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What digital taught a Google exec about branding

What digital taught a Google exec about branding Kevin Kells

Some very strange things can happen on a brand manager's journey through the digital world. Because it can seem so utterly different than what they know, they tend to overreact a bit. First, there's the odd sense that this new world must be thought about -- and thus measured -- as if it contained the "holy grail" of marketing; as though each digital campaign must be able to solve every intractable marketing issue ever faced. And second, they believe that this new world requires throwing out the entire marketing playbook as they know it. In reality, it doesn't. But used well, it can make that playbook even better. I just wish that someone had taken the time to explain that to me in my prior life as a brand marketer.



Save the date!

Hear more from Google's director of CPG, Kevin Kells, at his ad:tech Chicago keynote, "The Age of Performance Branding." August 5-6.


The point is that the things a brand manager cares about most -- insights, storytelling and building brands -- are abundantly available and actionable in the online world. The digital revolution and the "cloud" infrastructure that drives it have greatly increased a marketer's ability to find more and better insight into the people who matter most to their categories and brands, and to tell them better stories at more relevant times. Plus, you get to see, in real-time, what is and isn't working. So what changed to make all this possible?


Well, three things have happened in recent years that forced marketers to rethink the depth of their commitment to digital -- and to ask themselves why they aren't doing more in the space. First, the technical infrastructure has vastly improved in areas of scale, speed and mobility. You can easily reach the people you want to 24/7 wherever they are. Second, video viewing has exploded with increased broadband adoption, giving marketers the storytelling format they love -- sight, sound and motion -- to engage their online audiences. And third, data have become much easier to gather, analyze and glean insights from, given the innovation in online analytical tools.


The key theme that runs through the changes is that marketing is striving to be much more effective, and thus more accountable, in the online space. Effectiveness will absolutely be the defining metric of the next decade. It won't matter that something is simply efficiently distributed, though that is important as well. Most important will be whether the dialogue you had with somebody actually drove that person to action. And as the strong linkages between online consumer discovery and in-store consumer purchases become clearer, the conversation will shift to how to make those online engagements even more relevant and more effective -- whether by reaching them in new places or by delivering targeted messages customized to their specific wants, needs and beliefs. A look back at an example from my past life highlights what a different path I would have taken for a new product launch if I only knew then what I know now.


A number of years back I headed up marketing for Almay cosmetics. Early on in my tenure there, I asked a simple question at a product brainstorm session: "Why is it that my blue eyes get bluer in the summer when I get tan?" The answer from the R&D folks was "color theory," meaning that opposite colors pop each other -- brown pops blue, purple pops green... you get the picture. So I immediately wrote a concept for shadows, liners and mascaras that were designed based on color theory to pop the natural color in your eyes. We did all the hard work for you. All you had to do was to look for your eye color at shelf, and all the products were there. We knew this would be successful because we had ample evidence of the need based on the sales explosion of colored contact lenses, as well as women's confusion around making the right individual color choice.


The resulting Intense i-Color lineup was a smashing success. We launched with two print ads, a 15-second TV commercial and a simple build-out to our existing Almay website. The launch won awards and drove the brand to historical share gains. But looking back, I wonder if it could have been even stronger. My gut says yes, if we had used the power of the online world to better target the right women at the right times with even more relevant messages. What would that have looked like?


Imagine if we had set up a search campaign that targeted any woman searching for information on colored contact lenses. You couldn't do that in any media plan I had ever seen. Or what if we put our brand message into a rich media gadget on sites targeting the exact passions of our core audiences, like beauty or fashion or, yes, even gaming? Or even taken it a step further and actually targeted websites and pages that might appeal to the different ethnicities made up of blue-eyed or brown-eyed women? You immediately get a very different -- and much more relevant -- launch plan that, in today's online world, delivers both precision and scale.


Instead of delivering the simplest message for the broadest audience, we could have been more relevant every step of the way. How much higher could we have driven Intense i-Color? Well, using analytical tools, we wouldn't have had to guess; we would have seen every day and every week just what was and wasn't working in terms of engaging those most likely to purchase Intense i-Color, and we would have adjusted as we went along. But we didn't because, at the time, this was all so new. And no one was explaining it in a way that I, as a brand manager, could understand. Hopefully, all that is changing.


Taking the approach described above would not have meant that the online campaign had to do everything and anything, from awareness all the way through to an online transaction. As laid out above, what would have been easily achievable online would have been a more relevant brand-building launch for Intense i-Color, pure and simple. Remember, once they get offline, these folks do what you and I do everyday. They go to the store. But now they're armed with more relevant ideas of how your brand fits into their lives. And it wouldn't have thrown out the old marketing playbook; it would have made it better because the insights and stories that could have been told would have made more sense to the women they reached.


My job at Google today is built off of all the things I learned -- and missed -- as a brand manager. I try to take what has always worked -- insights and good old-fashioned storytelling -- and make sure that today's brand managers understand how they and their agency partners can make those two very simple things come to life in the new digital world. And most importantly, I try to help brand managers avoid the "if I only knew then" trap down the road.


Kevin Kells is national director of consumer packaged goods at Google.

As National Industry Director of Google's Consumer Packaged Goods division, Kevin Kells is responsible for helping brand marketers drive more effective and efficient advertising solutions. His mission is to connect more brand assets to more of the...

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Comments

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Commenter: Khurram Rafique

2008, August 01

Kevin - one of the best articles I've read on iMedia. You write with substance, clarity, and precision. Look forward to read more.

Commenter: Jay Gronlund

2008, August 01

Kevin - nothing like a simple example or case study, where you juxtapose old traditional marketing with the new media, to demonstrate the potential of digital marketing - congrats. Like you, my background is in packaged goods, and have been teaching a course at NYU on Positioning & Brand Development for 10 years now, and also have my own consulting firm for past 15 years. Frankly I'm not savy enough in digital marketing except to highlight the benefits to my students and emphasize the importance of learning more about its applications. Wish I had your dual experience to do more. Good luck and thanks. Jay

Commenter: Jay Gronlund

2008, August 01

Kevin - nothing like a simple example or case study, where you juxtapose old traditional marketing with the new media, to demonstrate the potential of digital marketing - congrats. Like you, my background is in packaged goods, and have been teaching a course at NYU on Positioning & Brand Development for 10 years now, and also have my own consulting firm for past 15 years. Frankly I'm not savy enough in digital marketing except to highlight the benefits to my students and emphasize the importance of learning more about its applications. Wish I had your dual experience to do more. Good luck and thanks. Jay