Everything I Know about Marketing I learned from Google

Chapter 10: Let the Data Decide

Executive Summary:

Who is the key decision-maker at Google?

Not Eric Schmidt nor Sergey Brin nor Larry Page nor any other member of the Google management team. At Google, decisions aren’t made by people, they’re made by data.

At its core, Google is an engineering company and engineers believe in math, science and data. This can make the Googleplex a difficult environment for right-brained thinkers.

Data equals accountability. Don’t rely on your gut or a few focus groups. There are too many data points that can, and must, be considered. To leverage all the available data, major agencies are building demand-side platforms to buy large quantities of advertising inventory and decide on an ad-by-ad basis what message to show based on data gathered about the individual device where the ad will be displayed and the person using that device.

Unfortunately, this type of targeting is misunderstood (at best) and deemed creepy (at worst) by consumers. In general, people don’t like knowing that someone else is making money of their data. That’s why I ran an experiment to sell my data directly to marketers on eBay.

BlueKai does something similar, letting people control their data and earn money that can be donated to charity.

Marketers must rely on data, not opinions when making decisions. Meanwhile, agencies and publishers must find new and innovative ways to use data and add value or else they risk being disinter-mediated.

Select Quotes:

“Data trumps opinion. I love this phrase. How true it is, especially in a creative agency where you can, and almost always do, have varying opinions.”

– Paul Gunning, CEO, Tribal DDB Worldwide, @TribalDDB

“Digital advertising has allowed us, as marketers, to reduce emotion and replace it with hard data.”

– Bill Wise, VP/GM, Display Ad Products, Yahoo!, @BillWise

“PM Laziness = basing prioritization/product decision on gut when a few hours in data would have given you a clear answer.”

– Ariel Seidman, Director, Product Management, Yahoo!, @ASeidman

“Data is only as good as the actions taken from it.”

– Jeff Campbell, VP, Resolution Media, @CJeffCampbell

Final Thought:

The only Android you should trust is sitting on the bridge of the Starship Enterprise. Just try not to catch him in the middle of a data dump.


June 16, 2010: Google has made its foray into the demand side platform space. On 6/2, it announced the acquisition of Invite Media. I put this deal in context in today’s MediaPost column,  ”Google Invites SEM Attributes to Display.”

June 20, 2010: CNET asks, “Is Google far too much in love with engineering?“ I answer, “Let the data (and by data, I mean profits) decide.”

July 16, 2010: In this chapter I share an example of my wife, Lisa, being served a highly-targeted ad while checking her Yahoo email. While I have no updates pertaining to such behavioral targeting practices nor has anyone cracked the code on cutting consumers in on the action, but I am happy to report that I’ve almost completely weaned Lisa off of Yahoo and onto Gmail.

Sept. 21, 10: As Seth Godin points out, people don’t care about privacy, they care about being surprised.

  • Scott K

    OK, so in p.148, AG says:

    “Nowadays we have our own customized news and entertainment sources from which we form our own opinions about politics, fashion, etc…”

    Some thoughts…

    On the politics front, this is having a very corrosive effect on American politics. 30 years ago, wherever you fell on the political spectrum, we all still got our basic news from honest brokers: Dan Rather, Tom Brokaw, Peter Jennings, and your daily paper – whose news gathering operation remained separate from their editorial department. (So even though the Chicago Tribune is conservative and the New York Times is liberal, editorially… you'd get the same NEWS story from each and could decide what you thought about it.)

    Now, if you lean left, you can read Huffington Post and Daily Kos, and watch MSNBC at night, and think you're actually getting the “news”, when in actuality you're getting EVERYTHING through the lens of partisanship.

    On the other side, as Jon Chait of The New Republic (an old classmate of mine at the University of Michigan, Go Blue) wrote recently, Fox News is NOT the mirror image of MSNBC on the right. Fox has official and unofficial ties with the RNC, Newscorp give money to the GOP, and there is no separation between news and commentary as there is on MSNBC. Conservatives tend to believe the mainstream media is inherently corrupt and and only the right wing media is “Fair And Balanced”. Ergo, politifact.com and factcheck.org consistently rate Faux News at the bottom of their ratings of news outlets. But they dress up their screen to look like CNN or any other news channel, and otherwise intelligent people are none the wiser.

    This has allowed “echo chambers” to develop, where issues are not really being debated because people are only listening to their own side. It has also given rise to what Tom Friedman – moderate conservative – calls “politics as sports”: people just pick a team and support them right or wrong.

    And this divides and isolates people. Chuck Klosterman wrote a phenomenal essay on how the bewildering number of options available to us end up separating people from each other and breaking down a sense of community because we have fewer shared experiences: as AG pointed out in his example of Prego coming out with a gazillion different varieties, you can go to the supermarket and choose from 2,000 different pasta & sauce combinations and 200 different breakfast cereals, you can customize your news without the aforementioned honest brokers, customize your music experience via iTunes without having to listen to the same radio stations as everyone else, create your own very personal fashion style, be a fan of a TV show no one else watches on one of your 1000 stations on DirecTV… at the end of the day, our political, entertainment, fashion, news, and overall consumer experiences are not the same as ANYONE else's.

    The commoditization of data, allowing marketers to target what are, more and more – as we saw in the example of his wife – market segments of one.

    This disaggregation of society on many friends is increasingly mirrored by the disaggregation of the market.

  • Scott K

    OK, I typed that a little quickly and didn't bother to edit. The last long paragraph is a run-on sentence, the commoditization of data ALLOWS marketers… , and society is disaggregated on many FRONTS, not friends.

    I'll be more careful next time, Aaron. :)

  • Scott K

    Another comment on the collection and “trading” of data gathered by IP…

    In a society that is concerned about privacy – and frankly, is not as concerned as they SHOULD be – isn't there a concern that there will at some point be a backlash against the idea of ANYONE knowing what you query, where you go, and what you do online?

    Lisa is concerned that someone other than her is making money off her data. Shouldn't she be more concerned that someone out there actually HAS that data on her in the first place?

    And isn't the biggest threat to Google hegemony (in this space, anyway) the idea that some new player could come along and brand themselves as the search engine that will actually NOT collect your data – and be transparent about it?

    If Progressive Insurance could reinvent themselves, going from a substandard insurance provider to a competitor of Geico's, couldn't Yahoo! or AOL make something like this their USP?

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