13 things for which Google gives thanks

U.S. Thanksgiving Day comes late this year for retailers, but makes more time for Google to count its blessings and to offer gratitude for them. Oh, they are bountiful, and there is still another month of them to come. The year 2013 will be remembered as one of the finest in Google history. The company has so much to be thankful for, I could have trebled the list.

But for succinctness, I whittle down to those things that mean more than others or that otherwise would be overlooked in the typical yearly review. The list goes from that for which Google should be least thankful to most. Gobble. Gobble.

13. Brand ranking. Interbrand ranks Google as the No. 2 global brand, right behind Apple. Both companies nudged out Coca-Cola, which led for 13 consecutive years. Google rose higher, however -- from fourth -- and exceeded Apple growth (34 percent to 28 percent).

12. Scroogled. If social networks are any measure, Microsoft's anti-Google marketing campaign is self-destructive. Negative advertising that targets a popular brand often backfires, and Google, along with Apple, is the feel-good company of the year.

11. $1,000 share price. How strange are corporate fortunes made. When Apple approached $700 a share in September 2012, speculation stories about $1,000 a share were everywhere. The stock fell back and rides just above $500 now. Last month, with few public predictions, Google shot past $1K, and even set a new 52-week high this week. The stock suddenly is Wall Street's darling -- and loads of social shares, blog posts and news stories cuddle Google in the warmth of positive perceptions.

10. Kit Kat. Some Googlers and confectioners deserve big holiday bonuses. Naming Android 4.4 after the candy bar and tying in a contest is brilliant marketing. Little green robots adorn Kit Kat candy bars everywhere, with promise of winning something -- perhaps Google Play bucks or Nexus 7.

9. Guy Kawasaki. The former Apple evangelist, consultant and writer is worth whatever Googorola pays him. Kawasaki has traveled the globe promoting Moto X and generally pimping Android and Motorola. Nine months into his job as chief evangelist, Kawasaki proves the importance of having the right frontman (or woman). For all geekdom's obsession with product features, people respond more to people. Doh!

Kawasaki is a good fit for Motorola. Like Apple, where he cut his teeth reviving lost-cause brands, Moto has a core cult-like following of devotedly-committed users. They remind me of Apple circa 1996, when closure looked likely but a small group remained loyal and vocal about the products. There is something oh-so Apple about Motorola customer-service and approach to Moto X (but let's save that discussion for No. 2).

8. Cheap Chromebooks. Microsoft has a problem. Nearly all loyal Windows OEMs now sell Chromebooks -- even HP! Meanwhile, NPD says that at U.S. retail the laptops account for one-quarter of sales in the only segment that grows -- sub-$300. Chromebook is a crazy concept. Google isn't the first company to knock against the Microsoft monopoly but one of the few to show even the slimmest success.

7. Chromecast. The entertainment dongle, which takes features from the never-released Nexus Q and combines them with others from Google TV, is a Trojan Horse. Google has long sought to break into the TV advertising market, but with greatly limited success. This media device is the solution.

Chromecast is a brilliant example of David Thinking, like David in the Goliath Biblical story changing the rules rather than playing by them. If Google can't get the ads by going to the TV market, the company brings the content to the television in a circuitous way, pulling advertising along and bridging the two ad models.

Chromecast's low price is much of why I call it a Trojan Horse. Consumers buy in for just $35, opening future revenue stream worth billions to Google. Meanwhile, the company undercuts Apple TV, Roku and other streaming boxes anywhere from one-half to two-thirds. With partners like HBO Go, Hulu and Netflix already supporting Google's dongle, success is sure.

6. Glass-holes. Who could forget -- and who doesn't want to -- Robert Scoble wearing Google Glass in the shower? I cringe to think! But techies like him draw needed attention to the wearable computer Google has yet to market or even reveal compelling purpose for. Hashtag #throughglass exposes photos and videos that invade your privacy and make geek gods of the chosen few.

Google gets loads of free publicity from enthusiasts other people tend to trust and follow all while appearing to be the future of everything. Innovation often isn't a measure of what you do but how you are perceived.

