Posts Tagged ‘yahoo’

Google Defines Meaningful Tech Marketing

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2009


This week, I wrote about three once-proud technology companies that are trying to save their businesses by embracing a marketing playbook straight out of the Don Draper era. Yahoo!, eBay, and AOL have all recently chosen to go with expensive, interruptive advertising campaigns rather than try something different and meaningful. Perhaps they should have taken the path to success of their number-one competitor, Google.

Google was named the most valuable brand in the annual Millward Brown BrandZ study for the third consecutive year in 2009. Not bad for a company that does almost no marketing. Well, it does some marketing; for example, the company launched a series of outdoor billboards recently to drive awareness of its suite of business apps. But traditional, interruptive marketing by Google is very, very rare. A lot of what makes Google a valuable brand comes from its great search engine and series of useful tools. One could argue that everything Google does is “meaningful marketing.” In other words, by offering useful, free software tools such as Gmail and Google Maps, the company draws people to its search-engine business, where it makes money on every AdWords click. But let’s save this angle for a future post. Instead, I want to highlight a few of the little things Google does that make it the leader in meaningful technology marketing.

The Google Home Page

Google understands that its home page is very valuable real estate. Tens of millions of people per month visit to start their many, diverse searches. But instead of ceding its home page to advertisers who would love to capture its eyeballs, Google puts its visitors first and offers a clean, clutter-free experience. This “page of truth” sends a clear message to users and clearly differentiates versus the competition such as MSN and Yahoo! It clearly communicates that searchers come first at Google, and its traffic is not merely sold out to the highest bidder.

But Google sometimes does change this home page… when it wants to celebrate a milestone or draw attention to an issue. People are often surprised and delighted to see how Google has toyed with its logo to highlight a holiday or news item. Recently, for example, the company celebrated the 40th Anniversary of Sesame Street with several logos, including the one shown above. By highlighting the program on its home page, Google actually drew more media attention to the milestone as well. Other special logos in November 2009 included the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, NASA’s discovery of water on the moon, Father Frost’s Birthday in Russia, and National Teacher Day in Vietnam. Instead of offering us another meaningless banner ad like does, with these little touches Google earns a special place in our hearts.

Free Wi-Fi for Airports

Google always seems to be adding services for Internet users while asking for nothing in return. The latest example is its offer of free Wi-Fi service in 47 airports across the U.S. through January 15, 2010. It is a great gift for weary travelers who are often stuck in airports while trying to see loved ones for the holidays. One might expect that the “price” for free access is being forced to see a Google ad when you successfully log on. Instead the company directs users to a page where they offer the chance to donate to one of three charities that Google supports. And Google will match donations of up to $250,000 per airport.

Viral Video

Last week while I was compiling examples of the meaningless ads for technology companies in my last post, someone in our office forwarded a “commercial” for Google. I discovered a few videos under the title of “Google Search Stories” that blew me away. Check it out:

What you find here is TV commercial-quality production of a lovely ad for Google. In 30 seconds, these videos bring deep emotion while showing off many of the latest and greatest Google features. It’s no wonder that the 40,000-and-growing viewers give it five stars. And in case you thought Google went off and hired a hot creative agency to put these together, think again. These videos were created in-house by staff at the Google Creative Lab. Shouldn’t every company know its consumers and products well enough to do a brilliant ad in-house versus outsourcing it to people who spend a handful of hours watching from the outside? But I digress…


All of these little things from Google come with little pomp and almost no advertising budgets. Instead of clever ad messages that tell you Google is a great brand, the company uses its consumer access and brilliant employees to actually do things that make us more effective and happier throughout our day.

At this point you might be wondering: Why has Google chosen a meaningful marketing path while Yahoo!, eBay, and AOL all are failing to break through? After all, each company has developed great products and services in the past and they all hire similarly smart people. They are strategic enough to do competitive analysis and understand what Google is up to. So why the difference? It’s hard to tell, but I believe that a lot of it comes down to the fact that Google has a clear Brand Purpose. Google exists to index the world’s information, it believes in a philosophy of “do no evil,” and it has founders who are still actively, passionately steering the company. These factors give the company a basis for decision making that is clear and differentiated, and it means that no pricey advertising agency or clever tagline is required to make a campaign to keep the company “cool.”

Next week, I have the opportunity to present my book to employees at Google’s San Francisco office as part of its Authors@Google program. I look forward to honoring these meaningful technology marketers and learning more about what makes them special.

Non-meaningful Technology Marketing

Monday, November 30th, 2009

In case you haven’t noticed, there has been a rash of new marketing activity in the realm of technology brands. Maybe they’ve been gearing up for a load of holiday shopping searches, or maybe the launch of Microsoft’s Bing search engine has prompted the marketplace to action. Either way, much of it is horrible, and I feel compelled to get on my soapbox and wag a finger at some of the biggest brands in the businesses who are heaping hundreds of millions of dollars of marketing messages on our poor eyeballs.

First up is Yahoo!, which is surely at risk of feeling the sting from Bing, and continues to lose pace with the search engine champ, Google. This fall, the company decided to respond to new innovations from Bing and continued strength from Google by, you guessed it, launching a big, expensive traditional equity campaign. Take a look for yourself:

Yahoo! is in the middle of dropping $100 million on this “It’s Y!ou” global campaign. You wouldn’t know it from this one-minute commercial, but Yahoo! has added some modest changes to its website to add personalization. But it seems to be doing little so far, as its share of search was down from 18.8% in September to 18.0% in October. That’s a withering one-month change, and makes one wonder how much farther it would fall without all of the positive impacts of this ad campaign (ahem).

