Google announced some solid improvements last week to its Workplace (previously G Suite, previously Google Apps) product line. You can read what they have announced in the blog post, but I am more interested in how best to make these kinds of announcements. There is a lot of cool stuff in there; I especially like Smart Canvas‘s potential.
As cool as they are, these announcements demonstrate a frustration I have had with Google and more generally with cloud products for some time. These enhancements are solid, interesting but ultimately unexciting incremental improvements across the breadth of the product. Rather than periodic big strides, Google tries to make the whole thing continuously a little bit better. This approach to product development is sensible in a cloud environment but makes marketing more difficult. Previously, suppliers would work on new versions for a year or more, launching them into the market with splashy announcements and an ad campaign.  They usually also had a painful, disruptive, expensive and time-consuming upgrade process. That model of software delivery was ultimately inefficient and untenable. Cloud delivery makes the concept of a “version” meaningless. There are no versions; just constantly improving products.
Cloud delivery makes the concept of a “version” meaningless.
But how can you attract attention without a new version to push? Making everything a little bit better does not make anyone say “Jeepers, am I glad I chose Google Workspace a while ago” or even just “Wow!” Without something splashy to announce, it is hard to avoid the feeling that Google’s product has not changed much over the years (except for the name, that is).

How do others do it?

Microsoft, on the other hand, still largely holds on to the Big Product Launch mindset, even when there really isn’t much to launch. Viva is a good example. Microsoft brings out the big guns to push Viva. It looks great but in the end promises once again to deliver functionality which Microsoft has been claiming to deliver for years, by providing… wait for it… SHINIER TEMPLATES! And everyone falls over themselves wanting a piece of it.
I realize that there is more to Viva than shinier templates. but that is the main impression I am left with after reviewing the announcements. It integrates existing capabilities more smoothly and adds a few new ones. This is all certainly worth doing and presents a notable improvement, but it is hardly a breakthrough. Viva is in fact, a set of solid incremental improvements, but presented as a flashy launch of a new product, with its own set of logos, a release schedule, marketing landing page and customer testimonials. Google’s announcement lacks most of these.
Microsoft Viva icons
Microsoft Viva icons
Everyone would agree that we need tools that are designed better to accommodate new ways to collaborate. We do not need additional collaboration products layered ever more deeply on top of what we already use. Designing products so that they make a big splash delivers better marketing but worse products.

What is a marketer to do?

So what could Google and other cloud software suppliers do to get the attention their developments deserve? Here are a couple of ideas, some admittedly more useful than others.
  • Release functionality when it is ready, but group them into bigger chunks for promotional purposes. As an example, highlighting 15 meeting control enhancements introduced over the last year is more effective than 15 small announcements scattered as they come out.
  • Publish a retroactive timeline summarizing all the enhancements introduced over the life of the product. Keep it up to date and refer to it often.
  • Create a site to experience what the product was like two years ago, to highlight how much better it is now.
  • Avoid the trap of only listing what is new. Instead, concentrate on what users can do with the new capabilities that was not possible before. Administrators need a list; users and decision-makers want stories.
  • Wait for technology buyers to learn to appreciate small incremental improvements as the right way to go.
I am convinced that Google’s approach is better and that the market will learn to recognize that in the long term. But in the long run, everyone is dead, so some interim steps should prove necessary. Analyst Syndicate analysts are looking into the issue and are ready to help.