What Paul Gunning and John Battelle Learned From Google

This is the fourth in a series of columns I'm publishing in MediaPost featuring interviews I've conducted while writing my book, "Everything I Know About Marketing I Learned From Google," due out this fall from McGraw-Hill. Previous installments featured Seth Godin, Rishad Tobaccowala, and Scott Hagedorn.

Today is a 2-for-1 special with Paul Gunning and John Battelle, each of whom I interviewed separately but asked some of the same questions.

Gunning is CEO at Tribal DDB Worldwide, a global digital creative shop that manages clients such as McDonald's, State Farm, and Lowe's.         

Battelle is CEO of Federated Media (FM) Publishing, a conversational media company, and author of "The Search," a book that stands the test of time as the defining narrative on the rise of Google and the importance of search.



So, what did these captains of industry learn from Google? Read on...

Aaron Goldman (AG): What makes Google such a unique company? Why has it been so successful?

Paul Gunning (PG): Three core reasons in my opinion: 1) They broke new ground in the advertising model with paid search -- deliver relevant results to an interested party and only pay upon action. Brilliant! 2) They are an advertising company, but boy were they smart not to act like one -- a unique culture of experimentation and risk-taking. 3) The people. Clearly, Google's second-most-brilliant move after the business model was to hire only the best and the brightest.

John Battelle (JB): It figured out how to make great search, then realized the value of that search to marketers. Game over!

AG: Which of the lessons I've outlined (see them all at resonates with you the most -- and why?

PG: 10 ["Let the Data Decide"], but Google refers to that as "Data Trumps Opinion." I love this phrase. How true it is, especially in a creative agency where you can, and almost always do, have varying opinions. More importantly, within the client organizations, you have a wide swing of opinions [so] the only true way to back up your story is data. I can validate your message was shown to the right audience.  I can prove your target liked the message. I can show you sales. Those three foundational statements tend to void singular opinions.

JB: 7 ["Act Like Content"], 11 ["Brands can be Answers"] and 19 ["Make Your Company a Great Story."] All brands must act more like publishers, in every nuance.

AG: What lessons learned from Google led you to create FM?

JB: Go where Google isn't. I studied the company for a few years, realized its power, but knew it could not or would not live in high-end branded environments. That's where FM lives. It's not that we don't leverage technology and scale -- we do -- it's that FM is not a technology and scale company at its core. Google is.

AG: How have you put one or more of these lessons to good use for your clients? 

PG: [We've applied] every one of them. But number 5 ["Be Where Your Audience Is"], McDonald's describes as "Fish Where the Fish Are." A majority of our clients do not have an online sales model, therefore their sites tend to be reinforcements for a retail purchase. Given that scenario, it does not discount the importance of the Web site, but it does add a sense of urgency to carry your message digitally far outside the brand site. Social media has enabled us to dramatically increase this reach in a cost-effective and targeted manner.

AG: What other companies are putting these lessons to good use? How?

JB: American Express with Open Forum [and] Intel with numerous programs, including Lifescoop and WePC. (Both are FM clients). [Also,] Starbucks with its Facebook strategy.

AG: Is Google a friend or foe to the ad agency community? Why?

JB: Both. More friend, I think, as the company starts to focus on what it's really good at. Google wants to allow agencies to leverage what they are really good at, which is quite similar to what FM and other publishers are good at.

AG: What type of person is well-suited to thrive in an agency or client-side in today's marketing world? 

PG: A self-starter. Neither agencies nor clients have budgets to train, nor have the capacity to centralize the innovation that occurs daily now in or industry. Those that seek to understand new opportunities, new ideas, and new technologies can thrive.

AG:  What would it take for someone to knock off Google as the leader in search?

JB: Redefine the interface for how we navigate knowledge. Sounds hard, but it happens every 10 to 20 years in this industry.

AG:  In 10 years, how will Google be different than it is today? And how will the marketing ecosystem be different?

JB: Google will not be understood to be a search company anymore than Microsoft is understood to be an operating system company. Both are software companies.

AG: In less than 140 characters, what's the single most important thing you've learned from Google?

PG: You still can change the world.

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