As Google UK’s chief marketer, Dan Cobley holds probably the most coveted marketing job in the land. The search giant is the company where most marketers aspire to work, according to MW’s 2008 Top Employers Survey (MW November 13). So as Google’s director of marketing for the UK, Ireland and Benelux, Cobley’s job is the Lamborghini, Gucci, Bollinger or Veuve Clicquot of marketing roles.
There was some surprise when marketers named Google as top banana. Last year, Innocent Drinks came first and previously Virgin wore the crown. Yet this year the top slot has been snatched by a brand with no physical product, little print promotion, zero TV advertising and a marketing team of just 30 out of some 3,000 European staff. The search giant has overtaken uber-marques such as the BBC, Apple and Diageo as the brand owner where most marketers want to work.
Cobley called Marketing Week to Google Europe’s head office in Victoria to proffer an explanation. “Google offers a marketer the opportunity to do something that can significantly improve the lives of millions of consumers and the prospects of hundreds of thousands of small businesses. Compared with creating a new pack size or flavour, it feels like you’re doing something that’s more real in changing the world,” he says.
Then there’s the share options. Over the past year, Google’s US share price soared to $725, though recently has come back down to about one third of that level. Alongside share options, which staff can cash in when the stock price goes up, Google offers “restricted” shares redeemable at a fixed date.
Other perks include free food at the café, massages, free yoga classes and pet creches. However, last week it was announced that these perks would be scaled back in line with the economic downturn and a spokesman admits: “The froth is going to be taken off the top.”
So what does a Google marketer do all day apart from enjoy free nosh and watch their shares go up and down? This is not your typical marketing slog. The bulk of the work lies in promoting search marketing. “Business to business marketing is all about helping our large advertisers make the most of the opportunity, with research and events helping the sales force engage with big businesses to understand what Google can do to make them more successful,” Cobley says.
Marketers also promote the service to the small business sector. “Speeding up in a slowdown is our initiative to help companies make the most of the one economy that is still growing – online.” The company creates marketing partnerships with brands to launch new products, as with the tie-up with British Airways in 2006 on World Offers, where the airline promoted Google Earth so travellers could closely examine their destinations. But there have been few similar tie-ups since, nor has the search giant worked again with an ad agency since a brief flirtation with Bartle Bogle Hegarty, which worked on the BA partnership.
For his part, Cobley, now 41, joined Google in 2006 from credit card operator Capital One where he was vice-president for brand and marketing. He started his marketing career at PepsiCo and worked on Walkers crisps. Previously, he trained in physics, took a Masters in management at Cambridge and then worked as an engineer.
“The only things we look for in our marketers is great intellectual capability, excellent academic credentials and evidence of real contribution and progress in their previous career,” he says.
Some observers were surprised that marketers named Google as the UK’s most aspirational employer. Cobley is aghast at one observer’s comment that: “Free thinkers need not apply to Google. There are a lot of brains there but also a lot of yes men. If you go for an interview it is all about what you think of Google rather than what Google thinks of you.” The critic portrays a company created by clever technologists where the daily work is done by ad sales people “just taking orders”.
Against this, Cobley cites the wealth of opportunities for marketers to be creative and develop sensational, world-changing initiatives.
Google is famed for launching new products and schemes, as it seeks alternative sources of revenue to the 97% of income derived from search marketing. One example is the YouTube symphony orchestra where musicians around the world upload pieces for a specially composed score to create a collaborative orchestra. This idea is the brainchild of a junior marketer in the London team “working on advertiser acquisition” who is also a musician. It came out of an internal “Dragons’ Den” session where marketers are asked to come up with “crazy, whacky” ideas then present them to senior marketers. “It is a way to force them to think outside the box and have a route to airing ideas that are not part of their day job,” says Cobley.
It may not sound like much of a money-spinner, but Profero managing director Nick Blunden says Google’s strong search revenues lightens the immediate pressure to boost sales. This leaves space for experimentation with newly acquired brands such as YouTube.
He adds: “Google has built the most high profile brand in the world in a non-traditional way, word-of-mouth has been a powerful tool for driving growth. That’s interesting for marketers.”
However, new services don’t always succeed. Google has just axed Lively, its attempt at a Second Life-style virtual world. And Chrome, its web browser, has about a 1% market share. Jamie Riddell, innovation director of digital marketing agency Cheeze, says: “Google is now a game of stickiness. It is trying to maintain the user on its property to sell them more ads.”
Meanwhile, Duncan Parry, chief executive of search advertising agency Steak, adds that the Google brand will need careful tending as it moves more heavily into display advertising following the controversial purchase of DoubleClick. “Being seen as ‘not evil’ will be important,” he says. There is already an uproar over Google’s decision this May to allow brands to bid on rivals’ search terms. Interflora is suing Marks & Spencer for sponsoring its brand name as a search keyword on Google.
Google’s revenues have powered ahead over the past five years hitting $5.5bn in the third quarter of this year, with the UK accounting for about one sixth of that. This growth is expected to slow as the economic downturn bites, though Google is likely to be far more resilient than most to the decline. That could mean even more marketers hammering on their doors looking for work.