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DIGITAL MARKETING MATURITY PART 2 | Full interview with Barney Pierce, Director Google Marketing Technology Platforms, Google

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Gavin: [00:00:00] So I’m here with Barney Pierce, the director of Google marketing technology platforms for Australia and New Zealand from Google. Barney, how are you this morning?

Barney: [00:00:08] Great, thanks, Gavin, and thanks for the opportunity to chat with you today.

Gavin: [00:00:14] Absolutely mate it’s very exciting. Obviously, you know, it’s a very, very strange time for everyone at the moment and that’s all down to this, this COVID experience that we’re going through.

So where were you when you first thought, Oh man, this, this COVID 19 thing is going to be very bad. And what makes you think that.

Barney: [00:00:34] Well, actually, it was probably around late January. I was notified that we were going to cancel a pretty big conference, a Google conference that my team and I were planning to attend in Asia.

Towards the end of March. I think it was actually pretty early days back then, but things were escalating pretty quickly. And what I noticed with folks in the know, and we have some great medical folks in our organization, they were getting anxious and starting to make big decisions even back then.

That’s when I thought, well, this is going to be a really challenging time for us.

Gavin: [00:01:11] How did that make you feel?

Barney: [00:01:18]I think it’s probably from my perspective, we were all a bit anxious about what was going to happen, but I think, having been through the global financial crisis before, I’ve had some experiences, whether it’s weathering through crisis and ultimately that experience has really helped me build resilience and have a bit of a playbook through this.

So I was fine. I think I’m just like everyone else, just a bit uncertain and anxious about what was going to happen in the future. But, hopefully, like all these things, they pass in time and you’ve just got to put your head down and get on with things.

Gavin: [00:01:59] Obviously we’re putting our heads down and getting on with things from, from a very different location. So I think a lot of people are working from home now. How long have you been working from home for?

Barney: [00:02:13] So I’ve been working home for about eight weeks now.

Like most people probably, I can say that there’s two distinct periods of working from home. There’s the period when kids were still in school, which was kind of pleasant and also a novel experience for us for staying home for that long.

But then this period when kids were at home that was certainly a more challenging time, but also really rewarding in many ways.

Gavin: [00:02:42] So it’s such an interesting balancing act having, having kids, you know, homeschooling whilst you’re working from home. What a challenging time it has been to kind of balance that out.

Barney: [00:02:55] absolutely.

Gavin: [00:02:55] So obviously we’re, we’re all in hibernation at the moment. Which is, which is a strange experience in and of itself, but what are you missing the most?

Barney: [00:03:05] Well, I think from a work perspective, it’s probably just the vibe and energy of the office and feeling a little bit more connected to, to my entire team.

You know, I love, I kind of enjoy walking around the office and bugging folks face to face. Some things I really need help with. I know it’s probably annoying for them, but I’d much prefer that than a constant stream of pings. So probably that, from a work perspective, I think. Personally, it’s just the simple things like stopping off for a drink or a bite to eat after work with a few mates at short notice.

So it’s great to be able to start doing some of these things as restrictions, relax. So those are some of the things I miss, but really small things.

Gavin: [00:03:50] Yeah. It’s funny. It’s funny not being able to go out to a restaurant. It’s just, it’s just bizarre to not be able to have those little things, you know, that we really come to treasure.

What are the most immediate differences that you’ve seen in the, in the marketplace after COVID 19?

Barney: [00:04:08] Yeah. It’s interesting. I mean, I try to look at this from a positive perspective. I think there’s been lots of people and organizations that have really adapted quickly and stepped up to improve the situation and I think be more helpful for customers as well as the broader community.

And that’s what I’ve been really interested and excited about. Across YouTube and search, we’re seeing new trends in consumer behavior and Australia and New Zealand and also worldwide. People are turning to technology more than ever to maintain social connections. They’re also discovering new hobbies.

Search activities like things to do at home have spiked on YouTube. We’ve seen massive rises in content where creators are inviting people to join them. You know, we’ve cook with me and work out with me. And what’s also happened is brands have really adjusted to be more helpful and be there for their customers.

I mean, some examples, I saw, Woolworths and Coles prioritize community needs by offering. Boxes of meals and snacks and essential items for free delivery for people with disabilities, seniors and other folks in mandatory isolation. They also adjusted their hours for seniors and healthcare workers to make sure everyone could shop safely.

And a lot of this has been communicated quickly through technology as well as having a strong online presence during this time. You saw things like Bunnings, introduce companies introduce a drive and collect service where customers can stay safely inside their cars while employees go about and deliver the orders.

