With all of Google’s rampant acquisitions, it wouldn’t be completely absurd to think that Google might acquire a tea company, but the purpose of this post is to imagine how a tea company might operate if it were to act like Google.

http://www.sxc.hu/photo/126745Google has followed 10 Principles of the User Experience and 10 Philosophical Principles religiously to achieve the massive success it’s had.  So how might Google’s recipe for corporate innovation be applied to the tea industry?

Total Merchandising

While Google claims to be obsessively focused on its core search platform, the proliferation of Google products from phones to wallets to maps is hard to overlook.  This strategy of total merchandising, or cross promotion, serves to create multiple platforms for user acquisition, and reinforce the integrity and dominance of the core product (Disney World is a great example of total merchandising for Disney movies).  Examples of companies that practice total merchandising in the tea industry include:

  1. Guayakí that promotes and teaches the yerba mate ritual using the bombilla and gourd to create a total experience for the drinker
  2. In Pursuit of Tea that teaches classes on the use of the gaiwan for drinking oolong
  3. Zen Tara Tea that sells matcha tea sets to create a full experience of matcha’s magic.

Open Source Systems

Google’s very existence depends on the Internet’s adherence to net neutrality and open systems that allow users, programmers, and even competitors to build, grow, use, and co-opt its operating platforms. “Democracy on the web works,” as they say.

Several companies, including Adagio, Ovation Teas, and Design a Tea, have created online platforms that allow you to create your own customized tea blends.  Other companies offer free tours of their facilities to engage customers in the production of their teas.  Celestial Seasonings has received more than 120 positive reviews on yelp for its tours.

Free and Easy

While I’ve never encountered a tea company that gives away tea and makes all of its money on advertising, there are lessons to be learned from Google’s emphasis on providing free, quality products (search and gmail, to name two) as a central strategy for user acquisition.  Many companies force potential customers to purchase samples, whereas others are highly generous with their sampling programs.  I love David’s Tea’s inclusion of three free samples with every purchase.

Employee Benefit Programs

Many people have probably heard of the free food, incredible facilities, and other general ridiculousness at the GooglePlex in Mountain View, but even Teavana doesn’t have that kind of cash to spend.  However, the commitment to support employees in innovative ways can be implemented at many levels.

Starbucks’ offers medical insurance to all employees who work more than 20 hours / week.  Many companies send their employees to experience tea production at the source.  At Runa, we commit to sending every employee that has been with us for more than one year to Ecuador to spend one week visiting family farms.

You Can Be Serious Without a Suit

Walk into any David’s Tea and you invariably see fun, welcoming, hip, and young faces that are eager to share the tastes and smells of their funky tea blends with you.  Same goes for Harney & Sons’ tearoom in SoHo, though the selection is more refined.

As younger generations, whose daily news comes from people like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, begin to comprise a larger percentage of tea drinkers, the often stuffy, European feel of many tearooms or websites won’t attract this demographic.

Readers, please share your ideas for how the tea industry can apply the innovative principles at Google’s core.