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"The end of brand loyalty" and Google

     
4:56 pm on May 3, 2014 (gmt 0)

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James Surowiecki has written an interesting piece on "Twilight of the Brands" for The New Yorker that has relevance to Google Search:

[newyorker.com...]

So what's the tie-in with Google Search? Well, people often complain here that Google favors big brands, but if that's true, it may not be true indefinitely. And I'd argue that, even if big brands do enjoy an advantage in Google Search results, they don't have the same advantage that they had in the business world of 20 or 25 years ago.

Let's turn back the clock with a real-life example: Planning a flight.

In the pre-Google/pre-Web era, Joe Traveler probably would have:

- Called a travel agency, or...

- Called an airline's reservations number, or...

- Visited an airline's ticket office.

His opportunities for easy research (including comparison of prices, routings, etc.) would have been limited.

Fast forward to the mid- and late 1990s, and we might have found Joe going directly to Expedia, Travelocity, or one of the other big-name online travel agencies of the era (assuming that Joe had a reasonably fast Internet connection and was comfortable with the idea of buying products and services on the Web.)

Fast forward again to the present day, and we might find Joe comparing fares, routings, etc. on any number of sites that he's found in Google. Expedia is still a big brand (Travelocity less so), but search has made it easy for Joe to look up flights, compare fares, and book a ticket through any number of outlets.

In other words, it may seem that big brands have an advantage over the little guy these days, but is that true in an historical context? Probably not. The choices that Joe Traveler has when he searches Google on "LAX-SFO fares" or "JFK-LHR flights" are far greater (or at least far greater to find) than his choices of a generation ago.
10:26 pm on May 3, 2014 (gmt 0)

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Thanks Editorial Guy - it's taken a while, but you've finally indoctrinated me to realise Google are the Good Guys after all. Kudos to you for your persistence.
10:33 pm on May 3, 2014 (gmt 0)

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The choices that Joe Traveler has when he searches Google on "LAX-SFO fares" or "JFK-LHR flights" are far greater (or at least far greater to find) than his choices of a generation ago.

That might be true for rural areas, but not medium size metropolitan areas. We had good old fashioned newspapers that had a significant amount of travel advertising, especially on weekends. There were many, many ads quoting air travel fares, often in a table form listing origin and destination points. Even in rural areas, big city newspapers were often available.
1:02 am on May 4, 2014 (gmt 0)

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you've finally indoctrinated me to realise Google are the Good Guys after all.


Kind of missed the point, haven't you?

It isn't about bad guys or good guys, it's about change and whether glasses are half empty or half full.

We had good old fashioned newspapers that had a significant amount of travel advertising, especially on weekends. There were many, many ads quoting air travel fares, often in a table form listing origin and destination points.


Sure, but there weren't nearly as many choices as there are now. In any case, flights are just one example. Want replacement heels for a pair of [unusual brand] shoes that are no longer being produced? On the Web, you can find them from big sites (eBay) and small ones (a mail-order footwear vendor in Virginia). That's great for the customer, but it's also great for the vendor who otherwise would have a tough time reaching people who have a need for specialized replacement heels.

And yes, people here may fume that eBay is in Google's search results for those replacement heels, but the footwear vendor in Virginia is in there, too. (In this particular example, the footwear vendor in Michigan outranks eBay on Google's SERP.)

Fact is, there are a lot more opportunities for specialized businesses than there were 20 or 25 years ago. It's easy to complain that you're being outranked by Amazon or eBay (assuming that you are), but 20 or 25 years ago, you would have been buying direct-mail lists or running ads in the backs of magazines.
3:12 am on May 4, 2014 (gmt 0)

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I don't see the connection between one published article and the behavior of a major search engine. How or why is Surowiecki's analysis binding on Google?
6:36 am on May 4, 2014 (gmt 0)

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The choices that Joe Traveler has when he searches Google on "LAX-SFO fares" or "JFK-LHR flights" are far greater (or at least far greater to find) than his choices of a generation ago.


Haven't read the article, so just going by your summation. Here are my reservations (no pun intended!):

1. A generation ago the prices were regulated. It was expensive to fly but the costs were more or less the same. The airlines were more profitable under price regulation.

2. After deregulation some airlines did indeed begin to compete, apparently driving other airlines out of business, such as PanAm.

3. Fast forward to today, data mining technologies allow airlines to maximize profits by raising prices the sooner the flight is etcetera. Technology has changed the way pricing happens in order to squeeze the most out of travelers.

We're probably not paying more though!
8:52 am on May 4, 2014 (gmt 0)

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Some peoples glasses are ALWAYS half full no matter what. Some peoples glasses are ALWAYS half empty no matter what. Some people will ALWAYS see Google as bad. Some people will always see Google as good.

We should have 2 more forums on here.

1. I love Google.
2. I hate Google.

The rules will be simple. If you hate google and you post in the I love google forum you will have your glass filled to half full ... and visa versa.

You will also be forced to spend a weekend with the member that loves google the most.

If you post in the I hate google forum but you love google, you will have your glass set to half empty. You will also be forced to spend a weekend with the member that hates google the most.
9:21 am on May 4, 2014 (gmt 0)

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I think the OP's observation there were revelations regarding Google might be a bit stretched. From the New Yorker article, very high in the text:

It’s a truism of business-book thinking that a company’s brand is its “most important asset,” more valuable than technology or patents or manufacturing prowess. But brands have never been more fragile. The reason is simple: consumers are supremely well informed and far more likely to investigate the real value of products than to rely on logos.


THE information source is google, of course... ie, the likely first place most folks it to find things. And it is quite true tat absolute value tends to drive purchasing more than brand, but that is not an indication that brand is fading or in trouble. The article was specific to B&M and similar real world companies... and does mention that the web has one part in the diminishing of brand LOYALTY, which is quite different than brand recognition. Folks are opting for the best price. Those who have been decades building their brand aren't very flexible in their pricing because it does cost to maintain that recognition with advertising, etc.

I wouldn't count these behemoths out, however. They did not become the brands they are because they could not adapt and press forward.
10:12 am on May 4, 2014 (gmt 0)

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To directly answer your general point though...one of the strengths of the internet was that you didn't need a lot of money to put your products or services in front of a large audience. It was a level playing field. Now Google - through their de facto monopoly - have worked to remove this level playing field and reintroduce the idea that you need to be established financially to get a secure foothold into most niches. I don't see this as a step forward - more a step back to how things were prior to the internet. Now the average shopper is being robbed of real choice in both the physical high street (where it's dominated by chains/brands) and online (dominated by brands). Of course, I expect someone to talk about exceptions to the rule as a response to my point :)

[edited by: aakk9999 at 2:28 pm (utc) on May 4, 2014]
[edit reason] ToS [/edit]

12:05 pm on May 4, 2014 (gmt 0)

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i was wondering how many price comparison engines google displays these days for eCommerce related keywords? If you are in US and are searching for say a mobile phone, are there any comparison engines that google gives you for picking up the best ones?
2:50 pm on May 4, 2014 (gmt 0)

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It seems the thread conversation has run its course so I am going to lock it.