I mean, all in all, I suppose it’s, people in organizations have really come together. And I think technology has been a helpful enabler to help keep everyone connected, keep them productive, and most importantly, keep them in the know.

Gavin: [00:05:58] Yeah, I think there’s been a really, really interesting, a great sense of community that’s been fostered that we haven’t really seen.

The way that technology has been able to facilitate this, this community so that we can all give and share and stay connected has been absolutely brilliant. Before you mentioned that you worked through the GFC. Now obviously it’s a different kettle of fish, but, have you seen anything similar to these?

Can these changes even in smaller scales?

Barney: [00:06:33] Yeah. I think from an emotional perspective, obviously being around and through 9/11 was probably more emotional. I think from a business perspective, the GFC was probably the closest thing. I’ve had to this experience, you know, I was actually managing the financial services sector during the time and working in New York for some of that period, which was the epicenter of the financial crisis.

Gavin: [00:06:58] Really? Oh gosh. That would have been difficult.

Barney: [00:07:01] very challenging. You know, budgets and jobs were slashed. My customers were on the front page of every newspaper. It’s probably the most challenging time in my career, trying to help customers in my own team really navigate through this crisis. But, but you know, the reality was I learned and grew the most as I tried to figure out, you know, how to be helpful for customers and find new and innovative ways to solve their challenges with very limited budgets and resources.

You know, as I say, scarcity makes me creativity in these instances. And that was certainly the case for me. We also had to figure out how to manage and motivate a team facing some tough conditions. And, you know, those were things like celebrating. Small wins and small progress rather than the moonshots we’re often going after at, Google and with our customers. And, and the other thing was really about trusting your instincts and experience when things are uncertain, you know, things are volatile. You’re making calls on the fly, you just got to trust your gut in those particular times. But you know, that experience, I feel has given me a much better playbook, a much better a high level of resilience to navigate through this crisis. And I’m grateful to that now, despite it being one of the most challenging times in my career.

Gavin: [00:08:21] Yeah. It’s an incredible to, to have the opportunity to have at least a small snifter of what we’re going through now.

And so who do you, who do you think in the marketplace has shown to be well-prepared or, or rapidly adapted to this shift?

Barney: [00:08:41] I’ve been really impressed. Lots of organizations have quickly adapt to be more helpful to their customers and the broader community. A couple of examples that come to mind.

We saw beauty brand Mecca rollout virtual services like personalized consultations over video chat, to reward customer loyalty at a time when planes were kind of largely grounded. Qantas extended all their frequent flyer miles status by 12 months. All the banks I think reacted quickly to provide advice, relief and support for customers.

I mean, even organizations like myer, they relaxed return policies and reduced the threshold for free delivery. Lots of great examples like that we’ve seen showing that organizations are close to the user and close to changing consumer behavior and setting the right tone and being helpful during this time.

Gavin: [00:09:38] I guess that goes back to organizations being part of the greater community. I think we will switch gears here a little bit and let’s talk about digital marketing maturity. So what, what role has digital marketing maturity played in coping with this crisis, do you think?

Barney: [00:09:56] I think frameworks that we use to assess digital marketing maturity, they’ve really helped businesses make more sense of complexity in digital marketing. So knowing where they sit with their tech and data utilization capability and knowing what good looks like helps organization really align on a longer-term roadmap, digital roadmap, and what they need to get there.

So, it’s really helpful in any time, but the reality is that most organizations are at very different stages of digital maturity. And what we’ve seen during this time is that most continue to work on important initiatives to advance. But what’s changed is the pace at which things are getting done, and in some cases a reprioritization of that work, depending on the impacts of COVID on their business.

You know, for example, industries with extreme disruption are really getting back to the basics, like upgrading measurement infrastructure or improving mobile user experience. These are important infrastructure they need in place to be set up for success. When businesses bounce back, they’re also leveraging automation, for example, scaling order, building functionality.

And this is really helping them not only take advantage of rapid changes in volatility of search and browsing behavior. But also to be more efficient. I mean, manually trying to adjust them in these times is pretty difficult. So, you know, that’s one category, but for others in this crisis is creating a lot of opportunity to actually accelerate their digital maturity agenda, especially for those organizations that weren’t quite e-commerce ready, and they’ve really had to step up the game.

The reality is consumers are spending significantly more time in digital media because of social distancing. Working from home. It’s really important for brands to be able to engage with consumers in a meaningful, personalized manner while also maintaining the right tone at these times and having the data and tech capabilities to integrate these real time insights and trends into your marketing and being nimble enough to act on these insights across departments has been really crucial.

Gavin: [00:12:23] Obviously data is the backbone for being able to be nimble and make swift changes. So, so what are some of the more advanced data driven organizations doing now?

