Marketing in Silicon Valley requires a scientific approach. By Julie Zhou (Growthmaster, Hipmunk)
Math was my favorite subject in high school. After college, I was primed for the well-trodden path to investment banking where I could play with numbers all day. Instead, when Google came calling in search of marketers, my career took an unexpected turn.
Marketing? The department first to get budget cuts in tough times? Why was a company that had grown into a global powerhouse by living and breathing data hiring marketers?
Years later, I had learned that marketing was unmistakably a science - it was the science of discovering what people loved about your product and of engendering love if none previously existed. Much as Google used mountains of data to match a user to their precise search query, marketing in Silicon Valley required the same scientific approach of matching a user to the magic of your product.
The Power of A Brand
It's the concept of "magic" that has unfortunately cast marketing in a mysterious and sometimes hokey light. The infamous quote by a former marketer "I know that half of my advertising dollars are wasted... I just don't know which half," hasn’t done our reputation any favors either.
In the current era of marketing, customer communication via the lightning speed of social media can change the perception of a company in an instant. Gone are the days when a marketing department could funnel messages through three major broadcast networks and see what stuck. Just ask the Susan G. Komen Foundation, whose single decision against Planned Parenthood earlier this year ignited a social media firestorm and continues to cost them untold numbers of supporters and donations each day equaling millions of dollars in brand value.
A company cannot afford to not care for its brand, nor can it afford to waste a single advertising dollar or hour of marketing labor. In the age of the Internet, marketing has become a science of speed and precision. And when it’s done right, the effect is truly magical. Google’s brand is now worth over $111 billion, or over 50% of its total market cap.
The Power of Experiments
A brand isn’t born overnight (unless you’re Pinterest). A strong, long-lasting brand is most often the result of thousands of minute improvements rather than one enormous change.
I once worked on launching a new product at Google where I managed a budget greater than the value of most startups devoted to... text ads. What struck me initially as colossal overkill on an un-exciting medium revealed itself to be the foundation of all our marketing work.
On a canvas of 95 text characters, tiny changes had massive effects - clever capitalization and site links increased engagement rate by three or four times. Plurals outperformed singular keyword nouns. The list of minute changes was endless, and even the tiniest one had significant impact when multiplied across millions of users. Then, everything I learned in the cost-effective medium of text ads, we carried over into our display, video and eventually offline channels. Refining the science of our marketing at the text ad level allowed us to avoid costly mistakes in less measurable channels with far more variables - background color, logo size, color matching, vocal tone, billboard angle, oh my!
And lest you think that the value of marketing experiments is limited to the world of online advertising, President Barack Obama would beg to differ. The Obama 2008 election campaign attributed at least $75M worth of donations and 4M email sign-ups to vigorous A/B testing on everything from choice of cover photo to button text on its sign-up page.
There is resistance, I'm sure, to turning marketing into a numbers game - as if doing so will suck the magic out of your product. But just like knowing that Adele’s ability to make us cry is the result of dissonance and large leaps in vocal range doesn’t make her songs any less tear-jerking, revealing the science behind marketing should not make the magic of the product any less powerful. Just like any other skill, marketing done right means making it look easy.
Here are some resourceful blogs and interesting articles for math-conscious marketers:
- Nothing but Google Analytics love
- Seth Godin’s Blog
- How A/B Testing helped Obama win the presidency
- How a “growth hacker” leverages distribution channels
- Why Good Advertising Works
Editor's note: Got a question for our guest blogger? Leave a message in the comments below. Photo credit: Search Engine People Blog on Flickr. About the guest blogger: Julie Zhou is the Growthmaster at Hipmunk, a travel site taking the agony out of hotel and flight search that was named one of the Best Travel Websites of 2011 by Travel+Leisure and one of the 50 Best iPhone Apps of 2012 by Time Inc. Before Hipmunk, Julie worked at Google, marketing products like AdWords, Google Maps and Android. In her free time, she enjoys rock climbing, krav maga and finding her next exotic travel destination. Follow her on Twitter at @jyzhou.