How Does Google Market Google? By Putting Customer Data at the Forefront

Using data to tell stories and build better advertising campaigns



Kindra Cooper
10/21/2019

Google marketing

Given the ubiquity of Google’s products in our everyday lives – Maps, Chrome, YouTube, Google Search – it’s hard to remember that the search engine giant is first and foremost an advertising company. In fact, it controls a whopping 40 percent of the US digital advertising market. 

The masses of data Google collects from user behavior on its web and mobile properties is used not only to inform its own ad campaigns but is sold to third-party advertisers. In fact, Google has to run one of the largest Voice of Customer programs in existence – absolutely everything it does is centered around the user. 

“Insights aren’t reserved for the final step of targeting but influence every piece of creative, revealing who the audience is, how they behave and the best time to reach them,” Meg Biron, media technologies manager at Google, wrote in a blog post on Think with Google.

How Google uses customer data on a global scale 

Mining big data has led to Google’s secret sauce of anticipatory or predictive marketing: understanding what users want and deciding how to build those insights into the ad and product experience.  

In a 2017 campaign for Chromecast, Google studied public data from Google Trends to learn which TV shows the audience loved most. The company used this data to anticipate what shows prospective customers would want to watch on Chromecast – apparently Zootopia, Stranger Things and a viral YouTube video of a snowboarding baby, among other things. 

Read more: Google Hijacked the Oscars - Seizing Cultural Zeitgeist to Engage the Customer

Google itself is one of the heaviest users of the Google Marketing Platform -- the advertising and analytics platform used by brands to advertise on Google’s web properties. All of the ads served to you during your browsing experience are personalized based on your browsing activity across all Google properties. 

When Google does advertise, its TV spots are also centered around user behavior. The company ran its first TV ad during the Super Bowl in 2010 to promote its Chrome browser and lure users away from Microsoft’s Internet Explorer. In 2009, Chrome was used by just 1.4 percent of internet users, while Internet Explorer cornered a 66 percent share of the market. 

Google advertisingMartin Chow, VP of Marketing at Google (Image credit: AWNewYork/Shutterstock)

“It’s really hard to talk about marketing at Google without recognizing ‘Parisian Love’ and how much that experience taught marketers at Google,” Martin Chow, VP of marketing at Google, said at a recent event in New York City. 

The ad spot Chow refers to, called ‘Parisian Love,’ tells a story via a series of Google searches. A young man (presumably) finds love after a simple plan to study abroad in Paris turns into love, marriage and a need to know how to assemble a crib. It’s this landmark ad – which started off as a YouTube clip produced by Google’s Japan team – that led the company to coalesce around a one-word mission: helpfulness. 

“As a company we’ve expanded far beyond search to so many products, but all through our growth and evolution, that mission still feels very true for us today,” said Chow. 

Since ‘Parisian Love’ Google’s most high-profile ads for Chrome, Maps and the Google Assistant have portrayed user behavior. Google’s ‘Year in Search’ are a hotly anticipated, heartwarming ad campaign that reflects the cultural zeitgeist, political tensions, technological developments and society’s innermost impulses, fears and curiosities. 

If there were ever a need to get a non-Earth dweller up to speed on terrestrial happenings, these two-minute ads would be the quickest way. In 2018, for instance, Stephen Hawking, the royal wedding and Black Panther shaped much of the cultural conversation. 

Read more: Google's Cathy Pearl on 4 Unexpected Use Cases for Voice Assistants

“The approach since Parisian Love has been really refining strategy over the years to get an understanding of what is marketing at Google,” explained Chow. “We looked at things like focusing on the user, not the brand, the role that product plays in being helpful to a person.” 

In the past couple of years, however, consumer sentiment towards tech companies has been trending down. “Techlash” was runner-up for Oxford Dictionary’s word of the year, defined as the “strong and widespread negative reaction to the growing power and influence that tech companies hold.” This year, Google reiterated its mission of helpfulness by launching iconic TV commercial ‘Here to Help’ featuring the iconic smash hit ‘Help’ by the Beatles as its soundtrack. 

“I think we hit the marketing lottery because it’s very rare that the Beatles write a song that is your positioning brief for an ad campaign,” Chow joked. He says that Google has since boiled down its advertising strategy to four succint ideas:

  1. Talk human to human
  2. Look for ideas everywhere
  3. Act like an owner
  4. Never settle

“It starts with thinking about one real person – understanding that person’s pain points, their story, their why, and try to connect with them on a human to human level.” 

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