INC Magazine

The Official Voice of the INC

27 July, 2017 A Chat with the Industry

Gopi Kallayil, Chief Evangelist, Brand Marketing at Google

Gopi Kallayil, Chief Evangelist, Brand Marketing at Google

Gopi Kallayil is the Chief Evangelist, Brand Marketing at Google. He works with Google’s sales teams and customers and helps grow customer brands through digital marketing.

Gopi Kallayil is the Chief Evangelist, Brand Marketing at Google. He works with Google’s sales teams and customers and helps grow customer brands through digital marketing. In his prior roles he led the marketing team for the Company's flagship advertising product, AdWords, in the Americas and Asia Pacific, and the marketing team for AdSense, Google's publisher-facing product.
He is an avid yoga practitioner, triathlete, public speaker, global traveler and Burning Man devotee. He has spoken at TEDx, Renaissance Weekend, The World Peace Festival and Wisdom 2.0. He hosts a TV program on cable and YouTube called Change Makers. He is the author of The Internet to the Inner-net, published by Hay House recently. He released a music album Kirtan Lounge and holds a guest faculty position teaching Brand Marketing at the Stanford University Graduate School of Business. He sits on the Board of Directors of the Desmond Tutu Peace Foundation.

In terms of consumer decision-making, has marketing become even more important than the product/service itself?
Good marketing can never replace a bad product or service. As a classic example, if you are an  airline, you can encourage consumers to fly your friendly skies, but if the service you provide is beating a customer and dragging him down the aisle, that’s the message consumers will remember.

What is exactly the task of a “chief evangelist” and why do today’s companies need one?
Often people think I evangelize the Google brand, but no, I don’t. I evangelize brand building to Google customers. In my role, I meet with the CMOs and their teams of the top thousand brands in the world that are all Google customers. They’re trying to understand how to build their brand in a world that has gone digital. My job is to find a process for them.

Marketing has undeniably changed. One of today’s most successful trends is based on encouraging people to spread the message, to go viral. Why is that supposed to be more effective than traditional advertising on TV, for instance?
We live in an age of participation where consumers have become the brand directors. All consumers today are empowered with a mega-form; they can whisper to one person by sending them a message on Chat, or shout to hundreds or thousands of people by posting it on their social media pages, or create an entire video about how good or bad a product is and blast it across the world. And this is exactly what consumers are doing. (Every 60 seconds, they’re uploading 400 hours of video.) Everyone has a certain circle of influence ranging from their friends and family to people they may not know but for some reason follow them on social media and respect their opinions. These followers are more likely to be influenced about certain products and services and brands by these people rather than the brands themselves. And everyone has something to say.
Take the humble Ziploc bag. If you type “Ziploc bags” in YouTube, you get more than 150,000 videos. Only a handful are from S.C. Johnson. The rest come from people uploading these videos to show how great Ziplocs are for making cupcakes and omelets, how amazingly dry Ziplocs kept their food on a recent camping trip, and how convenient the bags are for packing their kids’ sandwiches for school. Customers have taken over the brand and are becoming brand ambassadors. This is why this new consumer behavior has become hugely important in shaping the personality of the brand. And big brands don’t even have a choice. Consumers have taken control. So you want to participate in and encourage your customers and possibly help curate some of the content they’re putting out there.    

Along with that, another trend in today’s marketing are the so-called “influencers”. Does that represent the new form of celebrity-based advertising?
Yes. And brands should make these influencers a part of their campaigns. Take PewDiePie, who reviews gaming software. He’s been using YouTube as his platform for four years and has nearly 55 million subscribers (by contrast, The New York Times, which is 127 years old, has just over 3 million subscribers). It goes without saying that PewDiePie has enormous influence.
In the health and beauty category, the Swedish pop singer Vera Larsen’s “Lush Life” video on YouTube has nearly half a billion views. She’s a huge influencer. As are Michelle Tram and Bethany Mota. Whereas consumers used to go to the beauty counter at Nordstrom to find out which shade of lipstick they should wear, now, for those in their twenties, YouTube videos from these influencers have replaced the department store makeup counter.
What about “engagement”? It seems that reaching the target is no longer enough. You need much more.
You need emotional engagement. Otherwise you lose your audience. On digital, everything’s accompanied by choice. The consumer understands that they have the power of the swipe— with all that content in front of them, they have the choice to watch it or skip it. They understand that they have what brands want—their attention. From BMW, to British Airways, to Bristol-Myers Squibb—they all want consumers’ attention, and that’s one of the most difficult things to get. Consumers are saying, “Okay, if you want my attention for 30–60 seconds, I’ll give it to you, but you have to give me something of value in exchange. Keep me engaged for the next 30–60 seconds. Entertain me, educate me, give me something that’s useful to me, invite me to participate.” If you don’t, four seconds later your content’s been swiped away; they’ve moved on to something else. It’s even faster
on a mobile phone.

