Is Google preparing to boost its marketing investment and fight Bing on its own terms?
For a company built on advertising, Google typically applies a light touch with its own marketing efforts -- relying more on buzz about its products than on advertising or direct marketing. That may be about to change.
Google is now seeking at least two senior marketers to be based in the United States. One of them -- Vice President of Americas Marketing -- will be charged with driving adoption of the company's consumer and advertiser products in the U.S., Canada, and Latin America.
The purpose of the hires, some believe, is to respond to Microsoft's recent momentum in the search arena. Another goal may be to support new and upcoming products, such as its Chrome browser and Google Voice.
In a spec sheet obtained by ClickZ, recruiting firm Russell Reynolds Associates describes Google's need for a candidate possessing "excellent direct marketing skills with a focus on customer acquisition, retention and activation." Notably, the job has responsibility for a significant portion of Google's sales and marketing budget.
"This is a senior role that will own a $500+ million P&L as well as be the strategic driver for go-to-market activities in the company's biggest businesses," states the document.
On Google's Web site, an open position -- called Head of Marketing, Americas -- appears similar to Russell Reynolds' description. However it differs in key areas. For instance, it doesn't mention P&L responsibility and focuses more on business products than consumer ones.
Google declined to comment on its open jobs, and Russell Reynolds said it doesn't discuss clients' hiring needs with media.
Google's second noteworthy marketing job -- Director of Marketing, Media and Platforms -- will handle marketing for the company's YouTube and display advertising products. Whoever is hired will focus on global expansion of the YouTube audience and will drive advertiser uptake of the company's display ad platform.
It's not yet clear whether Google intends to intensify its advertising and marketing activities. Doing so would mark a significant shift for a company that prefers to rely on good PR rather than traditional advertising to drive adoption. While Google has never been explicitly anti-advertising, its campaigns have been few, have been small, and have generally used a very light touch.
"Larry, Sergey, and Eric don't really believe in advertising and marketing," said one source familiar with the company's plans. He added the company was "built on a senior-level disdain" for traditional marketing.
The strategy has largely worked. In Millward Brown's annual brand ranking report, Google ranked first in brand value in North America, ahead of iconic brands such as Apple and Coca-Cola.
Yet management may be willing to swallow its disdain for old-school marketing, if doing so can help it answer Bing's successful summer launch campaign. That rollout, driven by an $80 to $100 million ad blitz, helped Microsoft pick up several percentage points of share over the past four months. Bing has also captured the favor of many search marketers. According to two search agency reports, ad spending on Bing is on the rise.
Equally important is Microsoft's search distribution deal with Yahoo, which will give it approximately 30 percent of the search market.
"Google continues to be successful, but they have a strong competitor for the first time from the launch of Bing and the combination of Yahoo and Microsoft," said the source.
Another source, also with knowledge of the company's hiring plans, said, "One of the big jobs there for a [marketing exec] is to keep the search business strong."
Other products may also be slated for marketing investment. While Google's product launches never fail to generate media hype, many have struggled to achieve consumer adoption. Among those that have arguably floundered are photo-sharing service Picasa and Craigslist competitor Google Base. Several others have been shuttered completely, including Google Catalogs and Google Answers. On the B2B marketing side, the company's print and radio advertising programs failed to impress advertisers and media owners, and were shut down earlier this year.
The company also has a number of important products and initiatives that have either just launched or are about to, such as the Chrome Browser, Chrome OS, Google Voice, and its Wave communication platform. These might also be candidates for promotional spending.
According to Google's 2008 annual report, expenses related to global sales and marketing activities totaled about $1.9 billion last year. Assuming no increase this year, whoever fills the North American marketing post will control 25 percent of that budget.
While Google does not have a chief marketing officer per se, its roster of top executive lists Nikesh Arora as president, global sales operations and business development, overseeing marketing. And, Lorraine Twohill is vice president, global marketing. The VP, marketing Americas position reports to Twohill.
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Until March 2012, Zach Rodgers was managing editor of ClickZ's award-winning coverage of news and trends in digital marketing. He reported on the rise of web companies, data markets, ad technologies, and government Internet policy, among other subjects.
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