Everything I Need To Know About Product Development I Learned From Google

As loyal Search Insider readers know, I've been fleshing out marketing lessons learned from Google for threeconsecutivecolumns as a precursor to a book I'm writing -- Everything I Need to Know About Marketing I Learned From Google. I figure it's never too early to start working on a sequel so, today, I'd like to focus on lessons learned from Google about product development.


The Google corporate site outlines "Ten things we know to be true." (Wish I'd seen these before I set out to capture my last twenty lessons!) These "core principals" can certainly be applied to many facets of business but I think, more than anything, they provide a blueprint for successful product development.



1. Focus on the user and all else will follow.

2. It's best to do one thing really, really well.

3. Fast is better than slow.

4. Democracy on the web works.

5. You don't need to be at your desk to need an answer.

6. You can make money without doing evil.

7. There's always more information out there.

8. The need for information crosses all borders.

9. You can be serious without a suit.

10. Great just isn't good enough.

Here are five more "truths" about product development that I learned from Google.

1.     When in doubt, crowdsource. Why do yourself what you can pawn off on others? From perfecting its image search by creating a game out of having people tag photos to contests for designing its logo, Google has a long track record of tapping the wisdom of crowds to improve its products and assets. The are many benefits to crowdsourcing, not the least of which is being able to take customer input in the context of actual product usage -- as opposed to a focus group -- and incorporate it into the roadmap.

At the recent OMMA Global NY conference, Frances Allen, Brand Marketing Officer for Dunkin Donuts shared a case study of crowdsourcing donut recipes. And companies like InnoCentive are thriving with platforms that allow the likes of P&G, Dow Chemicals to solve R&D problems by tapping the community.

2.     It doesn't have to be perfect. At Google, everything launches in Beta. And some products never leave. As Marissa Mayer retweeted, ""If you're not embarrassed by the first product you launched, you've launched too late." By releasing products before they're perfected, companies can significantly shorten the timeline to get in market and trump slower competitors.

Further, by releasing to small "invite-only" groups, you can build up demand and word-of-mouth -- like Google is doing right now with Wave... gotta love those digital velvet-ropes! A great example of putting this lesson to use is my muse,, who I crowned the iPhone of search back in June. Hunch certainly launched with an imperfect tool but what makes it work -- and gives it Google-killer potential -- is that it gets smarter every time someone uses it.

3.     Leverage the economics of free. This gem comes from Dave Chu from Eton Corporation, who responded to my original column by sending a note through the MediaPost community. As he put it, "There's plenty of free content on the Internet, but very few free tools -- tools that people find useful. Using free tools that weave themselves into our daily lives, Google promotes their brand and helps gets people hooked on their main cash cow.  Search." Indeed, Dave.

There's no question that free can be a very powerful ingredient to creating a successful product -- assuming, that is, there's a monetization net surrounding it. (Ahem, ya heard, Twitter?) In Chris Anderson's book, Free, he points to numerous case studies showing how this pricing strategy can work. A famous example cited in his book is Gillette giving away free razors and charging for the replacement blades. You can also see this concept in play with wireless providers that give away free cell phones and charge you up the wazoo for service.

4.     Open source is the best source. While the Google search algorithm isn't exactly open source, webmasters are able to embed a Google search box on their sites and tailor it to their specs. Perhaps the best example of Google's belief in the power of open source is Android, which allows developers to easily create mobile applications that sit on top of the platform.

The theory is that by creating an open-source ecosystem, your product can be more personal and useful than you could ever hope to make it on your own. Examples of successful open-source deployment include Facebook applications, Mozilla Firefox and content management systems like Drupal. Even the notoriously guarded Apple has embraced open-source development with its SDK for iPhone.

5.     Don't lose the signal. Alas, not everything Google touches turns to gold. As Max Kalehoff advised in his comment on my first column in this series, "To keep it real, you also should include what Google taught you not to do." Sure enough, Google has had its share of product failures. Perhaps two of the most well-known -- at least to the marketing community -- are Google's forays into radio and print advertising. 

Importantly, what Google misjudged when approaching radio and print was not the demand for more efficient and accountable advertising -- similar to search -- through those channels, but the ability -- or lack thereof -- for those media to provide feedback loops and drive ad engagement. As Eric Schmidt said in hindsight, "In both the print and the radio businesses we could not seem to invent or get enough of a signal back to make the network or value really spin... In our model what happens is as people click on ads and as they use our services we get all sorts of ways to improve our products." It's this keen insight that folks like Tivo and Backchannelmedia -- in making TV clickable -- are banking on. And it's what makes the Kindle such an exciting product.   

Ok, that does it for product development lessons learned from Google. Next up -- Everything I Need to Know About Business I Learned from Google.

1 comment about "Everything I Need To Know About Product Development I Learned From Google".
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  1. Aaron B. from, October 7, 2009 at 5:55 p.m.

    Also, try not to overpay something by about $1 billion.

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