Maybe you’ve been there: Your customer base isn’t growing, your marketing strategies aren’t working, and as a result, your profits have plateaued. You call a meeting to explore avenues for new business, new revenue streams, new product offerings—all ways to elevate the brand. Then someone mentions digital marketing, something that can tap into unused channels, reach a wider audience, engage actively with consumers. The idea sounds great—digital is the wave of the future, after all—but the question that no one can answer is which tools to use. Some team members might pull up Google to search for trends and tips. And that’s when you realize it.
The answer is, quite literally, at your fingertips.
Compatible with phone, computer, and tablet platforms, Google’s comprehensive suite of applications caters to all kinds of marketing needs. There are essential analytic functions (AdWords), digital-storage solutions (Cloud Platform), social media essentials (Google+ and YouTube), design programs (Sites and Drawings), vital tools for research and inspiration (Think Insights), and a host of organizational and presentation products (Docs, Slides, Forms, Sheets, and more) all available on Google Drive—and that’s hardly scratching the surface. Few brands have the clout or capacity to close the gap between business needs and consumer demand, but it’s a power that Google readily possesses.
But how does Google itself—one of the most massive, visible, and successful brands on the planet—continue to market its offerings and services? What more must it do to ensure it stays on the leading edge? And what lessons can other companies take away from one of the world’s biggest, boldest brands?
Sophie Chesters wasn’t always head of marketing for Google Canada. A native of the United Kingdom, she started out in publishing, where she first gained experience with digital communications and online advertising. Soon her focus on digital increased as she began managing websites and brand extensions. It was an eye-opening experience, and it made her realize how important search marketing is. Thus began her journey through the digital-marketing world, eventually landing her at Google Canada in 2012.
WHAT ONLINE ACTIVITIES DO PEOPLE USE THEIR SMARTPHONE FOR?
looking up product information
watching online videos
While Google is a global organization, with more than 70 offices in more than 40 countries, each country has its own dedicated team to ensure the brand meets the needs of every user in every region. “I care about all Canadians, and I care about all of our products and how we market here,” Chesters says. “I identify ways that we add value to Canadians and how we contribute to the local economy, as well as how we impact the social, economic, and cultural life of Canadians—because all of these things impact how people experience and trust Google.”
That impact has been nothing short of profound. Balancing duties between B2B and B2C, Chesters helps ensure Google Canada’s brand is omnipresent, whether it’s working with larger customers on the B2B side, managing consumer-marketing initiatives, or partnering with small and medium-size agencies to help grow small businesses—a vital component of Canada’s economy. In the first year alone, Google’s partner program helped grow nearly 5,000 small businesses through digital marketing, and it continues to help Google spend more time with customers face to face.
Chesters’s role requires her to be a jill-of-all-trades. In a given week, she and her teams might start out travelling between provinces to meet small agencies, learn about their challenges, and help them to align their marketing strategies; the next day, Chesters might be working with Google’s PR and policy teams, going over programs to encourage science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education; and the next, she might be attending a concert at a consumer-marketing event. “That’s what makes me love my role so much,” she says. “I get to do some very cool things, and some things that make our customers really smile.”
But what does it mean to market for a brand that’s already so resonant with consumers? Besides developing and refining products, what is left to do for a company that’s already synonymous with everyday functions such as e-mail, mapping, and search? For Chesters, it’s simple: continue to foster a community of innovation, education, and engagement.
Case in point: Geek Street, a Google-sponsored street fair created to promote the STEM fields to high schoolers. From 3-D printing to virtual-reality games to Lego robots, Google let students explore a variety of exhibits that not only sparked interest in STEM but also involved the students in the learning process. “It feels like the right thing to do for Toronto,” Chesters says. “We’re assembling a lot of different technology and education partners to help us really inspire children.”
Another recent initiative, which held its inaugural event this past year, revolves around one of Google’s most popular creations: the Google Doodle, in which Google’s home page is transformed to honour significant historical and current events such as the Olympics, the World Cup, and Canada Day. By partnering with local schools, the event—called Doodle 4 Google—allowed K–12 students to create their own doodles based on a theme. Last year’s winner received a $10,000 scholarship, a Google Chromebook, a $10,000 grant for her current school, and a trip to Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum to view a special exhibit of the contest’s top doodles. The winning doodle was also featured on Google’s home page for 24 hours.
But Google Canada’s brand marketing doesn’t end there. Another recent project, in preparation for rolling out the new version of Google Maps this past year, focused on “Pegman”—the small yellow humanoid icon in Maps that represents a user’s location. “We essentially said, ‘Hey, we’re going to send Pegman off to an adventure,’” Chesters says. Google then asked users to create a custom outfit for Pegman, who would ultimately don the winning life-size outfit, produced by real tailors, around different parts of the world. “You can’t really measure the joy of something like that, but it went really well,” Chesters says.
One of Google Canada’s most ambitious projects is Think Brand Week, a weeklong event focused on the future of brand marketing. Since marketers don’t always realize what’s possible with digital, Google brought together notable agencies such as Tribal DDB, OMD, and others to look at brand marketing from multiple perspectives and to show what digital can offer.
