It’s been two decades since Google was formed by graduates Larry Page and Sergey Brin, beginning a path to world domination of the search engine sector and creating an advertising behemoth along the way. The world has changed significantly with the ability ‘to google’, and rivalry from the likes of Microsoft and Yahoo has only spurred its global growth on.
The Drum spoke to a number of marketing chiefs to get their views on just how Google has grown and flourished during the last 20 years.
Nigel Vaz, CEO, Publicis.Sapient EMEA and APAC
What’s Google’s 20-year story? It’s a case study in how a couple of disruptive, tech-oriented entrepreneurs fundamentally reimagined search – supplanting a plethora of search engine competitors over time, by consistently offering a superior experience in interface and search results (Google’s PageRank set the standard, and arguably the rules, that everyone had to follow). This ability to reimagine a business, and to reimagine its own business, has been at the heart of Google’s success. It has consistently shown how it can own consumer interactions, capture attention and create a point of leverage that can be used to dominate other areas of the value chain – it’s success with search being replicated in web browser (Chrome) and mobile (nearly 90% of smartphones sell with the Android operating system).
Sure, Google has a near (92%) monopoly on search, has deep and wide data on billions of consumers and commands a third of digital advertising spend but, for me, the fascination in Google-watching is how it continues to embrace and leverage new technologies to provide consumers with relevant and differentiated experiences. Google understands that, in the age of digital business transformation, a defensive strategy is not enough to protect market position. As such, it’s unlikely to get blindsided anytime soon by a shift in consumer adoptions of technology – quite the opposite.
Google’s relatively recent moves into hardware products (its phones and Google Home devices key among them) represent a further advance in its ownership of consumer interactions and the datasets those elicit. Google’s physical devices are the literal delivery vehicle for it to get Google Assistant, and its AI technologies more generally, into the hands of you, the consumer. Its dominance in search data, in web browsing with Chrome and email with Gmail is now extended and enhanced by knowledge of your driving habits, what you watch on TV (Play) and how you run your home (Nest). The value of these overlaid datasets is Google’s ability to train its AI to know all about you. By continuing to cross category borders and compete orthogonally, Google gets ever closer to becoming our interface to the world. That’s a reason why the most interesting period in Google’s 20-year history could well be right now.
Celine Saturnino, chief commercial officer, Total Media
My first experience of Google from an advertising perspective was in 2003 running paid search campaigns and writing meta data for natural search listings. Overture and Microsoft even then had a smaller share of the market but they still took a reasonable share of budget. Performance models were a lot simpler and advanced algorithmic performance technologies that automated bidding and delivered rules based activity were only just starting to take hold in the UK market.
Google’s early success in the search market has allowed them to transform into a fiercely dominant player in the advertising market with excellent products in programmatic, video, mobile and measurement making it an easy choice for agencies and advertisers to consolidate from a technology perspective with huge benefits of scale and data. Through a focus on closely matching consumer behavior with advertising and being able to measure the immediate impact, Google has taken share from every advertising channel that exists today. As they continue to innovate in programmatic out of home and TV, their success in taking share of ‘broadcast’ media is set to continue, particularly for the younger demographics.
Such dominance in the advertising market has allowed Google to transform itself into a technology and consumer brand, launching hundreds of products and services into the market (many of them free for consumers). Today Google can help control your home through Nest, or if you’re living in Phoenix they can take you where you want to go in a driverless car (although there is a way to go with this project given the most recent reports on consumer reaction to project Waymo). Google has even invented a smart spoon to make eating easier for people with disabilities. Today Google is an enabler across almost every part of life (if you want it to be) and its continual ability to invest and innovate in technology will see it continue to be a central brand in society as consumer behavior moves increasingly towards technology enabled activity.
But not everything Google has been responsible for has been positive. They have been at the center of tax avoidance, misuse of IP and personal data controversy to name but a few. As a brand that dominates both in advertising and the ‘real’ world, there must also be a rigorous focus on how Google conducts its business and the impact it has on people to ensure that technology doesn’t disregard the need to act reasonably and responsibly in the advancement of a more connected society.
Jade Watts, SVP, General Manager, Mediahub Boston
Google has become so engrained in everything we do that it is hard to remember when it was just a search company or even when it wasn’t a verb. Does anyone remember their first Google Search campaign? I vaguely remember the early days of Google aside from the fact that now we could search for anything, anything at all, and there would appear an answer—to even the most obscure questions and searches.
Google is one of the most complex companies out there. It started out with a simple mission to improve our experience on the internet and has now morphed into every aspect of one’s daily life—across multiple platforms and offerings. It’s changed the way we gather information and watch videos and, from a marketing perspective, has changed the data and ad personalization game. It is a behemoth that we all need to learn to work with and around in many instances.
Google’s dominance has fueled its rise. It is incredibly reliant on data and controls a sizable portion of our own personal data…and we can’t imagine living without it in our daily lives. It was among the first to leverage personal data signals (i.e., search behavior, geo, etc.) to customize ads to consumers—a marketer’s dream. It was the first to introduce a new way to watch videos and capitalize on the shifting habits of consumers. It was the first to introduce new ad formats within search results. But, given the data privacy concerns creeping into the US, Google will need to diversify its portfolio. It will need to find other areas to invest in and other areas to innovate in, such as Google Voice, which could fundamentally change how consumers search and interact with brands.
