Aaron Goldman, author of “Everything I Know About Marketing I Learned From Google,” is chief marketing officer at Kenshoo, a search marketing and online advertising technology company. I interviewed him in advance of SES Chicago where he will lead a session, “Get Googley: How to Apply Lessons from SEM to Other Marketing Channels.”(ClickZ and SES are both part of Incisive Media.)
Stewart Quealy: At the outset of your book, you claim that Google has built a business with just enough opacity that no one really knows what it’s up to. Does this seem a bit ironic given that Google recently unveiled its Google Transparency Report, the company’s latest effort to stick to its “don’t be evil” mission statement?
Aaron Goldman: Yes, but therein lies the magic. “Don’t be evil” is the world’s best PR spin. It provides a cover of altruism for everything Google does. As long as it puts out a transparency report, Google can continue to push the envelope on data collection, analysis, and targeting. “Don’t question our motives, we’re not evil.”
SQ: You highlight insights from numerous marketing luminaries in your book who claim altruism sells. Why is corporate social responsibility and “ecumenically emulating Andrew Carnegie” so crucial to companies like GE?
AG: Let’s face it. This green thing is here to stay. People have finally wrapped their heads around the fact that being environmentally responsible is not only good for the Earth, it’s good for business. By aligning its products with “doing the right thing,” GE creates an emotional connection with customers that’s hard to break.
SQ: One of the themes you touch on rather emphatically is that people consuming news are not in a commercial mindset. If that’s the case, why do traditional news publishers like Rupert Murdoch continually blame Google for their woes?
AG: If you can’t beat ’em, blame ’em.
SQ: Gary Vaynerchuk is fond of saying that Google and YouTube are reliable ways to get information but they’re one-way streets. You ask, you get your answer, the end. Short of an outright endorsement of Twitter, what are your thoughts?
AG: There are times when you want reliable information as judged by Google. And there are times when you want reliable information as judged by your friends and followers. Today, people have to make decisions about where to turn for decisions. Tomorrow, they won’t. That’s why Facebook is keen to get into search. And why Google’s keen to get into social. This also gives some context for Google’s acquisition of Aardvark.
SQ: It’s been said that “crowdsourcing” is the equivalent of a suggestion box on steroids. If so, how has Threadless, an online apparel retailer based in Chicago, successfully tapped into this ad hoc labor force?
AG: There’s nothing wrong with a suggestion box on steroids, as long as you know that’s what you’re getting. That said, Threadless doesn’t think of what it does as crowdsourcing. As I discuss in the book, Threadless prides itself on “community sourcing.” Rather than asking people to contribute ideas for little to no reward, Threadless gives people who are passionate about design a forum to express themselves and a way to get paid handsomely in the process.
SQ: One of Google’s mottos is, “Fail fast, fail smart.” What are the key takeaway lessons from Google’s marketing failures such as Google Print Ads and Audio Ads?
AG: What was missing from Google Print and Audio was a signal. Yes, Google was able to create efficiencies in the process of buying print and audio ads but it wasn’t able to close the loop for tracking and optimization. Unlike with search or other online ads, Google had no way of knowing how well the ads performed. And, therefore, it could not create any sort of quality score to manage ad delivery. With TV, Google can see response at the user-level and take that signal to improve relevance and performance.
SQ: When it comes to consumer mindshare, you claim it’s a zero sum game. What does that mean for the Facebook vs. Google rivalry as these two giants cross into each others’ domains?
AG: It means all-out war. There are only so many hours in the day and attention span in the hours. The company that can help people make better, faster decisions will win. To be sure, those decisions can be related to information, commerce, and/or entertainment. Help me find quick answers, buy stuff I want, and connect with cool people and content, and I’ll give you the lion’s share of my time and attention.
SQ: Given that Google is an engineering company at its core, how does it balance an unrivaled reverence for data and innovation with potential privacy concerns?
AG: “Don’t be evil.”
SQ: Chris Anderson recently quipped that for a generation of customers used to doing their buying research via search engine, a company’s brand is not what the company says it is, but what Google says it is. Do you agree?
AG: Yes. Same goes for people. Go ahead, Google me.
SQ: You describe yourself as being a URL-aholic. What’s with this fixation on poorly chosen URLs?
AG: It’s a disease. I just can’t help myself. When I see oneofthosealllowercaseurls.withweirdtlds/andslashes-ordashes, my first instinct is to stop everything, take a picture, and roast it on GoodURLBadURL.com.
SQ: When you gaze into your crystal ball, what do you foresee as the future of digital marketing? What is the promise of “search-and-act engines” and how are they different from today’s search engines?
AG: The future is plastics. OK, maybe not. In Chapter 21, I explore a world where “app-ssistants” fulfill Eric Schmidt’s quest for “One result per query.” Today, when trying to complete an action like booking a trip, you turn to search engines and the process goes something like search, click, search, click, search, click, act. Tomorrow(ish), you’ll be able to give one simple instruction and your app-ssistant will return an actionable itinerary based on what it knows about your preferences (and finances) and API access to inventory from hotels, airlines, restaurants, cabs, etc. Now can you see why Google bought ITA? But, more importantly, can you see why Apple bought Siri?
SES Chicago takes place Oct. 18-22, 2010.
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