The Marketing Behind Google’s Self-Driving Car and Forbes’s Art Collection

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

By: Weston Bonnelle
When the Irrelevant Becomes Relevant: Self-Driving Cars Marketing a Search Engine & Art Collections Adding Credibility to a Magazine

A month ago I attended a Google Recruitment Talk at Duke University and Conversations on Collecting by Robert Forbes at the Ackland Art Museum. While I was at the events, I thought "Why the self-driving car if you are a search engine? Doesn’t the art collection distract Forbes from their website and magazine?" However upon further investigation, I realized that these side projects added meaning to their business and they had a powerful marketing effect. In a sense they became a natural outflow of advertising and branding.

How Side Projects Market Your Primary Services and/or Products
Attract Press – The publicity from side projects is an effective method of tapping into a diverse set of demographics. Robert Forbes speaking at the Ackland Art Museum demonstrates that side projects can help you get invited to related events and introduced to more audiences. Your audience may not be involved with your main service or products; however side projects give you the opportunity to indirectly target a market that has a higher chance at being interested. It gives the press, media and other relevant institutions more chances to connect with you and it opens up more doors for you to connect with audiences at a more personal level. It wouldn’t had made sense for a museum to ask the president of Forbes Lifestyle to give a presentation. However it does make sense for the museum to invite Robert Forbes to speak about art collecting. A major aspect of marketing is to meet your audience where they frequent.

Side projects help your business remain relevant to the news and society. Society is continuously evolving and the media is always looking for breaking news or information, therefore side projects can keep you on the map. Interesting side projects will capture audiences when your main service or products start to seem dull…even if they are high quality. Google initially tried to hide the fact that they were developing a self-driving car which raised speculation. Positive speculation is great for creating buzz about your company. Once the story was confirmed as true, it became a media frenzy.The New York Times article “Google Cars Drive Themselves, in Traffic” gained nearly 300 comments while on the same day a similar article Techcrunch received thousands of tweets and likes.Google secured free press and marketing that was social, subtle and unobtrusive without having to speak about their search engine or other products.

Recruitment and Networking Tool - An innovative, artistic or creative side project can appeal to highly skilled applicants with similar interests and hobbies. It also gives future applicants more information about your company because your side project reveals your mission, purpose and culture. The self-driving car shows to the world that Google is the place for bright engineers that want to be involved with developing cutting edge technology. Side projects provide a source of free recruitment and put you on the radar of talented individuals.

Side projects can also give you a valid reason to build relationships. Forbes’s participation with art collecting, provides an avenue to speak with other billionaires and encourage them to reveal intimate details about their lives. Google is also gaining the attention of industry leaders outside of their field such as car manufacturers. The more influence Google has in other spheres, the more they will be able to grow and expand.

Larger than Life – We live in an entertainment world; therefore you want your business to be perceived as an exciting event and connected to something greater. You also want to be viewed as an empire. These qualities can help you become viral as people associate your business with positive experiences and expertise. Self-driving cars have a strong entertainment component. The recruiter also showed funny clips of a self-driving golf car which left a positive impression. It’s also enjoyable and satisfying for Forbes’s target audience to visit the Forbes Galleries. 

The Forbes Galleries, helps Forbes Magazine appear to be  highly cultured. It’s beneficial to have noble goals above just making money and a mission focused on caring about or enriching the public. Google has claimed that the self-driving car in part was motivated by the desire to reduce deaths and give freedom to those who are too disabled to drive. A commenter on the New York Times article from New York, NY stated “It is nice to see Google working on this type of technology. Larry Page has spoken of the tens of thousands of highway fatalities annually as a major problem which can be solved with technology.” 

