Google Glass's clever marketing vision

If latest reports are to be believed Google is close to its latest and possibly biggest ever launch. You may have already seen the radical prototype being worn by someone. More interestingly, Google’s exciting product might already have seen you - because the launch in question is eyewear.

Mark Ritson

And not just any eyewear either. Google Glass incorporates a tiny prism display, an embedded camera, a microphone, a GPS locator and a bone induction amplifier that enables the glasses to make audible sounds despite not being directly connected to your ears.

Add all that up and you have a unique technological device that operates using voice control. You can do video conferencing as you walk around your garden. You can access Google Maps while on a hike and have your glasses project the right path onto your vision. You can take a picture instantly with a single voice command. The applications and implications are enormous and, according to several Google employees familiar with the project, Google Glass will launch by the end of the year, with a retail price of around £500.

The most interesting aspect of the launch, however, is not the technology, but the marketing plan behind it. A month ago Google quietly announced it was opening up its Explorer programme, previously reserved for software developers, to a first round of consumers. Applicants were asked to submit photographs and videos that communicated who they were and what they would do with their Google Glass. According to Google, the company will select the “boldest and most creative” applicants to become the first official wearers.

To understand what Google is hoping to achieve with this initial recruitment strategy, or rather what it is trying to avoid, we must step back in time 15 years and remember the early days of Bluetooth. Bluetooth was a technological marvel. The idea of not needing cables to connect devices over short distances was remarkable. And of all the applications the one with the biggest potential was, of course, the Bluetooth headset.

Even today, if I said that you could buy a device for £100 that enables you to leave your phone in your bag all day and simply touch your ear when you want to call anyone or answer your phone, I’ll bet you would be interested. Back in 2000 this was a revelatory idea and the confederation of companies behind Bluetooth - which included Ericsson, Toshiba and Intel - thought they had an amazing opportunity that would probably replace the mobile phone as the central telecommunications accessory.

They were so convinced of its potential that they made the classic technological error of becoming ‘product-oriented’. Sure that Bluetooth headsets would sell themselves, they were launched without extensive market research, clear segmentation, targeting or positioning. The result will go down in history as one of the great marketing blunders of all time. Bluetooth headsets went on the market in 2000 and instantly attracted strong sales, but from a very specific market segment - geeks. If you had a low EQ and a high IQ you could not resist.

But there was a catch. Bluetooth headsets are wearable and thus highly visible. Within weeks the product became associated with the consumers who were so clearly wearing it everywhere. It became a geek product. By 2001 anyone with even a vague sense of self-awareness would not be seen dead with one - unless they were hidden away inside their car.

Had Bluetooth targeted a small legion of cool executives in top companies and offered them the first headsets, I maintain we would all be wearing them right now. Same product, same price, but with the all-important first target segment being aspirational executives rather than off-putting geeks. Such is the importance of segmentation. A good marketer not only knows who the segments are, they also understand the dynamic relationships between them.

So it should be clear how smart Google really is - not only the R&D team producing Google Glass but also the marketing department launching it. The 8,000 consumers Google has selected from hundreds of thousands of applicants are those who submitted the boldest suggestions on how they would use and wear Google Glass. And I’ll wager Google also took a long hard look at their profiles to ensure these people were cool, aspirational and un-geeky.

The first consumers will soon be invited to collect their Google Glass spectacles in person in New York City. Google will get first-hand feedback from their new consumers on the usability of the product. But, more important, this newly formed army of cool will spread out like a branding diaspora. The first time you will see Google Glass will not be in a print ad, it will be when someone in your office or gym turns up with the product on their face.

And you can bet it will be a cool face. A smart face. And certainly not a geeky face.

Readers' comments (8)

  • Not sure if I follow the Bluetooth headsets logic. Isn’t this just a case of product meeting a specific need?

    The vast majority use their phone may be a few minutes a day. It would be silly to wear or carry a headset on your person just for that. Also earphones are much more useful, given the phones are the de facto music player of choice. And of course double up for hands free calls.

    I do see minicab drives and call centre workers use these, so perhaps it was always meant to be a niche product.

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  • I think the Bluetooth headset logic is all about getting the targeting and segmentation wrong SG. Although the product perfectly meets specific needs, it became more of a fashion statement highly associated with geeks, thus steering the majority of people away from being seen with one. Had Bluetooth been introduced into the market in a similar fashion as google glass, I agree we would all be using such devices (at lease I would!)

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  • nice work Google...though three US states already rapid legjslating in advance to ban the glasses while driving

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  • Hi Mark, I manage Bluetooth devices for Sennheiser, one of the global leaders in portable sound, and yet I hate to wear those over the ear devices. The next generation will be over the head Bluetooth that integrates to your audio files, podcasts, office unified comms seamlessly so Bluetooth is evoleving not shrinking due to complementary technology and cheap bandwidth. In the last 5 years the explosion of visible headsets for music etc makes a device for new generation workers to blend pleasure tech with business tech acceptable and very powerful. With regard to adding video, there is a need and a place for it, but also times you do not vision either in or out of your comms space - just think how many times we Skype with video turned off? About half the time for me. Regards Geoff, MBA from MBS 2006.

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  • I have doubts that Google glasses will have success in spite of smarter marketing.


    Simple question: do you want to interact with a person wearing such device?

    It will be a geek's product again.

    To be mainstream that kind of technology should be implanted in your brain like in sci-fi books.

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  • I think the power shift from Humans to machines has started happening already. With Google Glass I would say it would go a step further. Imagine, wearing a glass and staying connected on GPS...always the person wearing it would be followed by the technology. Earlier Apple came up with the iShoes. I felt the same when they came up with it. But the Google Glass is a bit too much. Let us see how far the technology could go and how much the power shift would happen. Its high time humans realized this.

    Digital Marketing Executive

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  • Google glasses are a pretty scary thought, however times are changing and rapidly and I agree with Loka in some aspects. I do think though that the younger generation will get sucked into this and in the next 10 years or so we will be living in an environment very similar to that of the film 1984 - big brother is watching you! nowhere to hide, everything tracked by someone or something somewhere. Google is a monster and all the social media sites pretty much know everything about us already, I don't think there is any stopping of the road we are on until society stands up and says enough is enough. I think though it will take some major change in attitude or key event for us to say as a race we do not want to go any further even if technology allowed it.

    kind regards

    Gareth Parkin
    Managing Director

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  • My naïve faith in humanity clings to a belief that geeks are cooler than any executive or jogger and that most folk will agree. An “army of cool” spreading from an office or gym? Fuck that. A cool face? Maybe. A smart face? Definitely. A geeky face? Hopefully. If any decent early adopter sees these worn by a phoney suit or a narcissistic gym bunny, then its game over man.

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