The Google Factory: Where Do Marketers Fit In?

Possibly the most reassuring thing I heard at Google’s Factory Tour last week was the company ranks advertising, along with search, as its two top priorities. At the Googleplex event, where the search company hosted a couple hundred journalists, bloggers and analysts, Google’s director of consumer Web products, Marissa Mayer, said 70 percent of Google’s resources (including 1,600 pounds of coffee beans and 500 pounds of pasta a month) are deployed on these two areas alone.

I say I’m reassured because sometimes it’s hard to tell what Google’s thinking, given the company’s secretive nature and a flurry of announcements around initiatives like Google Ride Finder. Seriously, though, Google has always had a bit of an identity crisis around whether it’s a media company or not. Mayer’s talk convinced me that indeed, Google now understands it’s a media company.

Following, some thoughts and speculation about how it can start to act more like one, and how marketers might soon be able to take advantage.

Google Fusion

The biggest news to arise out of the Factory Tour was the beta release of a Google personalized home page. By My Yahoo standards, it’s pretty rudimentary, but what it says about Google is profound. While the company has always insisted it’s not a portal (in the sense the word has come to be used), it’s figuring out that conventional wisdom, the idea that people want a way to aggregate disparate content and services in one place isn’t too far off the mark.

“One thing we heard from users,” Mayer told the crowd, “is that they wanted to be able to access all that functionality in one place. These projects aim to bring together Google’s functionality along with content on the Web.”

Note the plural: projects. That’s because the personalized home page is only the first fruit of an initiative Google calls “Fusion.”

“Our goal here was to give users tools to customize and organize their own information,” said Mayer. “This feature today is just the first step in what it will evolve to become.”

What does Fusion mean to marketers? Well, marketing could be classified as information and/or entertainment. Historically, Google hasn’t been shy about incorporating advertising, so long as it’s relevant.

Personalization efforts like Fusion can yield an incredible amount of information, non-personally-identifiable and aggregated, which could be very powerful for ad targeting. Already, Google has established an accounts system tied to the personalized home page, Gmail, My Search History, a Froogle Shopping List, and Google Groups. (I didn’t get to play with the Web Accelerator before it was unceremoniously taken down, but it certainly could be a valuable source of data if privacy concerns could be allayed.)

While Mayer said there would be no targeted advertising on the personalized home page yet, she confided later, “I’m hopeful that we can develop some of the types of advertising that will be useful to people. We don’t actually know where that will take us.”

Wireless and International

The Factory Tour made clear Google is really committed to the all-information-anywhere philosophy. This is exemplified in both its international efforts and its wireless initiatives.

On the international front, Google showed off some impressive results from its research in machine translation. Something CEO Eric Schmidt said really struck me. When the company was trying to prioritize the digitization of information for Google Print, Schmidt wondered what languages or regions to start with. Co-founder Sergey Brin replied it didn’t really matter, so long as everything was translatable into every other language.

Marketing internationally is another matter. There are cultural, as well as linguistic, barriers to overcome. Still, it’s tantalizing to imagine a one-stop shop — Google AdWords — where one can reach so many of the world’s markets. If search and context are basic concepts that transcend borders, they should be equally effective vehicles in a multitude of markets.

Wireless also permits location- and culture-based interactions between marketers and consumers. Google’s most interesting foray into this of late is the acquisition of Dodgeball. I’m not in the demographic/psychographic to which Dodgeball is targeted, but I definitely see its possibilities. The company matches the social networking capabilities of Friendster with the immediacy and location-based characteristics of mobile. Imagine being able to send opt-in messages to users wherever they may be, based on location, time of day, etc. I don’t know about you, but I’d find a Friday afternoon “the nearest margarita is five blocks away” message pretty darned welcome sometimes. If Jose Cuervo was sponsoring it, I might ask for the brand out of sheer gratitude.

Other Possibilities

I haven’t even touched on some other Google initiatives, such as Video Search, Earth, Maps or AdSense for Feeds. All are rife with marketing possibilities. Witness the combination of Google Maps with Craigslist real estate listings, as united at Paul Rademacher’s HousingMaps.

Not all of these opportunities are completely revolutionary. In many cases, it’s all been done before or is being done elsewhere, at Yahoo, at MSN, even at AOL. But Google brings with it a huge, dedicated audience. Just today, my non-techie brother-in-law in Scotland instant messaged me to ask the address of the house we’re thinking of buying. He wanted to try out Google Maps’ satellite imagery, which it isn’t yet available in the UK. So long as it continues to inspire that degree of brand loyalty — in a wide variety of markets — Google will merit attention.

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