Everything I Know about Marketing I learned from Google

Lawrence Wan, Omnicom Media Group

Lawrence Wan
General Manager, Digital, China
Omnicom Media Group

How do digital marketing best practices differ in Asia Pacific vs. North America?

As one colleague said whenever a Chinese ad manager of a global client told him that China was different, my US colleague would say, “Gravity still works the same in China as it does in the US”, which is very true. However, what my dear colleague didn’t realize [is] that the laws of attraction and rules of engagement were not the same. Thus, US/western digital media brands, from Yahoo, eBay, MSN, and now Google, learned the hard way that they weren’t as “sexy” to Chinese audience as there were back home.

From a digital marketing POV [point-of-view], taking a “global” approach to taking a global campaign essence but localizing to match local audience interests, motivations and behaviors is a must to optimize success.

This can be best exemplified in one of OMD’s global clients paid search program a couple years back. The objective was to drive participation for an American Idol like competition that ended up with the winners profile promoted on global packaging. The campaign was centrally managed in the US, running across multiple countries around the world, including Hong Kong and China. And, interestingly, those 2 Asian countries also had the lowest CTR [click-through rate] and participation rates compared to the other countries in the campaign.

When we took a deep dive with our US colleagues, we realized that the US keywords and ad copy were just translated it into Chinese, but none of it made sense to local users. At that time, American Idol wasn’t broadcasted in Greater China at all, and few knew who the well-known American contestants were. Plus, in Chinese language, there are multiple ways to essentially say the same thing, and all variations weren’t selected. Last[ly], the campaign was run only on Google. However, Google was actually a noticeably smaller search engine than other local counterparts (Baidu in China, Yahoo in Hong Kong), so the volume of responses was far fewer than all other countries where Google was a market share leader.

What’s your perception of the differences in how Google operates in APAC [Asia-Pacific] vs. North America?

Google is Google everywhere around the world. So what makes them loved in US is the same in China. However, as noted above, the laws of attraction and rules of engagement are different if you want to be top dog in the “dating game” of digital media in China.

So, what made them a US and global phenomenon became its hindrance in China and many countries in Asia. Google wouldn’t adapt or localize enough to attract local audiences and advertisers. For example, Baidu’s little secret for years was that mp3 searches was the key driver for searches on their engine. But Google took years to figure that out, and only entered the mp3/music search game for less than 2 years. Then, Baidu evolved with web 2.0 and had [a] couple of the most popular social media platforms with its “tieba” chat forum and “zhidao” answers channels. However, Google kept to its global products and didn’t deploy more local products to attract local users. Thus, [Google was] always 1 step behind Baidu.

What will the impact of Google shutting down Google.cn be for consumers? What would it be for marketers? What would it be for Omnicom Media Group?

1) SEM [search engine marketing] on google.cn [and] google.com.hk

SEM is naturally all about the searches, as advertisers/agencies buy as many relevant keyword searches, at the right CPC [cost-per-click] price as possible. So, if the Chinese government starts block[ing] Google’s HK [Hong Kong] SE [search ening] for Chinese users, as it did few years ago, we expect to see Google’s share of search queries to slip from its current 30% market share to around 15%, which it had pre-official entry into China.

The majority of those searches are likely to shift to Baidu in the short/medium term, lifting its approx. 65% search query share to near monopoly levels. If so, that means most advertisers will be competing for clicks in 1 marketplace, boosting the average CPC and effectively instantly decreasing our ROI [return on investment], since response/conversion rates should not change.

Although much improved to the past, Baidu has had a checkered history of higher than average click fraud, manipulating search results, and limited advertiser controls over its account and campaigns (e.g. API’s [application programming interfaces] provide limited automation & bid optimization controls) [In other words, Baidu] “will do evil”). Thus, making advertisers/agencies cautious of such reliance on Baidu. And without such strong and sophisticated competition from Google, hopefully Baidu’s rate of development for the benefit of users and advertiser/agencies won’t slow down.

Note, if Google focuses more on its AdSense product, which is all about combining their advanced contextual keyword matching technology, its big advertiser base, and 1000’s of sites in their network to share ad revenue… it opens new doors for advertisers/agencies and innovation from competitors for our benefit.

2) Usage & the rise of the new SE’s

Google typically received a more educated, savvy and higher income user. [I] believe it’s not a matter of if, but a matter of when, the Chinese government starts blocking and slowing down access to google.com.hk from within China.

The question is then whether [Chinese searchers] would be satisfied with just using Baidu. But what may happen is that searchers will start using multiple sources for searching to find what they want, and savvy SE’s may appear and try to replace Google’s #2 position. This gives a great opportunity to other MNC [multi-national corporation] SE’s such as Bing and Yahoo to rise from its obscurity to replace and surpass google in at least 1 major internet market in the world given those brands’ affinity for more educated, Western-influenced, higher income online users.

However, given the Western-world’s backlash at the Chinese govt’s controls over Google, those US-based MNC’s are likely not going to make bold moves to avoid negative publicity elsewhere in the world. Thus, this gives a big opportunity for a local SE brands to rise.

3) G.com and other Google products, and evolution of digital analytics

Blocking google.cn/com.hk is one thing, but if the Chinese government wants, they can also start blocking Google.com and other Google products in China. For example, OMG [Omnicom Media Group] is the largest user of Google’s Doubleclick ad serving/tracking product in China. Their servers are also hosted in HK. Thus, if the Chinese government were vindictive and started slowing down that access, we may need to move an alternative vendor to support our clients needs. This same is also true for Google Analytics, where we use their web analytics tools quite a bit in China given its advanced nature yet free cost. So, local players may take a lesson from Google, such as how Baidu did by changing their keyword bidding system, dubbed “Phoenix,” to mirror Google’s ad relevancy and bid system. [In turn,] we may see a proliferation of low cost/free but highly sophisticated ad tracking and web analytics tools in the market place. And since OMG Digital China has the largest and most advanced digital analytics team amongst 4A media agencies, we will be at the cusp of this potential evolution.

In less than 140 characters, what’s the single most important thing you’ve learned from Google?

Do no evil can sadly also mean do no business in China.

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