It’s been more than two years now since Lehman Brothers collapsed, signaling the public start of the worst economic crisis in U.S. history. Two years in a downward spiral, followed by a bit of leveling off and now a narrow beacon of light piercing the blackness. Despite all those headwinds and pressure, most financial services firms have navigated through these treacherous waters and are now trying to grow in this new reality. Growth was far from our minds two years ago. It was all about battening down the hatches and retrenching. Oddly enough while all this turmoil was wreaking havoc, technology was blossoming, sprouting new connected devices and blurring the lines between web, media, entertainment, shopping and conversation. This amazing time of convergence might just turn out to be the protagonist in this economic story.
Google’s New York headquarters are located in the meatpacking district in a concrete bunker of a building on Ninth Avenue. I love the idea of that structure. I used to visit there in the late 1990’s when Barnes and Noble set-up their E-Commerce shop away from the more traditional bookstore confines across town. It’s a cavernous space with massive elevators large enough to lift delivery trucks. When you finally get past security, you feel you are in a place that could survive anything. A kind of a fallout shelter if you will. It was comforting. This was my first Google Finance event and I didn’t know what to expect. But it was Google, so I set my expectation high. At the end of the day they were exceeded. The agenda was extremely well structured for both content and emotion and, as it turns out worthy of an Aesop fable.
- Google’s Principles for Innovation
- Macroeconomic Landscape
- Consumer Response to the Economic Crisis
- Innovations from Google
- Client Case Studies
- Media Platform Convergence
- Google TV and Android Demos
Dennis Woodside, VP for Google led off and immediately stepped on the gas. Things are moving faster than ever and the Internet is rapidly becoming the de facto communication channel. He laid out the evolution of the Internet as follows; read (early websites), buy (emergence of online commerce) and talk (social and mobile). He strongly echoed what others have been saying about mobile overtaking desktop, and soon. To illustrate the point of how quickly information is making its way to the net Mr.Woodside pointed out that there are 800 exabytes of information on the web today. Up until a couple of years ago, if you added up all of human information, radio and TV shows, books, music, newspapers, etc., it would only equal 40 exabytes. By 2020 Google predicts there will be 53 zettabytes of data online (1,000 exabytes = 1 zettabyte). In other words. Kind of a lot of stuff. He was all about speed and racing to get there first. Hare.
Up next were two impressive and informative speakers. Matthew Slaughter of the Tuck School of Business and John Gerzema, Chief Insights Officer at Young and Rubicam. Mr. Slaughter was from the school of cold, hard facts and it was a bit painful. He said his inclination was that of the optimistic Tigger, but prepared us for more of an Eeyore perspective. Of course all of us in that room knew the facts. We’d been following them for two years from inside our own firms. Hearing them in this setting, among our competitive peers and coming from an “outsider,” made me gasp and say to myself, “Did all that really happen?” Essentially he told us that it could take until 2020 to recover the 8.5 million private-sector jobs we had just lost. He did remind us that it’s in times of crisis that we produce our best innovation.
Mr. Gerzema, co-author of Spend Shift: How the Post-Crisis Values Revolution is Changing the Way we Buy, Sell and Live also had lots of stats and charts. But he channeled his message through people who were already innovating and making a difference locally. Not corporate masters of the universe, but simple, everyday people. It was inspiring stuff, witnessed first hand while on an across the country road trip. He spoke about consumers who have been hit hard by the crisis and have less value than in the past, but because of technology acceleration they have more power. Consumers are moving from mindless to mindful consumption. Trust is the key driver now, “Trust is the new black,” perhaps the quote of the day. It’s moving beyond traditional marketing for firms and toward actions and gestures brands must take and make to prove to consumers we care about them. He laid out five concepts defining this shift.
- The New American Frontier – Optimism, Resiliency, Opportunity
- Don’t Fence Me In – Retooling, Education, Betterment
- The Badge of Awesomeness – Nimbleness, Adaptability, Thrift
- Block Party Capitalism – Character, Authenticity, Locality
- An Army of Davids – Community, Cooperation, Amplification
Firms must deeply understand consumer context and show them we will navigate for them. He rattled off more than a dozen examples that are worth checking out. Here are a few; bluhomes.com, whipcar.com, neighborgoods.net and sunrunhome.com. I’ve only just cracked his book, but it seems to hold many more nuggets, including this tidy summary of where he thinks things are going.
In short, the message is, quality is in and quantity is out. It’s all about slow now. Slow VC and trust based transaction models. Brands should not force consumers to lock in their purchase decision up front. Offer trial, sample experiences, then work with them until they get comfortable. This is challenging stuff for big brands, especially for those of us in the financial space, because it’s not logistically easy to trial our products. Tortoise.
Back to Aesop. Everything is accelerating, but slow is the way to go. We live a world that’s rapidly converging, think the film Inception. Immediate access to reliable information means consumers can re-purpose the time it used to take to research choices and redirect it to actually understanding what the product or service really does for them, and how it might be to work with the provider. They turn to social networks to help inform their decision. Firms need to invest quickly in the world of convergence so they can be more transparent and open about selling their goods and services. Perhaps even create a newbreed of products andservices expressly designed for trial. “No obligation, no one will call, no salesman will visit your home.” I realized long ago that you won’t learn precise recipes on how to succeed inside your own firm with these event concepts. After all, that’s why you get a paycheck. The best you can hope for are some strong case studies and clever networking.
After a savory lunch they took pity and allowed us to break from the world of stats and enter the world of Gopi Kallayil, a Google Product Marketing Manager for Search Advertising. He had just returned from 36 hours of traveling undertaken for the sole purpose of meeting with the Dali Lama. Show off. Mr. Kallayil was centered and calm and made keyword search sound like a search for the meaning of life. It’s not a type in field on Google’s home page, it’s the “white box” where a billion people across the world arrive at each day and tell it their deepest secrets and desires. Mr. Kallayil pointed out that people tell the white box things they don’t communicate to even the closet people in their lives. Probably true. We got a glimpse behind the curtain of how Google analyzes search terms and how that informs new products and services. He talked about the nnewly launched Instant Search as well as what they are doing around piping in social media conversations. But It was Gopi, so search transcends finding out where to find a latte. Someone noticed what results Google was returning when a user typed in suicide. They made sure that the crisis hotline 800 number showed up high in the results. The next month, calls to this hotline rose 10%.
The highlight of the day for me was Mike Steib, Director of Emerging Platforms at Google. He was engaging, entertaining and really knew his stuff. It was all about mobile, convergence and once again, speed; Hare. Mr. Steib urged us to design our web experiences for a TV screen as well as a mobile screen. He gave us his prediction for what percentage of the U.S. population will have a smart phone by the end of 2011, 100%. I really enjoyed how he took cutting edge ideas developed at MIT and brought them down to practical applications like getting a haircut. Even though his delivery was accessible and delightful, the real message was get going and do it now. It’s a new reality and we will need to figure out how to be a tortoise and a hare.
Dennis Woodside, Matthew Slaughter, John Gerzema, Mike Steib (Steve A Furman)
The Google TV demo at the end of the day fell a little short for me. They did not have the devices connected to the Internet and so I couldn’t go to my web site, discover.com, to see how it would look on the big, beautiful Google TV screen. A bit of a miss. And one more thing. How about an afternoon break guys! Those aside, I’ll be back, that is if they invite me.
Tortorise and Hare images from free clip art server