Phil Stelter, Managing Director and Chief Media Officer, SYZYGY
As a search specialist in California in the early 2000s, I remember Larry Page rolling up on his Segway to say hello to our group of geeky marketers as we toured the nearly-finished Google Campus. Back then his dreams were big, but nowhere near the scale Google has grown to now. Yet despite its rapid evolution and escalation, its core mission to ‘organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful’ has held true. Mostly.
Google/Alphabet today is a truly diversified business with fingers in all the pies; YouTube, Chrome(books), the Cloud, ‘moonshots’, Google X and much more. What began 20+ years ago in a garage is now a commonly used verb for quickly finding answers to life’s problems. As it turns 20 - leaving its precocious teenage years behind - Google must consider the extent to which it will remain dedicated to its mission.
Its next moves therefore carry profound significance. Does it continue to fight the good fight for unrestricted content, or will it allow governments (China’s censorship, Trump’s accusations of ‘rigged’ searches, etc.) to further influence access to information through the platform and its content. Google has arguably replaced many functions of the press as the fourth estate and its role as a de facto public utility can’t be underplayed. It’s a borderline human right, transcending national borders. The question Google must start answering soon is what does it want to be celebrating on its 30th birthday? It’s the NASA dilemma: will Google be satisfied with its work so far, the digital equivalent of landing on the moon, or does it reach for the stars.
Tom Manning, head of strategy, Forward3D
Forward3D was originally founded on being a Google AdWords specialist back in 2004, taking advantage of the fact that most businesses did not understand or value paid search. Our early campaigns were typically driving search traffic through very simple campaigns for very large, international companies who did not understand the medium. Since then our business has seen exceptional growth internationally and in breadth of services, but Google platforms remain a core part of our business.
Google’s sheer size and power has elevated search marketing from being an afterthought to a core channel for many businesses. At the same time the general maturation of digital such as the rise of social media and changes in online and mobile consumer behavior have placed digital advertising on a par with traditional advertising. Google was a major early driver of this with its targeting abilities, measurability and effectiveness set the standards across digital advertising.
Google’s long-term ambition was always beyond just search and this was evident a long time ago with the launch of Google Analytics, the acquisition of DoubleClick, and more recently the move to consolidate their platforms and tools into a single ad solution. We expect the future focus to be on AI led automation tools, with manual controls being curtailed over time. Facebook have adopted a similar approach to building their own data and advertising ecosystem to cement and protect their position in the market. While they have both hunkered down recently in the settling period post-GDPR and data misuse controversies, we hope to see bridges being built between ecosystems to better support advertisers across platforms.
Denis Crushell, vice president of EMEA, Tubular Labs
My first introduction to Google was at university as an incredible search engine to help me finish my final year project. When I later joined Google about 10 years ago, it was amazing to see how many new businesses were driving growth entirely based on Google search. Small and big companies such as Zoopla and Booking.com were built on search traffic in their relevant vertical.
At Google I worked with many advertisers and on many campaigns. Being able to measure through to conversion was hugely powerful as a means of direct response advertising, and something advertisers hadn’t seen before. Compared to other forms of direct response, such as direct mail, being able to measure performance in real-time was simply mind-blowing.
Today Google is a key component on every marketing plan, whether that’s search, YouTube or Doubleclick. This was not the case 10 years ago.
The barrier to entry for video advertising is much lower - traditionally you needed huge budgets to produce and run TV ads. YouTube changed that and made the skippable ad format a true standard.
In the future I predict Google will continue to offer advertisers more targeting granularity, leading to greater media efficiency and less wastage than ever before.
Rob Pierre, chief executive officer, Jellyfish
The first PPC campaign we ever ran, with notable levels of spend, was for Which?. We took them from a system where whoever paid the most ranked highest, with the likes of Overture, to the Google model which included the Quality Score component. This changed the landscape and gave brands that were facilitating PPC campaigns an even better chance to compete on the landscape.
Also, Google brought a feature-rich, accessible user interface as well as a proactive account management team that offered solid support.
At the part of the funnel where buyers show most intent, Google created one platform where all brands had to compete - which in turn gave smaller brands a chance to contend because of the AdWord relevance and Quality Score. Google/Youtube has also massively influenced consumer behavior as well as where brands allocate their advertising spend - first with print advertising and now traditional TV, we're seeing continued shifts to digital.
I predict that the Google technology stack will be the dominant flavor in everyone's ad tech recipe.
Google gives us the ability to understand users digital journeys, enabling us to provide personalized and dynamic creative related to their stage in the consumer funnel.
In the years to come, brand marketing, performance marketing and CRM are all going to merge and essentially provide relevant sequential messaging to the one consumer. We'll also see more emphasis on data-driven creative. The continued growth of cloud devices will allow us to process a huge amount of data and finally be able to create micro audience segments based on behavior online.
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