This week's news that Google is to create a new umbrella organisation called "Alphabet" raises a question about the Google brand. Splitting the Google company out into segments may well be the right corporate choice, but does it harm the values and identity of Google?
Firstly let me mention Apple (it is compulsory on this site!). Apple's brand identity and values inform so much about what it makes, how it acts and what it says. Apple rarely call it the Apple "brand" but Jobs and now Cook frequently speaks about the Apple way and how it approaches each decision in business. Some of the recent criticism of Apple Music focussed on how the service was confusing and possibly at times very un-Apple due to the complexity of the choices and the array of services (Apple Music, iTunes Match, iTunes Store etc).
This also relates to other aspects of the company. John Gruber, recently discussing appointments to the Apple board, said that : "The company attributes its profound success over the last 15 years to the Apple Way — and rightly so, I say. I doubt Apple’s board would consider an outsider as CEO until and unless the company falters significantly and loses its way."
This idea of an Apple "way" is what I would call the brand. A brand identity does not stop at the product or service, but should extend into every aspect of the decision-making process. This is certainly true for a company like Apple, which is a lifestyle brand. Apple can be in multiple markets such as PCs, tablets, phones, watches, cloud computing because their entry and their success in that area is informed by the core Apple brand. Their approach to each category is informed by their central values- taking a beautifully designed product or service to the consumer and making it as easy as possibly to understand and use. Excellence in product execution, delivery and support crosses all of Apple's markets. Apple rarely enters new markets, but when it does it is because it feels it can contribute to this category but remain true to its values.
Which leads us back to Google. Most of the income at Google comes from search. For me, Google is a science plan. In terms of its brand, it is clinical and accessible, but not loveable. Its values centre on efficiency and connectivity and when this is applied to search or maps they are highly effective. People use Google services because it is efficient and fast, not because they have a major loyalty to Google or feel close to its values.
So when it comes to splitting out the parts which make up the current Google structure, it is rather like splitting atoms or engineering components. Many of the elements in the current Google mix sit alongside their counterparts like odd ends in a box. Google search currently sits next to Maps, Android, Docs, Glass, YouTube and Gmail. The organisation feels like a collection of odds and ends, packaged together but not sitting neatly like bricks in a home. There is no strong central brand which holds these parts together.
It may well be argued by Google that they have brand values- I don't doubt for a second that they have spent time and money on this. But the brand identity is a lose collection of ideas- being unconventional, innovative and experimental all spring to mind. But does the customer care about this? Hardly. Cutting the existing Google into pieces and calling it Alphabet matters from a corporate point of view, but the consumer will continue to search and navigate with its products, almost unaware of any change.
In the end this is due to how the Google brand sits in the heart of the consumer- a change induces a shrug of the shoulders at best, mostly people won't even notice. Emotionally the brand is something of a blank canvas, an open toolbox for new concepts and products as time passes. Breaking these pieces apart would matter to Google if its brand had been developed in the way that Apple had; but this is not the case.
So while Google can be split into its constituent parts and renamed as Alphabet due to the openness of its brand identity, the danger lies in that those parts can also be replaced by consumers and perish without the customer feeling any sense of loss. In the fast moving world of technology, Google relies on superior function to keep users interested. It certainly can't depend on loyalty or passion for its brand values.