Why We Won’t Be Riding the Wave

Google receives accolades regularly as one of the world’s most innovative companies. But even a strong brand and a knack for developing new services does not make a company immune from product failures. Google signaled defeat this week when it announced it would no longer develop Google Wave as a stand-alone application. The real-time communication and collaboration service had a loyal following, but one that was too small for Google to continue supporting it as part of its product portfolio.

As I learned of Google’s decision, my immediate reaction was “I’m not surprised.” I am leading students in a Product Management course through the book Made to Stick by Chip Heath and Dan Heath. This bestselling book examines why some ideas “stick” or are adopted and others are not. The difference is not necessarily in the quality of the idea, but it is in the messaging that communicates an idea to the audience for which it is intended.

Two of the six traits of a sticky idea are noticeably absent in Google Wave: simple and concrete. A simple idea is one that can be expressed succinctly yet contains a meaning that is consistent. I am unsure whether “real time collaboration” is a core message that got through to the masses. And, the invitation program used by Google to introduce the Wave may have appealed to some people, but it left the uninvited in the dark about the service. A concrete idea removes abstraction and presents it in an easy to understand format. Until reading Wave’s obituary yesterday in Fast Company, I was unable to tell anyone what it was because I did not know myself!

Wave is not the first failure Google has had, and it likely will not be the last. Sure, having a powerful brand gives a company a leg up when introducing new products. Consumers are more likely to acknowledge a new product’s existence and perhaps even consider trying it when it is the sibling of brands that they trust and know. That benefit was not enough in Google Wave’s case, nor was the innovative nature of the service.

The story of Google Wave should serve as a reminder that regardless of a brand’s strength and product uniqueness, if the benefit to consumers is not articulated in simple and concrete terms it is vulnerable. The question “what’s in it for me?” has to be answered clearly if consumers are expected to change their behavior and adopt a new product.

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