Google’s self-driving car is an ambitious project that is ahead of the times while the Forbes art collection is timeless. Both of the side projects help the companies build a legacy that can be spoken about and admired for years to come. Even after the death of Malcolm Forbes, a publisher and the son of Forbes's founder, people are still talking about his art collection. A loyal following and generational admiration is a major aspect to having longevity and maintaining leverage over the customer base. Google’s self-driving car will go down in history, just as Malcolm Forbes’s art collection has historical significant. Years in the future people will discuss how Google revolutionized cars. A commenter from Cheyenne, WY out of shock stated, “Wow. I've always been thinking that cars like this might happen in my grandchildren's time, say, by 2050 or so. But eight years away, wow?”

Embody a Dream and Lifestyle – A self-driving car is a technology enthusiast’s and the sci-fi obsessed wildest dream. The fact that Google is fulfilling a dream will draw in these demographics and encourage them to use the search engine and other Google products. Someone aspiring to be wealthy or who is wealthy can connect with the idea of having an renowned art collection. These side projects add legitimacy to their main business and help audiences relate to them. The self-driving car validates Google as a leader in innovation, proves their competency and provides an example of why they dominate the web. Therefore users subconsciously associated their search engine as having the most advanced algorithms. In the same manner, the art collection validated the Forbes lifestyle and their wealth. Therefore the magazine is assumed to be reliable source of information about acquiring wealth and wealthy people. Your side project is a form of marketing to your core users by resonating with the people, becoming a reference for the industry and helping you be perceived as an authority in the field.

Multidimensional – Dynamic side projects are a major step to avoid being a static company. It gives your business more personality and character which can attract a range of demographics. For example, it’s usually people interested in SEO that will actively read news about search engines. However the self-driving car shows a side to those who are not search engine junkies. By engaging in outside interests, it also humanizes the company and helps the company become more endearing.

It’s also about being able to start a conversation with those that otherwise might not be able to relate to your main service or products. For example Mashable had a poll discussing if people would drive a self driving car, encouraging people from all walks of life to talk about Google. During the recruitment talk, the Duke students were very engaged and asked many intricate questions about the car. Imagine all the visitors that were impressed with the Forbes Galleries that talked about the collection to their associates. It’s all about finding new methods to generate word of mouth.

Distinctive Branding – There are so many startups and comparable businesses therefore it’s important to use branding techniques that stand out from the crowd and give you the marketing edge. Google’s self-driving car gives them individualized press away from Yahoo & Bing and helps them appear more creative and fun than other search engines. Yahoo or Bing doesn’t have a self-driving car, therefore they are left out of these conversations and Google can enjoy the spotlight. Since other search engines do not have futuristic projects, Google has further established their brand as a leader in technology and innovation. In the same manner, Forbes will be branded as a magazine for those that are aspiring or enjoy the finer things in life due to the art collection. Your side project in sense is a safe haven since you can use it to participate in a market that your competition doesn’t have the resources or experience to compete in.

Final Thoughts
In addition to having a natural marketing effect, the side projects are also beneficial for generating a side income and improving the quality of your services or products. It’s always important to have multiple streams of income and incentives to improve your products and services. Side projects help you look at your company from a different angle and make much needed adjustments. Google is using the self-driving car project to improve their maps and navigation. They are also setting the foundation to capitalize off the auto industry. Robert Forbes most likely gets paid for speaking engagements and the art collection add richness the Forbes culture. 

Before investing in a side project make sure that you are financially stable and that your brand is established. It also should be an organic outgrowth of your business and an outlet for your interests. I doubt that these side projects were solely created for marketing purposes; in fact both were developed from the dreams and hobbies of the founder and/or current president. 

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Yzah said...

Since its boom in the industry, Google has been excessively trying to dominate technology in all aspects. While many of these projects succeeded, some flopped. It is fun to watch these Google execs and their business consultant come up with something new each and every time.

Dianne Heath said...

Google is definitely attempting to extend their brand :) Their aggressive advertising of their social network further proves that they lean towards marketing their new products with existing popular products.
They move so fast, that sometimes it's hard for their users to keep up!