Dear Google: how to market Chrome OS

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Asking people to use a new OS is like asking them to change how their car works – steer with a joystick instead of a wheel, brake with the right pedal instead of the left.  Not welcome, or easy.  Here are three things you can do to increase probability of success of Chrome OS.

  1. Use your brand power to help the PC OEMs.  They want differentiation, and they want low cost, but they will shy from the trouble of a new OS without the branding carrot.  I know you actively avoid creating Googzilla, but if you want the OEMs to prioritize Chrome OS over alternatives, give them a reason beyond a hole in the head shiny new OS.  I.e., surround the PC with a glowing Google brand endorsement halo.  I’m talking about visible branding, and spending actual marketing money.  This can’t be your tried and true “build it and they (geeks) will come” strategy:  geeks are not the netbook target, and you are too omnipresent to be coy.
  2. Set up demos in Best Buy, under a very visible Google brand.  Microsoft is trying to emulate Apple’s retail experience, because people want to experience cool stuff that Just Works.  So show them the cool stuff you can do with Google.  Show them the hidden gems in search, Docs, Gears, Wave, Trends, Maps, etc.  Most people don’t have time to just happen upon this stuff.
  3. Work with Apple to enable iTunes on Chrome OS.  People use netbooks for social media and content consumption (like music).  This gap is a non-trivial barrier to Linux on netbooks.

OK, 1 and 2 above are not very Googley.  They are counter-cultural for you, and therefore a risk to your brand position.  But if you want to play in the OS space, you’ve got to have distribution through PC preloads, and the above are dependable approaches.  But here are some slightly more Googlicious ideas that would help you stay on-brand.

  1. Write an open letter to potential buyers explaining what is good about Chrome OS and asking them to try it.  People like to be asked.  Gmail’s launch, in which people had to ask you for permission, was clever, but you’ve outgrown it.  People root for the winners, until they win a lot;   then they fear and vilify them.  The only remedy is transparency, authenticity, and no evil.
  2. Create and promote an online demo that realistically enables users to experience Chrome OS.
  3. Offer a conversion tool.  Something that will help people move onto the cloud.
  4. If it can be done in a non-gimicky way, run servers directly related to Chrome OS on renewable energy, consistent with your corporate pledge.

I’ll be interested to see what happens.

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