Project Glass: Google’s Transparent Product Strategy Is Great Marketing, Too

Google’s Project Glass deserves plaudits for innovation, not just for the device itself but also for the process by which Google is developing and marketing the product. Studying product strategy and marketing as a Forrester analyst for almost nine years, I have never seen a company do what Google is doing: launch an entirely new form factor in such a transparent, inclusive way.

The Google Glass Rollout

A bit of history: Google debuted Project Glass publicly in April 2012, first on Google Plus and then on Sergey Brin at a charity event for fighting blindness later that week. From the beginning, Google X (the R&D lab that developed Glass) asked for feedback from the public on its Google Plus page.

At Google I/O last June, Google demoed videos taken with Glass while skydiving and mountain biking (notably, the top comment on YouTube as I write this article is how Glass will revolutionize POV porn) and offered developers an opportunity to buy an “Explorer Edition” for $1,500.

Google Glass In The Real World

Fast forward to 2013, and real developers, reporters and consumers are using Glass and talking about their experiences. The latest development in the Glass rollout is the #ifihadglass campaign: a contest for consumers to say on Twitter or Google Plus what they’d do with Glass and win an opportunity to participate in the Explorer program.

Glass is still months or even a year away from launching as a consumer product, but its transparent product strategy — exposing the evolution of the product to developers, reporters and consumers — will help Google avoid the pitfalls of its past product launches. Google TV has been an expensive flop. Android tablets took two years to catch on. Chromebooks have not yet been a commercial success.

Google released both of those products (Android for tablets and ChromeOS) and iterated post-launch; with Glass, it is opening the kimono before launch, and that will make a world of difference.

Marketing Hardware Like Software

This is software product strategy applied to hardware. In the software world, it’s common to release a beta version internally and then externally, improving the product before general release. In hardware, some small companies like Pebble are doing this but before Glass, there was no precedent for a major hardware launch to be so transparent. Secrecy is the norm in hardware, lest competitors get wind of what you’re doing and race to Taiwan to copy you.

Apple is the best example of pre-launch product secrecy. Google’s transparent Glass strategy not only helps Google avoid the mistakes of its own past, it’s also Google’s best weapon to compete against Apple. Rather than compete on Apple’s terms, Google invents its own terms. It’s not just “Google-level design,” it’s Google-level marketing. And it’s working. Google received thousands of responses over a weeklong period to the #ifihadglass campaign; tech blogs - including ReadWrite - and mainstream media like The Today Show amplified the story.

Social Market Research

The insights Google gathers from #ifihadglass submissions can help shape product development, app development and product marketing. For example, if you read the #ifihadglass tweets, you see that most of the submissions relate to sharing a point of view literally from someone’s own eyes, whether that’s for charity or sport or shopping. That’s what’s getting people really excited — Glass is tapping into a deep human need to be understood and share experiences with other people. A smaller number of posts relate to augmented reality — having data overlaid on physical space, whether that’s for entertainment or navigation or fixing something. Google product strategists and marketers don’t have to guess what excites people about their product — they already know.

There are several important implications of Google’s transparent product strategy for Glass. First, I think the company will see unprecedented success for launching a pretty futuristic product — Glass will succeed at scale where similar products like MyVu and Looxcie have not. The success of Glass — and the marketing leading up to its launch — will have a halo effect for Google Plus, which Google is using as the hub for Glass conversation. (And I imagine, the default place to share photos and videos taken with Glass will be your Google Plus page.) The bottom line: Glass will be the next great platform to innovate for, and should be on every company’s radar. Glass will be the next Pinterest, Facebook, Amazon and iPhone all rolled into one.

I am not looking forward to Google Glass POV porn, though.

Image courtesy of Google.