“We decided we wanted to take the opportunity to educate the entire industry on the possibilities that the digital space presents—the mastering of building brands—while celebrating both Canadian and global organizations,” Chesters says.
One of the event’s highlights was the Gallery, which collected 20 cutting-edge examples of digital marketing. Created in conjunction with findings from Art, Copy & Code—a Google initiative exploring how technology helps build brands digitally—the Gallery focused on six emerging trends in digital consumer behaviour. The exhibit included Volkswagen’s “Three Track” Beetle campaign, which used YouTube Annotations to create a seamless transition between three varying styles of film and music; Molson’s “Beer Fridge,” a viral campaign in which Canadians could open an exclusive fridge using their passports at the 2014 Olympics; and an interactive music video by Montréal indie-rock band Arcade Fire, in which users entered their postal codes to see each of their neighbourhoods used as the setting.
The Gallery allowed marketers to see emerging trends, understand the potential for engaging customers, and learn from what’s working—all in one immersive environment. “We wanted to make it more of an interactive experience,” Chesters says. “It was about raising the expectations of what can be done in the digital world by bringing together all these great examples.”
A digital brand presence is necessary, but does going digital mean that traditional methods have become outmoded? No, according to Chesters, who doesn’t see things as “old world versus new world.” Even with digital’s rise, she stresses that elements such as storytelling and creating value will always be central. “Those things haven’t changed,” she says. “Brand marketers still have the same objectives: drive sales, raise awareness, and engage with consumers.”
Chesters does, however, see a difference in the number of options available to consumers and where they spend their time. Essentially, the Digital Age hasn’t changed marketers’ objectives; it has shifted consumers’ expectations. One tool that simplifies that process is Google’s Think Insights, an idea-sharing website devoted to thought leadership, analytics, search trends, consumer surveys, and examples of notable campaigns. “People really want experiences and not necessarily advertising,” Chesters says. “The best organizations recognize this, and they’ve responded by embracing digital, especially mobile. Any company that doesn’t have a mobile strategy is missing a huge opportunity.”
A significant way to do that is through social media, but to Chesters, social media is more than an instrument of brand marketing; it’s a fundamentally humanizing function. “It’s thinking of digital as a medium rather than a media,” she says. “When we see highly personable content, we want to share it with our friends around the world. Brands that tap into that will win the hearts of today’s consumer.”
To that end, Chesters knows it’s essential to have a strong, captivating social media plan in place. “Some people say they need to get ‘likes’ and don’t really have a strategy for what that means, and they don’t really have a way to measure the impact on their business,” she explains. “Does it add value to the customer? Potentially not. I think we also see a lot of discount-driven social media. I don’t think that’s the most innovative use of social media, and I don’t think it’s a super-exciting strategy.”
WHICH DEVICES DO PEOPLE USE?
handheld gaming device
Chesters points to a project that did have an exciting strategy: Google+’s partnership with UK clothier Topshop, generating buzz for London Fashion Week. By giving fashion-forward fans access to behind-the-scenes footage and offering exclusive peeks into the lives of designers and models, Topshop invited users to be a part of the action. “To me, that’s an excellent example of using all channels—digital and in-store—to just do something very cool for your customers,” Chesters says. The campaign was an instant success, garnering hundreds of press mentions and millions of views across all platforms.
In any line of work, there’s always room for improvement—especially in an industry as evolutionary as marketing. Google Canada, however, has managed to stay at the creative forefront while many others continue to find their footing. But where does the brand go from here? And what can other marketing professionals do to stay not only inventive but innovative? “I think all marketers have to spend more time on mobile—video, too,” Chesters says. “Those are the two areas that all marketers need to do a better job in because consumers are more visual.”
One of the most compelling features of mobile marketing, she explains, is how personal it is: phones are with consumers all the time, opening up so many chances for brands to be there in the moment that matters. “We should be able to do some really cool tailored marketing or apps to add utility to our customers, wherever they are,” Chesters says. “And when you think about that opportunity, it’s enormous.”
Those goals also connect to Chesters’s more personal goals to lead an effective team. “I work with lots of very smart people, so I want to make sure that I serve my team and that we do an amazing job for the Canadian consumer,” she says. “After my time here, I’d like to think that we closed the digital gap between consumers and businesses and that we launched some very useful products to help the lives of Canadians.”
Google’s goal might be “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful,” but Google Canada feels more homegrown than that. Whether its holding contests to spark interest in the sciences and arts, or sharing unique marketing strategies with business leaders, the brand is continuously proving why it’s one of the best around. And that, in large part, is thanks to Chesters’s devotion to thinking outside the box. Because with all the evolution and progress permeating her everyday work, there are few constants that Chesters holds more dear.
“I think some of the best work that people see from Google is when it’s authentic, when it’s evocative, and when we have a great story to tell,” Chesters says. “We all do our best work when we focus on the user first, and we base it on true user insights. That’s not going to change.”
*Source for all statistics:
The Connected Consumer Survey 2014