The entry-level model—GB-1001—is a rack-mounted appliance that can search up to 1.5 million documents at a rate of 300 queries per minute. Alternatively a cluster of interlinked appliances can process over 1000 queries a minute and search over 15 million documents.
Customers include data-heavy organizations like professional service firms, libraries, publishers, law firms and even the World Bank. The Search Appliance starts at US$ 32,000 and includes two years of support.
For a brand that most people still associate with Internet searches, Google’s first major attempt to bridge the gap between software and hardware presents both challenges and opportunities.
In brand terms, perhaps the most significant aspect of the Google hardware is its name: The Google Search Appliance. This is not the “Searchmaster from Google” or the “Megaindexer with Google technology.” It is, quite simply, Google in a box.
Since listing on NASDAQ, Google Inc has unleashed a number of product innovations, including personalized search engine software (which customizes searches to the types of material you are interested in), the new Google mini (which is the Search Appliance in miniature and promises to search your Intranet or website), and a downloadable search tool that combs the disk drive of your PC. Other innovations include human-assisted searches (for a fee) and searches that are limited to reputable academic papers.
All are legitimate expressions of the Google brand, and the essence of Google is clearly visible in all of them. Unusually, diversification seems to have strengthened—rather than diluted—the brand.
In justifying the creation of its Search Appliance, Google says that the logic of a hardware solution is about making things easier. There’s no complex programming or systems installation to carry out. All the software is pre-installed in the box, and the set-up involves little more than plugging it in and a small amount of configuration. All of this makes sense technically and it fits well with the theme of simplicity that runs through the Google brand, but there’s more to this than merely being simple.
An often-quoted rule of thumb for brand strategy holds that broadening focus weakens brands, and it seems likely that a brand with less ability to stretch might have taken this approach and stuck with its existing formula. A less confident organization may have been tempted to introduce a sub-brand or parallel brand, and left the core online search engine as a separate identity: untarnished by in-house systems, desktop systems or indeed hardware.
Brandchannel examined the Google brand several years ago, and in most respects the brand is little changed since then. Google is still about simplicity; about information delivered; about making things easy and uncomplicated. But the one aspect of the Google brand that has changed is a carefully orchestrated broadening of “search” from purely internet-bound browsing to the power of information made easily available– regardless of how this is delivered.
The decision to retain a brand monolith (i.e., one brand spanning many touch points) in spite of the broadening offer is consistent with the broadening brand essence. Clearly, Google Inc sees its core product as the delivery of information per se: not merely online information. Google Inc is not called Google.com and there’s a good reason for this. The company makes no mention of the Internet in its mission statement: “Google's mission is to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful.” Google machines, Google people and Google products, all help to make the brand more tangible, more experiential and in a sense, more real.
So while these new developments are examples of diversification in product terms, in brand terms they are logical steps in delivering a coherent brand through an increasing number of touch points. The fact that Google can do this convincingly shows the significance of a strong brand. An organization with a weaker brand or one that is too-closely associated with a pure-play internet-only environment could have never pulled this off.
While the essence of most other search engines is limited to Internet searches or online information, Google is by no means limited to the online world. This perhaps explains why Lycos or Yahoo are increasingly positioning themselves as portal brands whereas Google is not.
In keeping with its broader brand essence, the language that Google Inc uses to talk about itself has similarly transitioned from “online search” to “knowledge management.” A visit to the corporate section of Google.com reveals a library of articles on the power of accessible information, the knowledge economy, and the time wasted by big businesses with inefficient filing systems.
In terms of brand presence, a brightly-painted steel box seems hard to beat as an icon for the next stage of the brand’s development. Naturally enough, the appearance of the Google Search Appliance fits with the rest of the Google tone of voice. It’s a bright yellow casing, with the familiar multicolour logo painted large across the top of the box and repeated on the front. A decidedly un-corporate bubble cloud cut out features on the fascia. You can tell its part of Google from the other end of the IT department. While its hard not to smile when you see it, the physical presence close to the heart of a client’s mission-critical equipment conveys an important air of authority on a brand which almost seemed too anti-establishment at times. The Search Appliance is a billboard in the server room.
While it is likely to be some time before every small business has a Google Search Appliance purring away in the corner, this development moves the company and the brand forward dramatically. The Google Search Appliance will do little to help awareness of Google (not that it needs it as one of the world’s most recognizable brands). But the hardware does enhance the brand in a number of other critical respects. Firstly, it provides vertical market stretch; and as such confirms the breadth of the brand. (Can you imagine a “Yahoo” in the server room?) This in turn reinforces the sector leadership position of Google’s technology, as something that can be put to work anywhere and everywhere that searching is important.
Last but by no means least, the Google Search Appliance demonstrates the company’s ongoing ability to create a story and generate discussion (as evidenced by this article). Unlike the worst excesses of the dot-com generation, Google has shunned conventional above-the-line marketing techniques since it was first established, so anything with a PR angle is very valuable to the company.
An uncomplicated brand (and a seemingly uncomplicated business) has been key to Google’s extraordinary success. But while in some markets simplicity can look dangerously basic, generic or unsophisticated, this is not the case with Google. In its case, simplicity (sticking to searches; not turning itself into a portal, for instance) has provided breadth: the ability to span many parallel markets, and as the Search Appliance shows, the ability to stretch vertically as well.