May 8, 2013

Why You Google, and Don’t Yahoo

Why You Google, and Don’t Yahoo

If you declared that you were going to “Yahoo” something, your friends would think that you’ve embraced some Appalachia slang term for driving a three-wheeled recreational vehicle into a ravine.

Although Yahoo! (the exclamation mark is part of the brand name – get off our backs, AutoCorrect) has been a web database/search engine/webmail service since the mid-90’s, since the dot-com bubble burst, it has struggled not only to compete with mammoth Google, but to merely stay viable. Many of us still use Yahoo!; many of us have Yahoo! email accounts and check out Yahoo! news, sports and entertainment. Yet, Google is still the titan. Why?

Why does the human race decide to embrace one product or service and abandon another? Why is this decision not necessarily due to the inherent merits of the product or service in question? Whatever happened to Betamax, anyway?

The Brief History of Betamax

For those of you too young to remember, in the olden days when we still embraced acid washed jeans and cellular phones were approximately the size of toaster ovens, video-rental stores (Ha! How quaint) used to feature both VHS tapes and Betamax tapes for rent. And then, suddenly we noticed that those little Betamax tapes weren’t even being offered alongside the ubiquitous VHS tapes anymore. Of course, no one actually owned a Betamax video cassette recorder so it didn’t really make a difference, and in reality we were kind of glad because we were getting sick of the emotional whiplash of briefly thinking a great movie was available and then seeing that the only copy was Betamax.

However, it was reasonably agreed that Betamax players and tapes were the superior products. There was an AV geek minority that preferred Betamax’s crisper and clearer picture quality picture to VHS, but the VHS warlocks of marketing really hammered the extended VHS tape recording time home to the buying public. To be fair, Betamax began offering its own long-play video cassette recorders in 1977, so the long-play VHS option wasn’t really a legitimate advantage throughout the entirety of the 80’s, but the damage was done. Betamax almost completely disappeared except in local television production, and VHS was mighty enough to trounce even the laserdisc – the cumbersome granddaddy of the compact disc/DVD/BlueRay.

It could be argued that Betamax products were prohibitively expensive, which helped to initiate their downfall. But honestly, when has a product’s outrageous price ever really stopped the public from buying it when the marketing strategies were on point? Hello, Apple!

Branding, Baby!

Anyway, what does this have to do with Google? Well, Google is just as dominant in the web search engine market (and nearly every other communications market, for that matter) as VHS was in home entertainment. We uniformly decided that we liked Google; we were going to use Google exclusively and, moreover, turn it into a verb – the hallmark of any truly successful branding effort. Yes, we know Bing is trying to do the same, (Bing It On!) but it’s like giving yourself a nickname – it never really sticks and your friends all think it’s a little pathetic.

Does this mean that Google search offers the very best, most comprehensive options and services? Not remotely! But Google gives us what we think we want for the moment, and we accept it.

Although Google’s later diversifying attempts were wildly successful (Android and Cloud are taking over the world. Just deal with it), it was their branding that put them over the top, iconographically speaking. We’re not just talking about their logo; we mean the whole simple, clean and even insouciant presentation of their site and services. For a long time, Google was good for one thing and one thing only; scouring the web for information you wanted. When you are known for being the best at one thing, the public tends to flock to you; probably because a business that has mastered one service or product just seems more trustworthy than a Jack of all trades. Be honest, those restaurants that serve pizza, donuts, tacos and sushi just don’t seem appealing, do they?

So what have we learned today? We learned that before Betamax became a synonym for “obsolete,” it was a pretty good product. We learned that simple and effective marketing techniques; branding and commitment to excellence are essential to product success. We’ve learned that if a Web business is going to diversify, it should, ideally, diversify into groundbreaking products and technologies (Google Android and Cloud), rather than social networking sites and ringtones (Yahoo! 360; Yahoo! Mobile). Most importantly, we learned that the Betamax player that we paid more than $1,300 for in 1976 is only going for $110 on Ebay. We’re not even going to mention the devaluation of our Tandy 1400, or we might burst into convulsive weeping.


by Kevin Smith
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