors.  When everyone else was selling search results for small change and cluttering their web pages with display ads, Google focused on the wants and needs of the consumer:  speed, relevance and accuracy.

I think that Google succeeds because they have identified and believe in their mission, and they focus on their customer.  Too many businesses think that the goal of business is to make money.  More revenue has to equal more success.  But the money is a product of the mission, not the mission itself.  Every successful business knows exactly what product or service they provide and to whom and why.  Successful businesses focus on that product and innovate, repackage and keep that product fresh and relevant.  That’s the mission, and refining and adapting the mission to the marketplace is the duty of management.  Do these things properly and consistently, and the money will come.

These days, radio needs to reflect on its mission and adapt to the changes thrust on us by new competitors like Google.  We need to stop fearing the onset of the digital world as the end of our business and focus on our mission.  We are, and always have been, in the business of building targeted, local communities and making them available to local advertisers.  That’s our core.  Whether we do it with our tall tower out back, on a website, or on a mobile app, makes no difference.  We are the voice of the cities and towns in which we operate.  If we allow ourselves to be scared into expense-cutting our brand into an automated shell of itself, we have only ourselves to blame.

On the advertiser side, we have great opportunity.  We became complacent in a world of 30’s and 60’s and agency buys; we have been jolted by the past year and a half into the recognition that we can become the local integrated marketers for our clients.  Radio has a wonderful, complementary relationship with online assets, and we need to exploit that relationship to the fullest.

Google is not going to replace “old media”; it is additive to the tried and true media channels of newspaper, radio and television.  We will still have our place.  It is on our shoulders to redefine and adapt our mission to a rapidly-changing world and find a reenergized and streamlined business model.  It is chaotic out there, and many of the outcomes are not preordained.  We must continue to be risk-takers, innovators, and adapters.  Focusing on expenses rather than opportunity is a recipe for obsolescence.  There is a wellspring of creativity and innovation in the radio community; we just need to focus on our unique mission, like the smart folks at Google.

I always want to know what’s on your mind; you can feel free to pose any questions that you’d like me to respond to at AskPeter@greatermedia.com.

Best regards,

Peter