When the Tactic Becomes the Strategy

Historically, Google’s strategy was always aligned with an open web and Moore’s Law. As cheaper computing powered the growth of the open web, the value of Google increased.  Why? Because as web content growth explodes, tools to find the information that you’re searching for become more valuable. Things like Android and free wifi were tactics that leaned into this strategy.

Google ten years ago:

  • Core product/competency: Web Search
  • Strategy: Ride growth of open web
  • Tactics: Anything to increase the size of the web. Youtube, Gmail, Google Docs etc.
  • Competitors: Yahoo, Microsoft

As the players and ecosystems changed, the strategy had to change.  Fast forward a few years to when mobile started growing:

  • Core product/competency: Web Search
  • Strategy: Ride the growth of open web, now on mobile
  • Tactics: Android, Youtube, Gmail, bidding on spectrum
  • Competitors: Microsoft, Apple, Verizon Mobile

Here is Google VP Hiroshi Lockheimer supporting this:

via Farhad Manjoo at NYTimes:

“The bet that Larry, Sergey and Eric made at the time was that smartphones are going to be a thing, there’s going to be Internet on it, so let’s make sure there’s a great smartphone platform out there that people can use to, among other things, access Google services,” said Hiroshi Lockheimer, Google’s vice president for engineering for Android

However, mobile tossed a couple of curve balls. First, the future path of mobile began to look less about open platforms.  Instead, mobile was increasingly dominated by closed networks and siloed native apps. Second, we didn’t see a commoditization of smartphones due to the continuation of cheaper computing (maybe abroad but not in the US). How do you keep Google relevant in this paradigm? By making sure their previous forms of lock-in remain valuable to users.

  • Core product/competency: Cloud (Search, Youtube, Gmail, Docs, etc.)
  • Strategy: Ensure dominance of cloud and keep Google relevant
  • Tactics: Android
  • Competitors: Facebook, Apple

In the article linked above, Farhad Manjoo mentions that Google is making a lot of money selling apps now:

A brighter spot for Google is the revenue it collects from sales via Android’s app store, called Google Play. For years, Android apps were a backwater, but sales have picked up lately. In 2014, Google Play sold about $10 billion in apps, of which Google kept about $3 billion

And investing in tactics to grow:

Google is investing heavily to make sure that continues. Purnima Kochikar, business development director for Google Play, told me her team supporting Android app makers grew “by 15 times” in the last two and a half years.

It sounds like Google, in the span of several years, turned a tactic into a strategy:

  • Core product/competency: Android
  • Strategy: Ensure dominance of Android
  • Tactics: Increase app monetization
  • Competitors: Facebook, Apple

However, they are also facing powerful competitive pressure from companies such as Xiaomi and Cyanogen.

Android has always been a tricky strategy; now, after finding huge success, it seems only to be getting even trickier.

Nothing is clear in the fog of disruption but tricky strategies are better than those relying on hope.

Follow Scout Ventures on Twitter.

When the Tactic Becomes the Strategy

3 thoughts on “When the Tactic Becomes the Strategy

  1. An interesting point to consider is not the revenue Google or Apple makes from the app market, but the app developer. An app developer makes more $ from ones I have talked to. Thanks for sharing your views on strategy vs. tactic. Interesting to see if Xiaomi will become a major player soon in the US as Apple is taking on Chinese market.


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