Barney: [00:12:36] We’ve been speaking to customers regularly, all at different stages of their journey in terms of digital maturity and some of the more advanced customers, you know, these are some of the things we’re seeing.

Firstly, most importantly, they’re diligently staying on top of the emerging trends and their customer data. And that they’ve got agile teams in place so they can quickly nimbly act on these trends across departments. They’re using sources like Google trends, search data, and near real time advanced analytics to make sure they’re staying close to changing customer behavior.

And I said before they have agile teams and the ability to connect these insights from one area of the business and activate them in another is really important. For example. An analytics team sees consumption radically shift during the times of the day. You know, people are staying at home, they’re consuming media at different times of the day now.

Then the acquisition team can then take action to change how they immediate schedule throughout the day. So those connections are super important and that agility has been super important in this volatile time. the other thing is customers with a unified data strategy and have a bit more of a holistic view of customers across channels.

They’re using those insights to pivot focus and resources towards channels based on that shifting demand and where they can be the most helpful, whether that be their mobile app at the time, their mobile website, wherever the demand is shifting based on their locations and restrictions.

A couple of other things we’re seeing.

They’re leveraging automation a lot more. For example, leaning into automated bid strategies, which I mentioned before, that’s obviously gives them the ability to respond to real time changes in auction dynamics. They’re using data-driven creative so that they can tailor creative to customer trends quickly and other important elements in the moment, like adjusting, opening times, or call to actions based on restrictions and safety guidelines in a particular location.

And I think the other important one that we’re seeing here is they’ve also got strong measurement fundamentals in place. They’re using data-driven attribution so that they have a better position to optimize campaign performance across channels and account for changes in consumer behavior and turbulent times.

They can actually capture the incremental value that an online video might have on a purchase decision. Now we’re seeing a lot more customers go to online video for, for guidance and advice in these times. So this is some of the examples we’re seeing from some of the board advanced organizations.

From a digital perspective,

Gavin: [00:15:19] I guess that makes a lot of sense. The shift to video, when you, when you can’t write, can’t be in person, and obviously Google is one of the largest organizations in the world, so what a, what a Google’s marketing team’s doing to respond.

Barney: [00:15:36] A lot of folks ask us about what our marketing team’s doing.

It’s not surprising. They’re, they’re pretty savvy team. Speaking to the marketing team. There’s a few things that they’ve called out. I mean, the current situation has forced their marketing teams to be even more driven by what people need right now rather than broadcast to them in a predefined moment.

They’re also really tapping into consumer trends. They’re looking at search and YouTube trends every day to identify what people are leaning into at this time and, they’re leveraging digital marketing more than ever because they can act at speed and rely on fast and transparent reporting that actually digital channels provide and promise.

I think the other thing they’re doing in this moment businesses need to know what marketing spend is driving results. And that’s no different for our teams. You know, we’ve, we’ve leaned in much more heavily into proven direct response channels and tactics where we can see. Track and measure, return on investment with immediacy.

And then finally, you know, like all of us decisions that used to take weeks of having to be made in hours. So media plans are being put together with less polished analysis is more collaborative as they come together and with a sense of urgency to get the job done. So lots of change in approach, but also on a reliance on traditional, you know, digital channels that they can act quickly and adjust quickly to.

Gavin: [00:17:12] I think one of my favorite sayings through all of this is done is better than perfect.

Barney: [00:17:19] That’s right. Exactly. And again, trust your gut instinct and experience. , and you know, be open to testing because you’re not going to get everything right this time.

Gavin: [00:17:31] We’ve never had this time before. Everybody. It’s an interesting one, right? That’s for sure. And so what would you say Google’s recommendations for digital marketers are today?

Barney: [00: 00:17:43] Obviously the crisis is impacting our customers in different ways, and any recommendations should address specific challenges you face. I think that being said, most organizations are obviously experiencing unprecedented change. They’re also including significant shifts. They’re also seeing significant shifts in consumer behavior, and most are going to need to get more out of less marketing dollars.

So, a few things to consider as you evaluate digital marketing. Firstly, stay on top of consumer data and market trends. That’s to keep up to date with and take action on shifting consumer behaviors, you know, measure and invest responsibly. Even in tough times. You should ensure you’re, you’re investing responsibly and therefore you shouldn’t stop measuring it.

Squeeze more out of your tech. The reality is most customers aren’t leveraging the full potential of their tech. Now’s a great time to do so. Leaning on your partners and agencies, tech providers like Google, the best practices and playbooks and finally, learn new skills if you’ve got a bit of downtime and working from home as we adjust to new ways of working online.

