Women to Watch

Women to Watch: Bonita Stewart, Google

DaimlerChrysler, IBM Digital Vet Is Connecting Silicon Valley to Detroit and Beyond by Bringing a Client's Perspective to Top Marketing Perch

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Bonita Stewart is not your typical Googler in that she comes not from the tech, media or startup world, but rather from pre-bust Detroit, where she headed digital marketing for four years for the automaker once known as DaimlerChrysler.

Bonita Stewart
Bonita Stewart

That experience, as well as more than a decade at IBM, means she thinks a bit differently about Google's relationship with marketers. If Google is a problem-solving culture, then Ms. Stewart helps Google understand which problem a big consumer marketer really needs to have solved. "Every day I come to work thinking of myself as someone who can help provide some clairvoyance for brands that are tying to navigate through the complexities of media today," she said.

When she left Daimler in 2006, it was already an aggressive digital marketer. Google, on the other hand, was nearly 100% search, and a long way from making a legitimate play for brand dollars. That was then. Consider what's happened since: Google integrated the newly acquired YouTube, DoubleClick, AdMob and Invite Media. It turned Android into the world's largest operating system for smartphones and is now activating 300,000 new handsets a day.

But if Google is to put the pieces together, and turn potential into profit, it will fall to people like Ms. Stewart, who as VP-U.S. sales has since added finance, media, entertainment and travel to her portfolio -- all industries where sophisticated digital strategies are the norm.

Ms. Stewart also comes from an uncommon background for Google: A daughter of an Air Force pilot, she attended Howard University before earning an MBA at Harvard Business School. After that she spent 10 years at IBM before two separate stints at Chrysler. "Bonita looks at it from a client perspective, always," said her colleague, VP-U.S. agency partnerships Penry Price.

That means not talking marketers out of their TV buys, but persuading them to extend them online. One example: Volkswagen's "The Force" spot for the new Passat, now with well over 38 million views on YouTube. "For those advertisers spending millions on TV campaigns, if they do not have a comparable and significant digital plan, their TV dollars will not be executed to the fullest in terms of marketing ROI," she said.

But if YouTube amplifies the TV experience, mobile makes it personal. Smartphones are now out-shipping PCs, yet only a small percentage of consumer marketers have mobile-optimized websites. "There's the opportunity to evoke emotion and develop a brand through mobile," she said. "I see that as the opportunity for advertisers going forward."

A classically trained marketer, some of her best work comes in the form of leadership to her own staff of 100. "She markets her own strategies to her team so they can get inspired and really know the strategy," Mr. Price said. "She attaches a name and a brand to it -- people are really inspired by it."

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