In 2002, Google became synonymous in the public imagination with Internet search — so much so that readers of Interbrand’s BrandChannel.com site voted Google the brand of the year. The search company displaced last year’s winner, Apple, and beat out Coke and Starbucks.
BrandChannel.com asked readers to rate brands on the impact they had on their lives in 2002. Out of 1,315 respondents, Google received 15 percent of the vote for the top spot, beating Apple’s 14 percent share. Coca-Cola ranked No. 3 with 12 percent, followed by Starbucks with 11 percent.
Last year, Google ranked No. 4, garnering 10 percent of the vote for brand of the year.
Interestingly, unlike many dot-coms and even mega-brands like Coke, Google has built a powerful brand while eschewing television ads. The company has instead mostly relied on word-of-mouth marketing. In a similar vein, Amazon.com announced yesterday that it would drop TV advertising and plow the money into free-shipping offers.
According to BrandChannel.com editor Robin Rusch, Google has thrived by staying true to its technology roots, while adding a whimsical logo and catchy name.
“Google is the key to figuring out the Internet,” she said, adding that the company had sites in many languages to appeal to a global audience. ” A large part of its [marketing] success is through word of mouth.”
The Mountain View, Calif., company has long-trumpeted its bare-bones interface, uncluttered with distracting and intrusive ads or the industry’s bete noir, pop-ups.
The approach has clearly paid dividends. Google has built a large and loyal following of its algorithmic search. Its site drew 14.4 million users last week, according to Nielsen//NetRatings, and Google’s search results appear everywhere from on AOL to on Yahoo!.
Google’s ubiquity, however, has not been its only strength. Last July, another branding consultancy, Brand Keys, released a study that showed Google retaining the highest brand loyalty among online brands thanks to high ratings for user satisfaction.
“It just seems like they’re focused on providing good service,” said Gary Stein, an analyst with Jupiter Research, which is owned by the parent company of this site. “The image of Google is a small store.”
However, the strength of Google’s brand could end up hurting it in its paid-listings business. Rival Overture has harped on the fact that it does not compete with its partners for traffic, while Google has shown signs of developing into a general-purpose portal by adding a news section and shopping-comparison tool.
This tension became apparent in the aftermath of Yahoo!’s $235 million purchase of search-technology provider Inktomi last December. Many analysts saw it as a first step for Yahoo! to sever ties with Google in response to the competitive challenge it feels.
Stein said Google had benefited from a tremendous amount of attention in 2002, particularly from the media. In 2003, however, the company faces tough decisions on a number of fronts, including whether to file for an IPO that would certainly take away its small-store image.
“They’re going to have to deal with all of the issues of the mainstream guys,” he said. “They’re going to have to make a decision about what they want to be.”