A few weeks ago, I was invited to a forum in New York to hear about Google’s new direction in Latino marketing. Business kept me in Silicon Valley, but I asked my editors at ClickZ to check it out. What I thought would be a small and intimate affair attracted more than 300 vendors, advertisers, and Latino digerati. If you read reports from the event, as well as the news that preceded it (the appointment of Mark Lopez to the new post of head of Google U.S. Hispanic), it was less of a traditional marketing program and more of a coming-out party. And the response from my peers in media and marketing was effusive. Google’s new focus on the Latino market is a sign that “the US Hispanic online market had finally come of age,” according to Hispanic Online Marketing, and that “America is starting to realize the power of the Latino,” according to the Hispanic blog. Latina author and consultant Chiqui Cartagena asked “Will Hispanic Digital (Finally) Grow?”
I’ll admit to being among the many people in the marketing community that got caught up in the moment. As a veteran of Silicon Valley wars in the search market, I have long-admired Google for its contributions to the digital economy (read: how I have earned a living). And as a strategist in digital communications, I have often wondered what Google might do next to regain its voice in talks now dominated by Facebook, Twitter, and other companies. Finally, as a Latino who has only recently begun to appreciate the phenomenon of Latino digital, I have to admit it’s gratifying, personally, to see Google step up in such a big way.
But personal gratification is not the only thing that’s making Latino marketers so Googly-eyed. As Google itself has admitted, the current Latino marketing spend in the U.S. is $5 billion, across all platforms – broadcast, print, and digital. And the amount of that spend that is digital is $200 million – just 4 percent. Looking at those numbers, you might wonder if there’s a disconnect. It seems like there is. Despite all the studies that show that Latinos out-“index” other groups in practically every aspect of technology adoption – and that U.S. Latinos represent more than $1 trillion in buying power – U.S. advertisers have been super slow to warm up to the opportunity of reaching Latinos online (Google turned the screw tighter by releasing a study that found 78 percent of Latinos use the “Internet as their primary source of information, above TV and friends and family”). Disinterest among advertisers for Latino digital has been a frustrating “deaccelerant” in a market that so many expected would quickly take off. And it’s been particularly frustrating for digital marketers. Few can grow their businesses in the current “grab more market share” scenario. The pie today is far too small, given the scope of the opportunity. For marketers to grow, the category must grow.
Enter Google, and you can understand why so many digital marketers are feeling so buoyant. Even if you don’t buy the notion that one company can change advertiser biases and spending habits, Google possesses a few unique attributes and advantages that make it one of the few companies that might more effectively evangelize the opportunity.
Unique position in the marketing stack. One of the more interesting things to come out of the New York event is a series of YouTube videos featuring customer case studies. Typically, what you get in marketing collateral like this is the one-tech-vendor-does-it-all-message. Google could have done that by citing studies that show that the search engine is still the number one destination for U.S. Latinos. Instead, Google opts for something more subtle, referencing competitors such as Facebook and Twitter as important parts of the digital marketing mix. Given what Google does, that’s a smart strategy. It effectively underscores Google’s position as a more foundational element of the marketing “stack,” to borrow a metaphor from the world of technology marketing. The lower (the more foundational) you are on the stack, the bigger you are. And the bigger you are, the more you can afford to speak about the competition, for they only reinforce your position. But this position not only benefits Google, but also the category by enabling Google to speak to a greater part of the marketing ecosystem, and get more businesses to see the opportunity.
Unique access to data that matters. In his 2005 book, “The Search,” John Battelle famously described Google as “a database of intentions.” This was the driving force behind the company’s rapid ascent after the Web 1.0 bust, as more and more advertisers began to see the intelligence and efficiency of serving ads based on what consumers actually want. Since that time, Twitter has emerged with what’s arguably the world’s first “open database of intentions,” and lots of businesses are mining that data. Still, the Google database today is far bigger and more mainstream, and this places it in a position of authority that’s hard to match today (but watch out for Facebook and Twitter, which both have a different class of data based on self-profiling and self-indexing). Judging on what Lopez and others disclosed at the New York event, it looks like Google intends to leverage that authority and act as educators to the general market.
Unique moment in category evolution…where leadership in tech has been lacking. Not too long ago, a few companies (MySpace most conspicuously) began asserting themselves in the Latino digital arena. I’m not sure what happened, but the biggest voices in Latino digital today are coming from the grassroots social media community, smaller tech companies, politics, and the media (the topic of my next column). I can’t help but wonder if Google saw an opportunity to seize the moment. As Chiqui Cartagena said in her Ad Age article, “When Google talks, people listen.” But my hunch is that Google’s PR coup is partly based on the fact that Google is listening…and showing up. After all, this is a conversation about Latino digital marketing, and digital tech leaders have a critical place in that conversation.
Whether or not Google comes to dominate that conversation, or other big tech companies show up in force, remains to be seen. Competition for mindshare would be good – up, down, and across the marketing stack. In the meantime, expect the folks from Google to continue doing their own marketing, smartly positioned as educators and accelerants to the slow-to-ignite Latino digital market. That ought to get things started.