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Hearing it from Google’s Annie Baxter

When Annie Baxter, Google’s comms manager for Australia and New Zealand, started at the tech behemoth in 2008, there was no Chrome, no Android, no hardware, and no Google Play. So she’s had to learn as she’s gone along. And she’s loving it.  

On perceptions:

“15 years ago Google got its start in a garage. So it’s within peoples’ recent memory that it was a startup. They see where it came from and they see the two guys that founded it are still there. They are such an anchor point for people. And it’s easy to get behind two guys with a dream to make a better search engine who then start changing other things along the way. The company does get bigger and bigger, and it ends up having different touch points, but the philosophy the company was founded on, which is a user-focused idea of ‘If we make good things for people they will stick with us’, is still there. When we look at where people have their fond feelings towards Google, it’s around very practical things. They love that it’s a great search engine. They love that Maps works really well. And we haven’t lost sight of that.” 

On competition:

“The internet is the ultimate level playing field. When Google started, there were a lot of other search engines out there like Ask Jeeves, Dogpile and Hotbot, but they made a better one. The next Google could be founded tomorrow, or next year, or maybe it has already been founded. We see that happening a lot at the moment with the amazing cycle people are going through with messaging tools.” 

On dominance:

“We’re conscious that with size comes scrutiny and that is completely fair and reasonable. People should be looking at the companies they work with and having open dialogue with them. But the world of marketing options is actually a really vast one … We need to make sure we’re earning people’s trust every single day, and getting better every single day. If we lose that trust, we lose that business. We do well when our partners do well; when small businesses are finding customers to sell to or when marketers are coming out with campaigns that are getting great results … Healthy ecosystems are super important for us. Many media companies are running AdSense on their sites to help monetise them. It’s in everybody’s interest for them to be strong and doing well. We would like to work out how we can do more—if that is of interest and if that’s welcomed—to help people adapt, to change their operations, or do different things. More and more people using Google Apps is a good example of that. We think it’s a pretty cool way to work, and it seems pretty cost effective if you’re trying to run a tight ship.” 

On the evolution of AdWords:

“It’s a fairly well-known quantity now. But what’s going to be interesting is how it’s used. The Fire Service in Victoria ran a heat-activated campaign recently, so they had ads that triggered when the temperature crossed a certain threshold. When you start to be conscious of what’s going on environmentally and use some of those controls built into the technology to turn on and off—and be very conscious of what the mobile experience is like—that is a lot more creative.” 

On the connected world:

“There’s a company in the Maniototo that exports husky racing equipment around the world. Global advertising used to be squarely out of reach of small businesses. There was just no way. You couldn’t go and run an ad in the UK if you were a small exporter sitting at the bottom of the South Island, but now you can. Another example is a company that makes micro-brewing equipment in New Zealand. A guy from Russia got hold of them. They had a Google Hangout, and they used the translation technology to go back and forth and have a conversation.” 

“The Russian guy gets on a plane, shows up and buys two of these brewing things. It’s bringing people together that otherwise had no way of finding each other or communicating. So you look at a country like New Zealand and the internet could’ve been purpose built for it.” 

On brand:

“Digital marketing started as a performance and direct response technology. Now it’s moving into brand. But it’s got this perception issue to overcome. I don’t think people are even close to pushing it as far as it can go. But at what point will someone be as proud to have done a beautiful digital campaign as they would to have made an iconic TV ad? The classic TV approach was to create an emotional experience that will get people talking and get mass reach. If you look at what browsers are now capable of, in terms of the graphics and sounds they can support, or the work The New York Times and The Guardian do, it’s beautiful. That’s a huge territory for brands to get into, to create those online experiences that people want to share and talk about because they are gorgeous and creative and use the medium to its full potential. It’s not just a dead screen. That’s why we have a Creative Lab and do Chrome Experiments [like Arcade Fire’s The Wilderness Downtown]. The idea is that there could be a nugget in there that a creative director or CMO sees that could work for a brand.” 

On harnessing YouTube:

“A lot of people are still putting their TVCs on YouTube. That’s nice. And it’s great when you’ve got an awesome TVC because it certainly extends reach. But there’s a long way to go with marketers making the most of it and seeing it as a different platform than television. We’re really not seeing it breaking a sweat yet in terms of what it can do in a really clever way. A Kiwibank business banking ad that used Trueview [which only charges brands if viewers watch it] and said, ‘skip this ad now to save you time and us money’ was clever, and I think YouTube is the kind of platform where you can have a bit of a giggle at yourself.” 