Online education can play a part in really helping us develop skills and lots of great resources like Google skill shot. , as an example where you can start to brush up on some of those things you’ve wanted to upskill on for a while.

Gavin: [00:23:21] Fantastic. And this is a brilliant time to learn some new skills and pick up some new facts from, from fantastic podcasts as well.

So, as a Google leader Barney, what are your recommendations for other leaders in the industry right now?

Barney: [00:23:37] I think keep focused on what matters most to your organization. Have clear prioritization for your teams. , I’m doing that on a regular basis. Just making sure, you know, some people at home have limited bandwidth, they’re adjusting to their different work schedules. So ensuring everyone has very clear prioritization, goals over the last couple of months has been really important. The other thing I think is resist the urge to focus on short term or only short term KPIs. You might be tempted to change some of your long-term KPIs to focus on short term KPIs, but I think it’s still important to invest for the longer term.

If you’ve had to pull back on some campaigns, for example, potentially use this time to put in place structural upgrades to your analytics capabilities. The other thing I’d say is. Focus on learning rather than getting everything right, try experiments. That’s going to help you learn. And in this pretty challenging period, you’ll also need to trust your instincts and experience.

Speed is going to matter. There’s less time to review, so you’re gonna have to make the best call you have probably sooner rather than later in terms of being comfortable. And I think the final thing is. The silver lining in this is that leading through periods of really extreme complexity helps us prepare for a future.

I think that’s more multidimensional, that’s fast paced, that’s more automated. It was certainly the case for me going through the global financial crisis, I feel like I have a better playbook and much higher level of resilience to navigate through crisis, which I’m grateful for now. Really, despite it being a very challenging time in my career.

Gavin: [00:25:23] Brilliant. We’re going to switch it up a little bit here, Barney. It’s time for a few rapid-fire questions. Are you ready, sir? Yes. Excellent. So, who would you look up to as a mentor or role model or muse for your own digital guidance?

Barney: [00:25:40] Not as a mentor, but certainly someone I look to for thought leadership.

I’ve always admired Eric Schmidt from Google. He’s a pretty good thought leader in the space. I try to read up on most things he publishes.

Gavin: [00:25:51] Okay, brilliant. , so what books, podcasts, media are you consuming right now that’s, that’s helping you with your digital education, but also for your clients?

Barney: [00:26:03] Generally I listen to the wall street journal tech news briefing on the way to work. , it’s a great podcast. It’s pretty US focused, but good short summary of big things happening in tech. But I’m also knee deep in reading submissions from various marketing players who have responded to the ad tech inquiry issues paper.

It’s really interesting to see who’s submitted responses and their positions on a number of important topics we need to address as in districts.

Gavin: [00:26:33] What’s the trend that you are most excited about in digital?

Barney: [00:26:39] I’m excited about the opportunities that advances in analytics, cloud technology, and machine learning are really opening up for marketers.

I think we’re really in the early stages of leveraging the full capabilities of these technologies, and I’m really excited to see further developed product development and more use cases in these areas.

Gavin: [00:27:00] That leads us very nicely into question number four. What are your thoughts on AI in both marketing and beyond?

Barney: [00:27:10] I think, you know, machine learning in marketing, it’s going to help us better predict marketing outcomes, but also enable us to do more with less data, which is going to help us in that privacy focused kind of world. Beyond marketing. I’m really optimistic about the future of AI to help both empower people and transform lots of industries and think it’s going to benefit future generations a lot.

That being said, I also think it needs some oversight given what could potentially go wrong with this technology. You’ve seen that with deep fakes and expansive facial recognition programs, so really excited about the potential, but still needs oversight for us.

Gavin: [00:27:48] Yeah, it’s an, it’s an interesting one. Elon Musk is not a fan of AI.

Barney: [00:28:11] He’s certainly a character.

Gavin: [00:27:48] So one more question and then you’re off the hook mate, if you could tell someone 10 years ago, one interesting thing about how digital would turn out now, what would it be?

Barney: [00:28:11] Don’t know whether this would be interesting, but, I’d say go and start up or invest a ride sharing app immediately.

I mean, who would have thought ride sharing company would be worth about $50 billion 10 years ago? No one.

Gavin: [00:28:24] I tell you what, Barney, that’s actually very interesting. If you had told me that 10 years ago, I think a few things would have been a little bit different.

Barney: [00:28:30] Hahahaha, Right.

Gavin: [00:28:34] Barney Pierce, it’s been an absolute pleasure, mate. Thank you very much for your time and, I look forward to catching up for a beer on the other side.

Barney: [00:28:42] Great. Thanks Gavin. And thanks for having me today. I really enjoyed it.

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