In Search of an Audience that Stays, Google Acquires Frommer’s.

Google is really, really serious about becoming a destination—and not just a place for search. It’s also really, really serious about simultaneously competing with rivals like Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Yelp, TripAdvisor and Microsoft, which, you know, is a lot.

With a spate of recent promising acquisitions, Google is mounting a credible challenge. But can it succeed in all its ambitions? The evidence so far seems to indicate: Maybe.

For instance, last year Google surprised many by acquiring the restaurant review guide, Zagat, best known for its slim red “dead tree” books of restaurant ratings and reviews. And just yesterday, Google announced its intention to acquire Frommer’s, maker of the successful line of travel guidebooks. Google intends to merge Frommer’s with Zagat to fill out its travel resources offerings and augment its local search content. And because Google’s goal is to provide a rating and review for literally every destination on earth (á la Yelp), Frommer’s content and on-the-ground travel experts can help move them closer to achieving it.

Travel is an important category for Google. Several years back it acquired ITA, a travel-booking application that enabled Google to launch its own flight and hotel reservation service. It’s been estimated that Google earns $2 - $3 billion per year on travel-related bookings and advertising alone. Which means that Frommer’s global team of travel writers will now have access to an audience in the tens of millions and, when combined with Zagat ratings and reviews, will be able provide that audience with immediate recommendations about where to dine or sleep or shop at their travel destinations of choice (á la TripAdvisor).

All this new content also feeds Google’s nascent social network, Google+, which the company insists is growing and becoming more ubiquitous, and which it has been combining with Google’s local-business profiles from around the world. Add all that to its efforts to create original content for a variety of new “channels” inside Google’s YouTube property, and the evidence is clear: Google wants to be place where its users come and hangout for awhile (á la Facebook).

It’s also evident that Google is feeling the competitive pressures from the likes of Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, and even the much-maligned Yahoo (where one of Google’s own, Marissa Mayer, recently took the reins as CEO).  Otherwise, why bother taking them on? Google’s core search product and allied offerings (Gmail, Docs, Travel, etc.) are already wildly popular and profitable. While Apple, Microsoft, and Amazon have been hard at work for more than a decade creating a vertically integrated convergence of content, software and hardware to deliver beautifully synchronized user experiences, Google has a whole bunch of promising product threads that aren’t quite woven together yet into anything approaching whole cloth.

For instance, Google’s mega-acquisition of Motorola Mobility promises to deliver the hardware expertise the company needs to develop proprietary smart phone and tablet devices to compete with the iPhone, iPad, Xbox and Kindle devices. And its Android operating system is now as ubiquitous as Apple’s iOS and nearly as ubiquitous as Microsoft’s Windows.  Motorola also manufactures cable set-top devices (provided through systems like Comcast and Time-Warner Cable) that give Google access to the home television market.

And yet Google is still a ways off from mounting an all-out assault on its rivals. The company makes no money from Android OS and unless they create a unique version for its own Motorola devices, Google won’t be able differentiate its offerings from the many others flooding the market. And with Apple TV and Microsoft’s Xbox consoles making incursions into the living room, Google will need to pivot the stodgy Motorola pretty aggressively to reorient its set-top box business to be more competitive. Finally, Google’s app and third-party content stores don’t yet compete with Apple’s iTunes and App Store or Amazon’s Kindle Store, nor is there quite the elegance of integration between content sources and content destinations in the Google universe when compared with Apple, Xbox and Kindle.

With Frommer’s, Google has one more arrow in its ever-expanding quiver. It is already threatening to crush lesser giants like Yelp, Yahoo, TripAdvisor and others. But in order to mount a real challenge to Apple, Amazon, Facebook or Microsoft, Google will need to integrate many disparate technologies, hardware and content sources into a cohesive whole—one that is unique and differentiated from its more established competitors, and with an integrated user experience that is consistently surprising and delightful.

Without it, Google’s audience will continue to mostly visit and move on.

Author DEREK GORDON is a marketing and sales exec with more than 20 years success in integrated marketing and sales strategy and management. He is the Chief Marketing and Sales Officer for Pathbrite. You can also check out his blog, Daily Casserole.

blog comments powered by Disqus

The Featured Five