New marketing strategies seem to leave a major role to consumers and ordinary people in spreading the message. Is that controllable? Is there a magic recipe to become viral or is simply doing an excellent job not enough and you also need to be lucky somehow?
Some factors you can control, and some you can’t. Among the things you can control is to make the content unique and interesting to that particular audience. Make it quirky and unusual and use the influencers, induce them to become part of it. The Jean-Claude Van Damme epic splits video for Volvo went viral because he was doing something incredible, unusual, entertaining, and awe inspiring. That type of content doesn’t guarantee the video will go viral, but it increases the likelihood that it will.

Why is it so essential for companies to adapt their strategies to a mobile-first basis?
There are three reasons. First, the mobile device has become the biggest, most deployed platform and technology in the world. There are 8 billion mobile devices and connections on the planet and 7.5 billion human beings. Second, the ubiquity. It has become the 79th organ of the body—always with us. The typical human touches his or her phone an estimated 200 times a day. Third, it’s become the remote control for the world; you click and things happen. We speak to it, listen to music on it, order milk with it. We use it to find our way around the world, to take pictures and document our most intimate moments, to find information in the store about how to get the best deals—It’s become such an embedded part of life and culture. 
Does that apply to everyone? Take the food sector, for example. Or the nut and dried fruit industry. How will the “mobile era” affect them? How should they face the challenge?
Yes, it applies to everyone. People are using these devices for everything from learning about the products and services, to ordering them, to sharing their experiences with those around them. So you want to look at a day or a week in the life of your target customers—how they function and operate in the world, how they use their mobile devices. Say you’re selling almonds and you’re targeting a population that’s into yoga because they think of almonds as a very healthy food. You have to get into their shoes to understand how they interact with their mobile device as they go about their yogic life and become part of that whole story. 

There is a collateral effect on this technological revolution: the so-called Big Data. How reliable and useful are they? Will they continue to be more and more exhaustive?
There’s an enormous amount of data collected every single minute and the sheer volume is going to explode to a scale we can’t even imagine, simply because in so much of the world, definitely in the US, everything is now purchased through some sort of electronic transaction, and the data can be kept forever because the storage is cheap. The data can be invaluable (the trick, of course, is converting the data to valuable information and wisdom), but you need to look at where it comes from. For example, if you look at my shopping purchases at the supermarket, you know my food consumption pattern exactly. But if you’re looking at my Facebook posts and trying to determine whether I’m a vegetarian, that may be less accurate.
The internet undoubtedly changed people’s lives and smartphones have done so in an even more striking way. What is next?
Newer technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, virtual reality, and changes to personal transportation with things like self-driving cars—these are the big changes we’re expecting.

To conclude: What is Google’s secret? How does Google apply all the above-mentioned marketing concepts?
Google’s secret isn’t really a secret. It’s a well-known fact. First, we have some core principles that drive how the company thinks and operates. The most important one is that we focus on the end user, above all else, building innovative products that meet the needs of current and future end users. Second, we try to think in terms of 10x innovation, which is to not just incrementally improve what’s already working, but to challenge ourselves by asking how we can make it ten times better, ten times faster. That thinking also drives a level of innovation that’s unusual. Then there’s the willingness to fail, and we fail most of the time. But because we fail so much and so often, because of the experiments we run, and what we learn, we then become successful.
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