How Google Wave will hit marketers

Google has changed the world more than once. The company built the
world’s best search engine, became the world’s biggest advertising
media supplier and is now one of the world’s largest companies – not to
mention being the strongest brand in the world, exceeding USD $100 billion in value.
Tempting to rest on your laurels and rely on your cash cows, one might
think, but Google know how fast change takes place in the online world.
So the company is set to release a product that will change the world
again – and its impact may be far more dramatic than anything Google
has done to date.

If you havent heard of Google Wave
don’t panic. It’s not yet publicly released. At this stage it is still
in the hands of developers and other members of the geek elite. But
the conference that Google held at the end of May, and the subsequent YouTube video
released, is creating buzz worldwide. Just how Google Wave will impact
marketers in the coming months and why, is what this article is all
about.

A bit of background

Google has always had a policy of ‘giving away’ some of their most innovative products. Google Maps, Gmail, the Android
operating system and Google Docs have all been open source and freely
available to the public. While this tactic leaves many people
scratching their heads its not purely altruistic. It is calculated on
the basis that these ‘free’ developments increase internet usage and
ultimately helps Google sell their main product. That product is
Adwords.

This concept is an important part of what Google’s famous ‘auction economics‘ equation, that has allowed he business to become a media giant.

Wave defined – briefly

There has been a
lot of hype around Google Wave already – and with good reason. In this
latest project Google has set out to completely reinvent email, instant
messaging and social networking in one move. This seems like an
audacious move – until you see the presentation video.
In it the project lead says that email, which is really just a digital
form of posted mail, was invented before the world wide web – even
before the internet as we understand it existed. Google asserts that
email is fundamentally flawed, something that anyone who has emailed
multiple recipients and then tried to follow the responses can attest
to. On the other hand social networks that are designed around
conversation ‘threads’ do not hold the power that email has in terms of
exchanging documents and engaging in longer conversations.

This is where Wave comes in. It will enable multi-person
conversations in real time – the people you are conversing with can
even see what you type character by character, if you so desire. And if
you arrive to the conversation late you can rewind and watch it unfold
all over again. It will give you the ability to share maps, video
images and documents with a simple, drag-and drop interface. Other
users can even go and edit what you have written rather than copy
everything and respond one item at a time.

Each of these conversations Google calls a ‘wave’. These waves can
happen publicly or in multi-lateral fashion, or with just two people –
bi-laterally. And each wave can be embedded on a blog or website (I’m
betting this Wave will evolve into a site content management system
before it’s even released), with spell-check and even instant
translation as you go. That’s right – one of the plug-ins already
developed draws on available internet data to translate conversations
from one language to another, with correct sentence structure, as you
type. I’ll discuss the implications of that later.

There is much more to Wave, and now that some developers have got
their hands on it there will be much, much more by the time it
launches. Needless to say this has the potential to create massive
workplace and communication efficiencies (and probably also
distractions as a side effect), get people communicating who have never
been able to communicate before and generally change the way we
interact in the digital space.

Take it – it’s yours

The next big surprise about Wave is that it is entirely open source
based. We are not talking ‘kind of’ open source where only the geekiest
of programmers get to fiddle with it. We are talking ‘completely’ open source. If you are afraid of Google knowing what you are doing then
download it, install it on your own servers, customise it and use it in
anyway you want. This could easily spell the end of company intranets
as they currently exist. When Google said they wanted to change the way
we communicate, they meant it.

This means that, as a platform, it has a massive potential. Google
have really just made an unbelievably innovative breakthrough. The real
magic will happen when the rest of the world gets their hands on it and
starts developing new ways of using it.

Get to the point. What does it mean for me?

2009 has been a year of change for the marketing managers of the world.
Newspapers in their current form are fading away, TV delivery is
changing (if you don’t know about Hulu and how Google is planning on
monetising YouTube yet – it’s time to find out. Personalised direct
marketing is coming to a screen near you) and social networks have
taken off as a marketing mechanism.

If you have not kept up with, and truly understood the implications
of social networking, now is the time to knuckle down and learn the new
rules. Wave will either massively boost the popularity of social
networks, or it will swallow them up. Either way the two-way
conversations that are the hallmark of Web 2.0 are here to stay and
they are only going to get more widespread. Human civilisation is based
on social interaction and it cannot be contained.

Don’t be fooled if you think that this technological jump won’t
catch on; that’s what some commentators said about email, instant
messaging and social networks. They all seem to be doing just fine.

This is a good thing – really

As marketers we are going to have to deal with this change –
quickly. The effectiveness of mass media advertising is declining –
fast. Direct and completely measurable marketing will be the way the
world works. Every touch-point will be data rich.

Brands will have to define themselves differently because niche
interests will rise to the surface very quickly. This will be
customisation as on a scale never seen before. But, as the saying goes,
“where one door closes, another one opens”. There will also be a great
potential to understand such special interests, insert yourself into
conversations and market intelligently and effectively to niche
audiences. The brands that are using platforms such as Twitter already
know this well. They are changing policies and communication methods
and cashing in on the transparency trend.

What’s even more exciting is that markets that were closed due to
language and geographic restrictions and other ways, will open up.
Technologies like Wave really have the potential to let brands talk to
groups who happen to be into banana flavoured lemonade anywhere in the
world.

This is what Seth Godin was getting at in his recent TED talk.
Tribes are forming – and they’re about to get even better tools. Get
used to it. Understand it. Then get out there and give them what they
want.