The recent transition from Google to Alphabet has triggered thoughts regarding the role of internal branding in an industry sector driven by technology and innovation, prompting me to ask whether or not it has a role to play in a category that is so functionally focused. Perhaps, not surprisingly, it lies at the centre of much of Google’s journey and success as an organisation, the latest of which sees its market capitalisation raised by some US$25bn.
From the onset, Google has been a purpose-driven organisation with a penchant for the unconventional, and it has stood firmly behind a core set of principles embodied by Larry Page and Sergey Brin, often swimming upstream and challenging the norm — not only in innovation and technology terms but through every facet of the business and modus operandi.
As an example, it defied Wall Street thinking at the time of its initial listing to dictate the IPO pricing, much to the amazement and dismay of brokers, investors and analysts. This was to ensure that the stock would be affordable and accessible to the average person, much like its market offering has been.
From the inside
This deep-seated philosophy has resonated throughout the business over time. The embedded purpose has translated into clear values, behaviours and norms that have differentiated Google from the get go.
State-of-the-art building and office environments have enabled a culture of informality, coolness and being a highly desirable place to work. The hiring of an executive chef, with just 40 employees on board at the time, was the start of an in-house culinary experience that has taken company canteens to a whole new level and shown that it gives a damn about employee wellness and care.
The commitment to the model of 20% free time, for deployment on projects of their own choice, has resulted in employees being incentivised to innovate, explore and create. Oh and, by the way, 1000 Google employees became millionaires when the company went public in 2004.
To the outside
The internal journey has clearly translated externally across a multitude of stakeholders. Who today doesn’t experience the Google product? And who today expresses dissatisfaction with that same product? Not many whom I know.
Interestingly, it is an example of such profound innovation and technological excellence that the offering is largely delivered to market without the human interface.
The temptation would be to assume that this technological capability is an alternative to culture and service, but we would be wrong. It is the very service and culture orientation that drives this seamlessness, and it’s the alignment to one of its mantras “great just isn’t good enough” that has improved search functionality over time — one of the development engineers once suggested that it wasn’t good enough that Google only found the word when spelt properly, but that it should also find the word when typed incorrectly.
This internal culture and external customer-service orientation has naturally extended across many other key target markets. The additional market capitalisation alluded to above is a clear sign of its darling status among the investment community, and that the duo of Page and Brin are a clear inspiration to entrepreneurs and the media the world throughout. They invest heavily in all manner of learning initiatives and foster a macro culture of excellence wherever they go, true to another early Google mantra that suggests “you can make money without doing evil”.
And to the future
Much, no doubt, lies ahead for the new Alphabet as it continues to explore new technologies and innovation, channelling surplus funds into its own venture and growth funds, and pioneering self-driving cars and a range of life sciences. Its ability to develop deep pools of skilled managers and highly engaged talent will ensure that it remains positioned at the forefront of investment in intellectual property — a space in which it is clearly comfortable and a territory in which corporate culture is both toughest to build and develop, but delivers true sustainable competitive advantage, if you can get it right — and it clearly has.
Google has also demonstrated that “you can be serious without a suit”, another of its founding principles, by ensuring that “you focus on the user and all else will follow” — what it has done so well to enable this is to build from the inside first.
This article was originally featured on Marklives.com