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Google Alphabet Rewrites the Healthcare Startup

VP Strategy

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Google never ceases to amaze, their latest rebranding and reorganization into “Alphabet” having the potential to revolutionize healthcare. What is Alphabet, why did it happen, and what does it mean for the industry?

Exploding in fifteen years from two guys in a garage to a global tech behemoth generating over $70B in annual revenue, a market cap of more than $450B, and stock trading 31 times its price/earnings ratio, Google has not only defined the digital age, but has utterly transformed how the world lives and works. Their astonishing string of successes from Gmail to YouTube to Chrome to Android has given over a billion people across the planet instantaneous access to dynamic, personalized, real-time, multimedia, geo-localized content. So why change?

A brief and fun Bloomberg Business video illustrates how Google has rapidly grown into a vast and complex organization with 81 independent units, doing everything from robotics to fiber optics, virtual reality to self-driving cars. As the company has exponentially evolved, often in surprising ways, the core business unit and primary source of revenue has nonetheless remained their search engine marketing business. Google has, despite all that growth and change, remained synonymous with “search,” actually becoming its own verb: “Google it!”

The benefit is that “Google” is one of the most recognized and valued brands in the world (second only to Apple, and far ahead of Coca-Cola and McDonald’s); the challenge is the limitation built in to that astonishing success. As Ries and Trout expounded in their classic “22 Immutable Laws of Marketing,” audiences have very narrow bandwidth, and brands are usually able to own and be recognized as a leader in just one thing. That’s why line extensions often fail, such as when Xerox sold computers—brand focus is lost, and people get confused.

Google has been no exception, the company’s incredible reach and reputation in one area making expansion into others difficult. Google Plus, for example, is a social network clearly superior to Facebook in functionality and integration; but from a branding point of view, “Google” is search, not social, and what is a “Plus”? In contrast, consider the incredible wins of YouTube, Chrome, and Android: notice these weren’t named Google Video, Google OS, or Google Mobile. Ask someone you meet on the street, and chances are they don’t know Google owns these services.

The solution: Subsume the core Google ad business as a unit within a new, all-encompassing holding company called “Alphabet.” The move is as creative as it’s brilliant. Described in Larry Page’s August 10th announcement, the reorganization will enable the alphabet soup of 81+ companies to be independent and entrepreneurial. As outlined in this TechCrunch video, the move will free up the founders to concentrate on new and exciting ventures, help recruit and retain top talent, and focus the entire organization on a future with limitless possibility.

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Lifesciences from A to Z

An important part of that future of limitless possibility rests with arguably the most important focus a company can have: Our health and wellness. The yet-to-be named Lifesciences unit has broken from the “Google X” lab and hit the ground running with a focus on diabetes: Already working with Novartis to develop a blood glucose monitoring smart contact lens, the company has partnered with Sanofi to pair diabetes treatments with analytics, miniaturized electronics, and low power chips, and is working with Dexcom to create an inexpensive, cloud-connected, bandage-sized sensor.

True to the mission of Alphabet, the Lifesciences company combines—along with Calico, Ray Kurzweil at the helm exploring the tantalizing prospect of immortality—the incredible energy and potential of a healthcare startup with the intellectual and fiscal fire power of Google, now Alphabet. The reorganization truly has the potential to revolutionize healthcare by overcoming the inevitable branding and infrastructure challenges once facing Google, and empowering a series of well-funded and inspirationally guided startups with their own unique vision, talent, and leadership.


Implications for Pharma

As we’ve seen, Lifesciences has already partnered with a pharma and medical device company to bring out the best in each other. By offering the technological expertise of Lifesciences with the entrenched healthcare knowledge of these and other partners, the potential is enormous to help realize the many interlocking goals of medical science and digital health, including improved engagement, platform integration, expansive biometrics, and ultimately the quantified self.

As Larry Page once said: “If you’re changing the world, you’re working on important things. You’re excited to get up in the morning.” The reorganization and rebranding into Alphabet helps Larry and Sergey work on important things, and gets all of us in healthcare technology and communications excited to get up in the morning. Watch as the trend catches on, big tech branching into nimble startups. The future will be found in many of these ideation incubators, starting out small, eventually outdoing their hosts only to branch again into tiny startups hoping to change the world.

The singularity between past and future, technology and health, big tech and small startup is forged as we concentrate on benefitting the end-user: Millions of patients in need of non-paternalistic support and cutting-edge solutions, and a global population that can become healthier, live longer and better through this unique blend of entrepreneurship, empathy, and innovation. The health-focused missions of Klick, Alphabet, and your own organization converge every step of the way. Let’s grab a hold and actively participate!

More About the Author

Michael Spitz

A digital health expert since before digital health was cool, Spitz has since developed omnichannel campaigns for top pharma and device brands, and helps drive agency innovation, digital transformation, and emerging channels. See him present at conferences, read his blogs, and follow him for the latest trends and opinions on Twitter @SpitzStrategy.

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