Yesterday, Google announced that it was rebranding itself, folding Google under the umbrella corporate name Alphabet and creating some other sub-brands. And so passes the middle age of a once-promising company.

The great Samuel Johnson quipped that “patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.” If Johnson were alive today, he’d probably point out that “rebranding is the last strategy of the clueless.”

This is not to say that rebranding is always a bad idea. If your company is up to its neck in scandal, rebranding can limit the onus, as when Blackwater renamed itself Xe Services and then Academi to escape the stink of the Iraq War.

But when a company rebrands after it’s failed to launch successful new products, and that rebranding makes no sense whatsoever, it’s a sign that it has run out of ideas and is now focusing on appearances rather than substance.

Look, if there’s anything that’s true in high-tech business, it’s that rebranding can’t fix a product problem. And Google has a huge product problem: It’s a one-trick pony.

Yes, Google dominates online advertising with its search engine and YouTube makes money, but the company has failed utterly to create any other viable product. Remember: Google bought YouTube when Google Video flopped.

Even Android, despite its popularity as an alternative to Apple iOS, isn’t a financial success for Google. In fact, the company makes more money from ads displayed on iOS that it does on Android ads.

Meanwhile, the world is full of early adopters of Google's highly touted products who were eventually left high and dry. Some people, for instance, bet their businesses that Google Glass was the Next Big Thing. They must feel pretty stupid now that it’s died the death.

But even if the rebranding made any strategic sense, the name Alphabet is horrendously, wretchedly plain-wrap, so amorphous (“everything from A to Z”) that it’s meaningless, like the expression “worldwide focus.”

More important, there doesn’t seem to be any reason for the rebranding (and consequent “shuffle the deck chairs” reorganization) other than to assuage or stroke the egos of the executives involved.

Rebranding, launching sub-brands, and restructuring are expensive and will consume (and have undoubtedly already consumed) hundreds of hours of management time and energy. It’s the epitome of corporate navel-gazing on a pay-per-minute basis.

Actually, we should have seen this coming when the mainstream press started hyping Google’s work environment and idolizing its employees. I don’t know about you, but when I read those articles, I kept thinking: “What a bunch of self-satisfied wienies.”

Same thing IMHO with Google’s unofficial “Do No Evil” motto--a perfect example of the law of inverse relevance: the less you intend to do about something, the more you have to keep talking about it.

In any case, the die is cast and Google is now trundling toward the alphabet soup of corporate senility. In time, Google’s search engine will go from being a cash cow to a lifeline and finally just an asset to be acquired.

Mark my words.

Published on: Aug 11, 2015
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