Everything I Know about Marketing I learned from Google

Michelle Prieb, Ball State University

Michelle Prieb
Project Manager, Research and Communications Organization
Center for Media Design, Ball State University

Which of my lessons resonates with you the most and why?

Although I think many of these lessons are compelling, lessons #8 and 9 strike me as fundamentally important: Testing and Tracking everything.

Is it too predictable for a research person to say that gathering data is important? Potentially, but it is so true. These lessons can be interpreted in a number of ways, but I see them as a call to action to understand deeply how people actually use the devices, services or content you provide, whether it be tracking users directly online or measuring interaction with media in other ways. Google tests obsessively, tracks everything and analyzes intensely to learn and adapt their own offerings and designs. They also provide means for other companies to understand online activity. Lather, rinse, repeat.

One of the reasons the testing and tracking works well for Google stems from lesson #5, “be where your audience is”. Google offers so many online services that their research provides a really rich database of activity for understanding online experiences, what works, what doesn’t and where improvements can be made. Google is great at learning, adapting and strategizing based on the multitude of data collected, and its data becomes increasingly crucial to other businesses and their successes as well.

What is the role of search engines in media consumption?

Search is a bit like a window to the soul. That is one of the reasons Google knows us so deeply – some people find this a little scary.

Search is quite frequently the method by which consumers find media that they really want to consume or the starting point in their journey to discover which media best meet their needs. This can be a method for opening up a world of information for consumers to comb through or an opportunity to guide consumers in a particular direction.

Sometimes consumers need direction, but they almost always want to feel as though they are making their own decisions. This is why the practice of “looking like content” can be so important for marketing and advertising messages. Search results can be rhetorical strategies for marketers, carefully using persuasive appeals to paint a picture, tell a story, clearly define or characterize product, services, etc. in ways that makes them irresistible, yet empowering and informative for consumers.

How important is simplicity when it comes to adoption of new media platforms?

Simplicity is extremely important for adoption of devices, services and platforms, but it is not everything. The decision to adopt (and by adopt I mean integrate it into my life, not just try it briefly) is really a value proposition : How much do I value what I get from this platform based on how much time and effort I have to put into either figuring it out or in continued use?
Twitter is a great example of this value proposition: it is both too simple and too complex for some to see great value. Conceptually, Twitter is simple enough to use, yet over half of Twitter users stop using it within a month. Presumably this is because either they didn’t see much value in the posting of simple updates to Twitter (especially if they have a much richer network in Facebook and many more functions) or because they realized that to get any real value out of the platform, they would need to do a lot of reading and careful crafting of updates to build a follower base. For those of us who stay engaged with Twitter, it tends to be because we’re either having a lot of fun with it, or we’ve seen great value in the real-time conversation/search and are willing to put in the time it takes to extract that value.

Would people consume more “traditional media” (eg, Print, Radio, TV) if it were available for free online? Does the answer vary by age group? If you don’t have any research on this, please speculate.

Traditional media sources that make their content available online for free are being used, for print, radio and TV, to different degrees and age does play a role, but so do several other factors. With TV, it’s really not about whether they watch more because it’s available online, it’s which platform they choose based on location and content, and which provides the best overall user experience.

Younger age groups watch still watch plenty of traditional TV – our data from the CRE’s Video Consumer Mapping Study showed 18-24 year olds still watching an average of 4.5 hours of TV and only a few minutes of computer video, although they spent a little over an hour on the web. The amount of TV tended to increase with each age group up to about 7.5 hours of TV for the 65+ group (except for the 35-44 group, they spent less time with TV and more time online but not watching video).

Content, location and user experience have a lot of to with platform choices for TV as well. For example, streaming sports events are available online from various sources, a lot of them at no cost, but live TV is nearly always preferable if it’s available (in HD if possible, on a 52” screen) because we like to be entertained. Watching sitcoms or dramas online can be great for consumers who don’t have DVR or for those watching somewhere other than their living rooms because it allows them to circumvent appointment viewing. However, if they are sitting at home during Prime Time, looking for something to watch or looking for background noise while making dinner or doing homework, the TV is still preferred – even for the 18-24 year olds.

Essentially, consumers want the best experience for TV that they can get, and this frequently means the best available screen. The best screen might be the 52” HDTV in the den, the 9” TV in the office while going over the bills, the computer screen while at work or the mobile screen while waiting out a layover at the airport. Whichever screen provides the best experience at the time, in that location, for the content they want, is the platform that they will choose.

With print media, all bets are off. Youngish consumers are used to getting their news for free and they are used to it right away. Teens and college students still read print newspapers and magazines, but typically only as long as they are really easy to access and typically if they are provided for free, via school, parents or peers. They are unlikely to purchase subscriptions on their own once the paper is no longer free, because they can get their content online or via TV. A lot of younger consumers see online news as easier, instant, and thereby, more accurate than printed newspapers or magazines – print is very static and news is not. This doesn’t necessarily mean they consume more than other age groups who use more print, but they consume news in a different way and definitely consume more news than they would if they were required to pay for print.

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

Provide quick, easy, accurate, reliable and safe results and people will trust you with their lives.

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