Everything I Know about Marketing I learned from Google

Rishad Tobaccowala, VivaKi

Rishad Tobaccowala
Chief Strategy and Innovation Officer

Which of the lessons I’ve outlined resonates with you the most — and why?

To me the three most important are a) relevance, b) simplicity and c) broad competitive sets.

The first two (relevance and simplicity) are the keys to marketing. From the days I began my career at Leo Burnett, they always honed [in] on the importance of relevance and simplicity in advertising. Over the years, I have found that being able to articulate things that are complex into simple concepts (not dumbed-down, but honed) and then making [them] relevant to the audience — consumer and/or client — have been absolutely key.

The idea of broader competitive sets is newer, and driven by the digital world plus increasing mobile computing power — since, more than ever before, once something becomes digital the borders between industries collide.

For instance, let’s look at the Apple iPhone, which now makes Apple a competitor to not just Microsoft and Sony but also Nintendo (gaming), Nikon (camera), Google (apps mean less search), Timex (why need a watch), Nokia (phone), [and] Garmin (mapping).

I would [add] two points you do not have, which is the AUDACITY of having a 100-year grand vision (organizing all the world’s information and spending billions to buy things like YouTube), and SPEED (move fast, iterate fast, make mistakes fast).

What companies (besides Google) are putting one or more of these lessons to good use? How?

I believe that there are three companies that are dominant in the digital world today and these are Google, Apple and Amazon.

Apple clearly makes things simple and, seeing how competition was going to be broader than before, entered from computers into phones, music and slates, and will soon be everywhere else.

Amazon, similarly, through its data and reco engines, makes sure things are relevant – and, with one click, Amazon prime makes shopping and pricing simple. Also Amazon has expanded into all forms of retail including streaming and Web services, and into hardware with Kindle.

I see these three increasingly competing with each other and, between them, dominating share of wallet.

What makes Google such a unique company? Why has it been so successful?

I believe success is due to four key factors:

a) A reverence for data-driven marketing, which means constant testing and learning.

b) A focus on consumer/user and what they want versus what Google wants.

c) A maniacal focus on talent (getting it, attracting it and nurturing it).

d) Surprise… all its partners and competitors were either asleep, did not take Google seriously or did not understand the business model. Only Apple and Amazon from the start knew what was happening.

You once referred to search as “math and machines.” Do you still hold that POV [point-of-view]? Why or why not?

Google search is math and machines. The future of search is much more than that. Today I find Twitter a great discovery engine… better than Google for discovery, but not for regular search. So I would say it is math, machines and people pointers.

What type of person is well-suited to thrive in an agency, or client-side, in today’s marketing world?

Someone who is willing to be serious about constantly learning, since things change so fast — not serious about their own position or knowledge, since you will make a fool of yourself in learning — [and someone who is] authentic and trustworthy, to attract talent and partners. Companies with [the] best ecosystem of talent and partners will have [an] advantage, but you cannot get partners and talent by being a fearsome fake.

In 10 years, what will the role of Google be in the marketing ecosystem?

Best case, they will be like Microsoft is today (highly profitable, global, large and respected, but not dominant in more than one or two areas [and] not feared or seen as unbeatable). Worst case is that they will be like eBay, which is large, has some interesting platforms (like PayPal) and [is] out there as part of the digital system but unable to elicit passion.

In under 140 characters, what’s the single most important thing you’ve learned about marketing from Google?

Think Big. Move Fast. Revere Talent. Measure Everything.

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