On maturing:

“With YouTube, there’s enough advertising money flowing into that ecosystem now that the other parts of the system are coming in. You’re getting agents, and you’re getting talent management, and you’re getting product placement. When you see businesses being built on top of YouTube or around YouTube stars it shows that there’s actually enough there that it’s actually sustaining. It’s interesting to see this start to flow through to Australia, and it’s already happening in New Zealand.” 

On privacy:

“Our algorithms come up with the best guess for what you’re going to be interested in based on the kind of sites you go to. And fewer than one in fifteen actually make a change when they go into the Ad Preferences manager … It’s a really important issue for the entire tech industry, and the marketing industry.” 

“It comes back to the trust thing. If advertisers and users trust you, they’ll continue to work with you and if they don’t, they will find an alternative … We’re now encrypting all the traffic between our data centres. We have a lot of schools and other organisations that use Google Apps and they say ‘we can’t hire 400 security experts to keep the data safe’, but Google can. All Google systems run on Google Apps, so it’s almost like we’re keeping our own system safe to keep everyone else safe.” 

On trade-offs:

“All these [privacy] issues are going to come down to whether people perceive adequate utility in the product. Google Now, in my mind, is a pretty good example of that. It pops up on my phone and says, ‘your friend who’s arriving on whatever flight is going to be late.’ That’s a pretty great service when you’re sitting having dinner and you’re about to leave. For it to know that, I have to plug those details into my calendar and I have to be cool with the idea that it has gone and checked and got more information. It’s such a natural extension of how Google started. It’s information that’s really relevant to use and it’s going to make your life better if you do … The demarcation between tech companies and other companies is going to become more and more meaningless over time. Data is going to be involved in what everybody does, but there’s going to be a trade-off.” 

On thinking big:

“When the founders listed, they said ‘We’re not going to be a conventional company, we’re going to have a long-term focus. It’s going to be about doing great things for users and if you don’t like that, then we’re not the company for you to invest in, but if it is, come along for the ride, it should be fun’. Take Google X, which is the moonshot factory where people are coming up with things like [balloon-based internet] Project Loon or driverless cars. These things are developed to solve problems, not to make money. If money comes, fine, but that’s not what that team is trying to come up with … When you see the potential for the technology to do good stuff, it’s very gratifying and it gives your job more meaning.” 

On the Kiwi connection:

“One thing New Zealand really has going for it in the Google world is that we have an unusual number of really senior New Zealanders in really influential positions, and that really helps us with projects here. I like to think there’s a natural fit between the New Zealand and Google attitudes of having a go at things, being a little irreverent and not accepting the status quo. I know when we were talking about where to launch Loon, there was a lot of talk about New Zealand feeling like the right country to launch it in. That’s pretty cool.”

On small business:

“Websites are akin to things like health and fitness. There’s so much education out there. Everybody knows they should have one, but it’s hard to get started and hard to know who to trust. We did some research that showed there was a six percent productivity uptick across the board if you used the internet, or, to put it another way, you’re four and a half years ahead of everyone else. If you want to grow that’s fairly attractive. But not all small business owners want to grow. Some of them are ticking along very nicely with their business, and their local customers, and their word of mouth, and that’s fine. So then it becomes about efficiency. How can they actually work smarter, how can they use cloud computing, how can they use Xero to strip out a lot of complexity and bother?”

On Google Glass:

“Whenever I look at my kitchen table, I think ‘If I could take a photo of my laptop and phone and then look at in ten years, it will be laughable.’ I just don’t know how and in which dimension. What I do know is looking down at a phone is not a good way to live. When people say ‘Oh, Glass could potentially come between people and a conversation,’ I think ‘really? Is that worse than ‘I’m not listening to you anymore, I’m checking my phone under the table?’” 

On newspapers:

“They’ve got the most enormously powerful brands. The exciting thing for them is working out how they can transition and do all sorts of things in the digital age. I grew up reading the Herald every morning. Now I check it reflexively and I’m interacting with it maybe 20 times a day. So, what is the opportunity for a media company to grab my attention and develop a closer relationship with me, or to get more money out of me? Everybody in that online world needs to come to the party to work out how to do that, not least of all because journalism is so vitally important.”

This article first appeared in StopPress

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