Kristen O’Hara is the VP of brand and agency solutions at Google. Here, she spotlights three brands piloting new approaches and stretching their thinking to capture new growth opportunities amid uncertainty.
In this current uncertain environment, made more challenging by conflicting news headlines, marketers may have more questions than answers. Strategic decisions tend to get magnified in times like these, and brands often respond by leaning into what they know: tried-and-true advertising tactics that deliver consistent results. While doubling down on what’s familiar is better than doing nothing at all, marketers shouldn’t stop there.
Search, video, and insights are tried-and-true advertising channels. Brands know how to leverage them to capture growth and build resilience. But brands also need to supplement their trusted playbooks with the increased insight, speed, and agility that comes from machine learning and automation. We call this combination of tried-and-true approaches and fresh new ways of working the “tried-and-new.”
Having served in a variety of roles across the industry, including CMO at Time Warner and chief business officer at Hearst, I’ve experienced challenging times firsthand. Managing the marketing budgets and strategies that many of you hold right now through moments of uncertainty is the moment to focus on purposeful experimentation and lean into the tried-and-new framework. This doesn’t require dramatic changes or major new investments. What it does require is prioritization, flexibility, and a learning mindset. Many leading brands have used this approach to go beyond the performance-oriented tools they’ve relied on in the past to drive better business outcomes. Here are the big takeaways.
To market at the speed of consumers, manual approaches don’t cut it
Consumer behaviors, needs, and preferences change from moment to moment, which we see reflected in search. Among the billions of searches on Google everyday, 15% are queries we’ve never seen.1
We know that search drives conversions. But with machine learning, you can quickly identify which new searches (or users) are most valuable to your business based on your goals. What’s more, we’ve found that full search automation can help advertisers increase conversions by up to 20% for a similar cost per acquisition.2 This is a huge uptick when you are being asked to squeeze more value from every dollar and every campaign.
We can see this in action with Rothy’s, a shoe and accessory retailer that relies on video and lifestyle imagery to showcase the quality and colorful nature of their products. The brand adopted automation to surface creative assets to customers at scale across all of Google’s channels, including Search, Display, Gmail, YouTube, and Discovery. At first Rothy’s hesitated to automate such important decisions, but “the results spoke for themselves,” explains Kate Barrows, Rothy’s VP of growth. “Automation stays on top of customer trends and behavior faster than we can.” The brand grew conversions by 60% and increased revenue by 59%.
Stop worrying about what automation takes away, and start focusing on what it unlocks
What could your brand achieve by offloading commoditized and manual tasks to focus on more creative and strategic work? When you think in those terms, you will begin to see automation as a business multiplier that scales what’s working for your brand, your team, and your partners.
Removing tedious tasks, like manually setting your dayparting strategy or building keyword lists, enables your most valuable resource, your people, to infuse more of their own judgment, expertise, and ingenuity into the work. This may mean having the time to focus on building a strategy that expands beyond lower-funnel strategies to develop more holistic, full-funnel marketing campaigns. Or it’s a chance to go deeper on your creative strategy.
Discovery+, the streaming platform, adopted Performance Max to improve how it optimizes performance across all of Google’s and YouTube’s advertising channels and inventory. In this case, automation unlocked new audience trends that Discovery+ used to better refine the creative and messaging around their shows. This also freed up time to reinvest into developing a comprehensive media strategy to further drive growth. The strategy worked: Discovery+ increased incremental subscriptions by 17% and decreased cost of acquisition by 21% in a highly competitive category.
Speak a shared language with the CFO
Marketing often suffers from the misperception that it operates as a cost center. Reframing marketing as a growth driver requires speaking a new language, moving beyond proxy metrics like brand awareness or engagement to focus on business performance. Speaking a shared language with the CFO means measuring business outcomes through better use of data, technology, and machine learning.
Tying incremental marketing investments to sales growth increases revenue and reduces acquisition costs.
When you know the value of your customers and you combine that knowledge with AI and machine learning, your campaigns can begin to shift advertising dollars in real time to the most profitable pockets of demand. This is critical, because tying incremental marketing investments to year-over-year sales growth not only increases revenue but also reduces acquisition costs, leading to more profitable revenue. In fact, CMOs who can translate their metrics into business impact are 37% more likely to report revenue growth compared to leaders that communicate strictly in marketing language.3
For example, as part of its first-party data strategy, PepsiCo invested in strengthening direct relationships with their consumers by offering a loyalty rewards program that personalizes experiences and optimizes offers based on the individual’s preferences. This enabled their teams to demonstrate results that tied more directly to sales, in contrast with traditional tactics like mass distributions, promotions, and broad communications that were harder to measure. For example, the food and beverage brand embedded its first-party data in its media planning and buying on YouTube. Not only did their media efficiency improve, but for some campaigns ROI increased by 3X. They also leverage this data to make better informed business decisions on new flavor testings, focus groups, and product samplings.
Capture growth now. Build resilience to capitalize on what’s next
Delivering continued growth means striking a balance between tested techniques that deliver consistent returns, and the potential upside of new ideas. Brave marketers have long championed this shift. It’s about remaining agile to manage through the now, while being ready for what’s next.