Now that Google has cars that drive themselves, Gmail, Google+, Google Glass and a slew of other business ventures, it’s sometimes hard to remember that the brand began as just a search company. Perhaps for some managers, managing that bloated cash cow would have been enough. But that’s not the path that Larry and Sergey have chosen.
One of the newest ideas for Google is Project Loon. (How’s that as a name for admitting the potential folly?) Google knows that two-thirds of the world’s population doesn’t have web access. So the idea is to bring it to them… via balloons. Seriously. The balloons are intended to travel about 20km about the earth where winds are (mostly) steady and slow. The 50 foot balloons use both wind and solar power to function. On the ground, you’ll need a special Google antennae to pick up the signal.
Project Loon was recently tested in New Zealand, and the next test will be in Central Valley, CA. At first blush, you might think it’s a very nice idea to bring Internet access to folks who don’t have it. And you’d be right. But don’t forget, one of the very first things people do on the web is use Google for search, and that makes them Google customers who can click on ads. In other words, it’s really a way to grow the Google customer base – by leaps and bounds.
Not to be outdone, Facebook is pursuing another option to expand web access to those who don’t have it. Their plan is to cut the cost of delivering basic Internet services on mobile phones – particularly in developing countries. (Not coincidentally, this is also where Facebook needs to find new users.) Facebook is making this a joint effort with Samsung, Nokia, Qualcomm and Ericsson according to several sources. The program is being called Internet.org.
Instead of balloons and antennae on the ground, Internet.org will work by simplifying phone apps and improving the electronics in mobile phones so they can transmit more data while using less battery power. Of course, you still need to have a mobile phone to make it work.
So why are both of these leading brands trying these far-fetched ideas? Here’s what the New York Times says: ‘Both companies are trying to meet Wall Street’s demands for growth by attracting customers beyond saturated markets in the U.S. and Europe – even if they have to help build services and some of the infrastructure in poorer parts of the world.’
Put simply, this is how business works today. It’s not just a matter of selling your brand against the competition anymore. You have to find ways to expand your potential target that go far beyond the obvious. Or create new product variations that have more relevance to your core target. Or both. If it’s too ambitious to do on your own, try partnering with other companies. It’s either that, or sit on the sidelines while more ambitious companies forge brave new worlds, and new customers.