About a billion of us come to the “white box” everyday across the globe, me included. One of the small pleasures is when you navigate to google.com and see the Google Doodle. Like most things there’s history behind the idea. Read about that history here. When I see one, I snag it and toss it into my iPhoto collection. I took a look the other day and saw the count was up to 237. Yes I know you can easily search Google and see them all, including the ones they post outside the U.S., but where’s the sport in that? The archivist in my can’t help but post my collection.
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
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
I have always loved the way Google transforms their logo to draw attention to key dates or milestones. You can see a previous post on this topic here. Underway now is Doodle 4 Google. School kids from kindergarten through high school have been invited to create their own Google logo around the theme what if?
From the thousands of entries they have narrowed it down to 40 and put it out for public vote. It was so much fun to see the entries and cast my ballots. Imagine what was going through those little and not so little minds. There were recurring themes. The environment, world peace, reaching out to those less fortunate. Very encouraging.
In keeping with Google’s playful tone, they created a fun way to display the judging bracket as a chalkboard.
Looking forward to seeing the winner displayed on the site May 22nd. There are videos on You Tube that youngsters have posted about creating their doodle. Here’s one I selected that was professionally made and taken from the Google channel.
So much talk about social media. It can’t be ignored by firms who want to find more effective ways to market. Everywhere pundits are saying that advertising, as we know it, is dead. That social is the next thing. If we create an environment or community where customers can help each other and in the end your product, you will save money and get great ideas. Win, win. But how?
Senior executives of companies are understandably shy about going all in on this social thing. They see it as a potential loss of control. As a strategy that could easily backfire. Customers may say bad things about their products or company that just aren’t true. In some cases the customers may have an irrational grievance, or just didn’t understand something. Happens all the time. It’s happening right now in social networks everywhere. That’s the point. It happens and we don’t pay attention.
It’s dead simple. Firms that don’t participate will fall behind the ones that do.
I came across Ross Mayfield’s Weblog the other day. It’s really good. He posits a concept called the Power Law of Participation, and illustrates it nicely in this graphic.
Graphic Credit: Ross Mayfield
The tail defines the low threshold activities and represents the network’s Collective Intelligence. The community identifies their likes and interests. Some of this is tracked by web analytics tools inside companies, or on broader site-spanning networks, while others manifest themselves in the communities at large in the form of links, videos, posts and subscriptions. Once an individual or ideally individuals (and lots of them) reaches collaboration, moderation, and leadership, they are in the high engagement category of Collaborative Intelligence. They process what the low engagement citizens are doing, sharing, and subscribing to, then take it up several levels. Potentially all the way to the point of producing content, even product ideas. This principle maps nicely to Forrester Research’s Ladder of Participation concept of Internet users.
We know that Google allows their engineers to spend 20% of their company time on pet projects to help foster innovation. Now that is a scary thing for mainstream company executives. And it has been said that Google is the best beta company ever, but they need to finish some things in order to grow up. There is certainly proof they have done both. Eric Schmidt, Google’s CEO has said.
Virtually everything new seems to come from the 20 percent of their time engineers here are expected to spend on side projects. They certainly don’t come out of the management team.
This gives us a different way to think about social networks. As an equivalent to the 20% Google grants it’s employees, except much better. Firms should start off by working the tail of Mr. Mayfield’s Law of Participation, by leveraging content they already have, or can aggregate without much effort. This will pull consumers to their site. Further up the curve it will be necessary to create influencer marketing programs that will push vs. pull. No one can say for sure where it will go, so trying to have a 5 year strategy doesn’t make any sense. Most companies don’t have the skills in house right now anyway.
By developing strategies and campaigns for each phase of this curve, companies can begin to shape and measure the practice of Social Influence Marketing.
It’s a convergence of publishing, product development and service in a social network of prospects and customers. More to come.
Like so many of us, I’ve been watching Google’s amazing meteoric rise through the online space over the years. Frequently known as the beta company, the idea machine seems to never slow down. If the Microsoft hostile bid for Yahoo goes through, it will be interesting to see how Google will respond. Microsoft’s track record for successfully merging company cultures has been uneven, so even if the deal is completed, it will be quite some time before any benefits materialize.
Here’s a blast from the past. Google’s home page in 1998.
One of the things I very much enjoy about my Google experience is not high tech at all. It’s how they transform their logo to commemorate significant dates or events. Whenever I see one of these designs I snag it to my iPhoto program. I’ve been collecting them since 2003, and thought it would be fun to get them all together in some fashion. I placed them into a PowerPoint presentation and posted it to Slideshare. I’m sure I’ve missed a few, but there are 79 different designs here. Enjoy.