Glass isn't just functional, it's fashionable. In a post here nearly nine years ago praising Apple's understated design ethic, I observed: "In a world of color, white dramatically stands out...If you see white headphones, an iPod is almost certainly attached". Glass is even more prominent. How could you possibly miss someone wearing it?

Meanwhile, Glass-holes beta test features and apps, making Google look good while drawing attention to themselves. If there's a perpetual motion machine of mutual narcissism, Glass is it.

5. Google Account. Some people reading will wonder: "Where is Google+ on the list?" Google Account matters more. The service anchors Plus, and services the search and information giant or other companies provide. The identity feature is essential to Google Internet dominance -- and pulling along ad revenues. GA is the glue binding together Google Now, Plus, Search and other services, all made possible by the U.S. government's generous blessing (see No. 1).

Heck, Android Caller ID will leverage GA. Plans are big, and if you have an identity, Plus is there, too. Then there is the plan to tack your mugshot, lifted from Google Account, and reviews to advertising. The search policy change really deserves its own item, but for succinctness it's combined here.

4. Google+ Hangouts and Photos. Now you can have Plus, but not the broader social network. Two features are the stars from which users shine. As services like Facebook, Instagram and YouTube show, photos and videos are what people share most. Google continually updated both functions throughout the year but delivered the Big Bang for Halloween.

Photo-sharing and video-casting give good reasons to use Plus, and provide Google with free content around which to wrap advertising in the future -- or incorporate into third-party advertising for those who chose not to, or didn't know they could, opt out of recent search policy changes.

3. "What Matters". Google's marketing tagline -- and all the advertising and contests supporting it -- is brilliant. No tech company on the planet generates more positive perceptions about innovation and good feelings around its products. Google's public engagement is truly aspirational, showing people how their lives will be better for using its stuff. Examples:

The commercials are emotional first, showing people being happy or becoming happier while using Google products.

2. Motorola. I told you so. When the Internet rabble droned on and on about how Google bought Motorola for patents, I pointed out the value of the hardware business, too.

Software can't be developed divorced from hardware. The search and information giant has turned Motorola into a research-and-development lab for improving Android and supporting services, giving Google an end-to-end software-hardware-services platform rivaling Apple's, from a R&D perspective. OEM licensees benefit as Android gets better faster.

But where the fruit-logo company obsesses on touch, Motorola makes touchless, contextual interaction the priority. Moto X is best example. Think "Star Trek"-like command and response. Google will use contextually delivered information to win mobile advertisers and satisfy users' immediate needs.

Meanwhile, Googorola gets tangible, meaningful brand-building customer service around things people buy and that are hugely personal. Moto X is assembled in Texas and personalized to order, and it's my experience that customer support is oh-so Apple-like.

There's more! Motorola, the cell phone's inventor, establishes an important beachhead in frenemy territory. Samsung's huge smartphone success makes TouchWiz the major motif most smartphone users get. Google needs to regain control of Android. One tactic already succeeds -- advancing features through must-have Google products or services independent of Android version. Motorola puts a tangible, consumer brand before shoppers considering Galaxy devices or even iPhone.

1. Federal Trade Commission. Google celebrated the New Year by walking away from a FTC antitrust investigation with little more than slap on the wrist before a handshake. The consent decree essentially hands Google a "license to kill". The monopolist is free to cross-integrate anything and everything leveraged off search. Microsoft could only dream about such freedom around Windows a decade ago when burdened by harsher government restrictions and oversight.

The investigation produced nine million documents, some of which clearly show Google tried to snuff out competitors. But U.S. antitrust law seeks to preserve competition, which benefits consumers. Protecting competition doesn't mean protecting competitors. They can still be harmed as long as consumers aren't.

"While not everything Google did was beneficial, on balance we did not believe that the evidence supported a FTC challenge to this aspect of Google’s business under American law", agency chairman Jon Leibowitz said in January.

While there is no double-jeopardy law for monopolists, the FTC is unlikely to open a new investigation. Google must still watch its Ps and Qs. But that double-oh in the name, like 007's, now carries license to kill -- and that means search used to gain advantage in adjacent markets. Smaller companies and startups beware.

Photo Credit: Maria Dryfhout/Shutterstock

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