Marketers queue up for a place at Google

At first sight, it’s difficult to see why a poll of over 1,000 marketers has picked Google as its favourite in this year’s Top Employer Survey.

Sure, Google is an enlightened place to work. It looks for well-rounded individuals capable of seeing beyond the next Boolean algebraic equation. It offers free pilates, free dance classes, free meals. You can even bring your dog to work with you.

But its success has not been notably dependent on marketers, or indeed marketing in the formal, professional sense of the word. How can we say that, given that Google is one of the most powerful brands in the world? Easily.

It has not had to advertise its success in producing the world’s most successful search machine: we have performed that task for it. In a similar vein, it has learned from Microsoft’s mistake of making us hatefully dependent on monopolistic proprietary software. Instead, it engages us as collaborators in an open-source applications enterprise, which lubricates the wheels of innovation and makes Google rich at the same time.

Most of all, however, Google has learned the lesson of Wal-Mart and Tesco, or even Standard Oil 100 years ago: the way to dominate a whole industry is ultimately through controlling distribution. Compared to that, any marketing achievement is relatively minor.

None of this matters, however, if we see the survey as a proxy for the league table of most powerful brands. All the winners – Google, Apple, Innocent, Virgin, the BBC – are inspirational places to work, which are also seen as highly receptive to new ideas. Conversely, the losers (relatively speaking) are those which are perceived to be lacking in fizz. For example, the unpleasant possibility of a P45 aside, the problem with the big bank brands is that there will be nothing to offer. And certainly none of that inventive segmentation of retail financial products that so appealed to the career marketer until the recent past.

Yet we should beware of having an overly topical focus when drawing these conclusions, because they require qualification. Financial institutions have been very much in the news recently and for all the wrong reasons. Yet so, up to a point, have Marks & Spencer and BMW. Recent sales performance has been poor in both cases, and still marketers continue to mark them up in their admiration as places they would like to work. Conversely, Tesco – which continues to perform creditably in difficult conditions – seems to have peaked in its popularity.

One last plaudit on getting it right must go to Sir Richard Branson. If all the mentions of Virgin (from Virgin Atlantic to Virgin Active) were taken together, his umbrella brand would be the overall winner for the fourth year running. That has to say a lot about Sir Richard’s can-do attitude and his abiding ability to inspire. Yet it is a unique personal quality that no one else gets close to touching: not Sir Alan Sugar, for example, nor even Apple’s Steve Jobs. No, the next most popular person to work for is “me”, as in “self-employed”, and it’s second by a long distance. 

Cover story, page 19

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