Then there’s eBay, a company that is now considered a “traditional digital” business. This once-hot business is flattening as consumers have grown tired of auction-based buying and eBay’s fees. Not to fear, though—a fresh campaign will do the trick, right? Here’s a look at how eBay is trying to convince shoppers that it has the “It” they are looking for:

Finally, we come to AOL. It is another once-proud company that is really on the ropes. The company is doing everything it can to add some positive buzz as it prepares to separate from Time Warner. It first hired a charismatic CEO, Tim Armstrong, from Google, who has toured the tech conferences and marketers’ boardrooms with plenty of promises of a “new AOL.” Naturally, that includes spending millions on a new logo and branding campaign. In this case, AOL found that its brand represented more than a single logo could define (that always spells trouble on the creative brief!). So it has chosen to place its brand name over dozens of other objects and photographs, as seen below. The blogosphere’s reaction is perhaps best seen in GigaOM’s article: “AOL Reveals Lame New Look & Logo.”



It pains me to see these three once-innovative brands resort to some of the most traditional, tired marketing playbook pages. They all have bought the traditional ad-agency story that all you need is a snappy look, a cool tagline (preferably with an exclamation point), and bucket-loads of money to shove your new positioning in front of eager eyeballs. Then again, all three of these brands rose to prominence during the dot-com years of the late 1990s, when billions were blown on Super Bowl ads, sock puppets, and cannon gerbils. The lesson that they missed is that great companies don’t need to tell their customers that they are great. Instead, they need to make great products and services that people love to talk about. And they need to make meaningful marketing that people love to talk about, too.

On Wednesday, I will share the latest marketing work from a truly great technology company that continues to get it.

Value in Meaningless Search Impressions? UPDATED

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2008

I have to warn you that I’m a bit riled up today. In the past few weeks I’ve read some pretty questionable research commissioned by companies with a vested interest in the reports. Both point to a pretty doubtful conclusion: that unclicked paid search impressions somehow build CPG brands’ business. It’s a strike against meaningful marketing and a strike against common sense – aimed to put brand dollars into the coffers of the search giants.

The first research report comes from Google, which updated its CPG blog for only the third time since April to announce that a study came back showing that people exposed to brand names during a mock search for words such as ”drinks” filled out a survey and showed (surprise!) a stronger brand impression for the exposed brands. Even more shocking was the fact that (gasp!) if your competitor got the search impression, your brand’s awareness actually goes down in viewers’ minds. So, there’s a little fear marketing thrown in for good measure. Kevin Kells, Director of CPG for Google concludes:

the need for ROI models of search to include the impression–not just the click–to value the effectiveness of a search campaign in CPG.”

Interestingly, Google helpfully points to a similar study by its arch-competitor, Yahoo!, which also showed a significant increase in brand purchase intent in a research study that sat consumers in artificial search exercises.

Here’s the real story if you haven’t figured it out by now: Search companies have been unable to turn CPG brands – some of the biggest spenders in marketing – into big buyers of search terms. They are spending only $140 million to $180 million per year on paid search, according to eMarketer. That compares to P&G alone spending $4 billion per year on advertising. Plus, did you know that many, many searches come up with NO paid search results? (for example, type in the words: “this is a wasted search” on your Google search bar, and your results page will have no ads). That’s because no direct-response marketer wants them. There’s tons of ad inventory out there waiting for Crest or Coke to jump in!

I do not think Google or Yahoo! or any other self-interested agency or media company is necessarily evil. But marketers need to dig deeper when they come forward with the PowerPoint slides. Here are just a few issues I have with this study:

  • Both experiments put consumers into an artificial search scenario. Research subjects tend to pay more attention, and tend to want to reward the brands that are paying for their opinions.
  • Neither experiment has a tie to an impartial organization, such as a university, which could serve as a neutral third party.
  • The survey used to measure brand attitudes came immediately after the test. Of course people remember brands right after that. What happens a day or longer later when the person is actually at the shelf?
  • Where’s the ROI analysis? Google’s Kells wants these search impressions included, but fails to show the business benefit in his research. Marketers need to know if this blimp is worth their money and time.
  • The experiments measure concepts such as awareness and purchase intent, rather than actual change in sales. Yahoo! does a great job with its Consumer Direct program, in which it partners with ACNielsen to get actual household panel sales data – but why didn’t it do so for this study?

I think my friend Randy Peterson, innovation leader at P&G, got it right when he told Advertising Age that:

I think our brands have such a strong presence that it’s nice to be in the first position, but I don’t think we have to be there. I’m not convinced it’s worth paying the extra money or the extra effort to get there yet.”

We are all trying to figure out how to retain or increase sales at a time when consumer media habits are changing dramatically. My passion, my gut, and, yeah, my self-interest, is for us to stop inventing studies that “sell eyeballs” and put that effort into creating marketing that consumers actually find useful, and that actually moves cases.

UPDATE: At a recent Ad Age Digital Bites Breakfast, a host of digerati admitted that they still cannot get a good engagement measure for search.  I love that “engagement” is coming to the fore here.  It’s not enough for us to rely on impressions when people see over 3,000 ads per day.