Technology, Complacency, Innovation & Ad Targeting: Key Takeaways From Google@Manchester

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Google’s fifth annual conference in Manchester, UK — Google@Manchester — saw a room full of agency employees, tech fans, business people and journalists led through a series of talks from Google executives, friends of the company and some leading business names.

Here are the main takeaways:

Technology’s Role In Revolutionising The Modern World

Google’s Head of Northern Agencies Andy Barke got the ball rolling by reading a passage from a private travel journal he kept in 2004, demonstrating the colossal leaps the technological world has made since then that are often taken for granted.

The advent of the smartphone, the MP3 player eclipsing the CD and MiniDisc player, and the written journal being vanquished by the blog and vlog are just three examples.

VP and Managing Director of Google UK & Ireland Eileen Naughton then took over, delving into slightly more detail about the truly remarkable changes the world is undergoing thanks to technology.

The smartphones we now carry with us every day have more processing power than the Apollo 13 moon landing computers, she said. By 2020, Google expects to see every single person in the world connected in some fashion — today, only around 2.7 billion people are connected.

And what we’re seeing is not a brief bubble, Naughton contended: “While the pace of change is accelerating to a blinding speed, the pace of change will never be as slow again as it is today.”

And it isn’t just businesses that are seeing the benefit of being able to reach a global audience like never before.

The audience are later treated to a speech by inspirational ultramarathon runner Simon Wheatcroft. Having lost his sight at 17, Simon set about using technology to his advantage, which allowed him to pursue a newly-found hobby — running.

He has utilised the app RunKeeper as both a distance marker and a reassuring presence when running solo, and with the on-going innovations in Google Glass and Google’s Project Tango (for 3D mapping the interiors of buildings), the possibilities are endless.

Google’s Continuing Innovation

Eileen Naughton summed up Google’s current position by describing the search giant as a company that has “morphed from being purely a tech company into being what I think is fundamentally an innovation company.”

It’s very hard to argue with her. It seems that for every runaway, commercially viable success the company has, such as Search or Android, they have another ten ideas which they’ve put into production purely to see if they can make them work.

Google[x], the company’s department for these “moonshot” projects, decides what it works on by finding projects equidistant between three guiding principles; huge problems in the world that need fixing, a radical solution to that problem, and breakthrough technology that can make that solution viable.

Project Loon and Google’s self-driving car are just two types of this innovation. The expectation of Google[x] is not one of success, but of failure; John Looney, a site reliability engineer, says that “if half of [Google[x]] projects aren’t failing, we’re not trying hard enough.”

Google has also succeeded in turning an aspect of search that once seemed quite gimmicky and unlikely to ever catch on, voice search, into a real alternative to the keyboard.

Naughton told the audience simply to “just talk to Google”. If any businesses were truly doubting the need to focus on long-tail as well as short-tail keywords, Google’s belief in voice search should have them reassessing that position.

Tackling Complacency

A panel talk chaired by BBC business analyst Steph McGovern saw three industry leaders sharing what they’ve seen of big businesses struggling to adapt to the new technological age and the smaller firms taking advantage of this trend.

A later presentation given by author Rasmus Ankersen was aimed at a similar topic, as he talked about why complacency is so difficult to avoid when a company has been at the top for a sustained period of time.

A more detailed discussion of this area, and the implications it has for search marketers, can be found in my other write-up from the conference.

The New Advertising Age And The Increasing Effectiveness Of Ad Targeting

Dominic Field of the Boston Consulting Group discussed a fascinating recent study conducted with five major display advertisers, which not only showcased the programmatic retargeting abilities that the internet is now capable of, but of the incredible potential this has for advertisers.

The full study can be found here.

YouTube And The New Breed Of Fans

Finally, Derek Scobie, Head of YouTube Brand Propositions, talked about how the YouTube ecosystem has developed since the site’s inception in 2005.

Scobie said the ecosystem has now become a three-way nexus between users, content creators, and brands, then interviewed three YouTube stars and divulged some of the common characteristics among the most successful brands on the platform:

  • They don’t just create content around their products, they do so around their passions. Red Bull and their extreme sports theme is an excellent example of this.
  • Many of the most successful brand videos clock in at under one minute long.
  • Series of videos work particularly well, as do videos that have other content built around them, such as tasks with calls to action at the end of the video.
  • They often work alongside existing YouTube “celebrities” — but for the collaboration to be a success, it’s important to target content creators that really complement the brand, and brands must allow the creator to take the creative lead.

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