What Can the Average Marketer Learn From Google Creative Lab?

Distance From the Daily Grind Helps Tell Better Stories

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Google Creative Lab is the modern best-case scenario of a brand development think tank. The concept is simple: put a bunch of smart people together and separate them from the daily trappings of focusing on generating revenue, selling product or any sort of administrative challenges. Their uncluttered minds can be free to explore non-traditional concepts and discover new ways to think and execute creatively.

Usually, only the best and brightest are selected for the creative think tank, and some people take most of their careers to get there. If your company can afford it -- and if you can get the gig -- being a part of a think tank is great work. Being able to step outside the daily demands of your business can be a wonderful thing -- most recently demonstrated by Google Creative Lab Chief Creative Officer Robert Wong, who gave a rare look inside his operation at Ad Age's Digital Conference this week.

In the course of his presentation, Mr. Wong offered plenty of tidbits that only apply to companies with unlimited budgets and time on their hands. My favorite was the artful execution of calling up Ridley Scott to help vet a creative idea; some of us might have a little trouble getting Ridley on the phone right away.

I am more interested in how the average brand or agency can learn from Google's approach. What can those of us outside the Googleplex take away from its approach to creative thinking?

We know Google today because it proved the best at connecting content on the web with searchers' intent. It used automated programs to connect a query to content when everyone else was still trying to do it manually with human power. Later, it began selling ads in search results. And it became the best at that too.

Search ads are the epitome of exploiting intent effectively in a way that consumers can digest easily, so it was a little odd to hear something like "make demos and documentaries not ads" coming from Google at the Digital Conference. But it's this philosophy that provides the connection between Google's product development and storytelling.

Telling a story, of course, has become a cliche in the digital marketing sector. Content marketing, storytelling and finding new ways to connect intent to product or brand is at the core of the modern generation of advertising. Connecting people with product in an advertorial or a "native" ad unit is the foundation of marketing trends today. We aren't advertising "to" people anymore, we are advertising "with" them as an integral part of the process.

Cliche or no, however, keep an eye on how Google Creative Lab executes the idea. It keeps a healthy distance from the product itself -- the same distance that's located at the center of familiar advice to get out of the way of the product and get out of the way of the story. Mr. Wong showed several of Google's popular inspirational videos telling stories about people in challenging situations. Each video tells a story with a delicate practical connection to the brand. The brand, in turn, illustrates the product in meaningful ways. It's modern marketing genius.

Showcasing people in challenging situations and aligning the brand with the inspiration that comes with a visceral emotional experience creates a seemingly indisputable platform for your brand. Some would argue this is simply another way to exploit people for the purposes of brand development, but as Mr. Wong accurately reminded us, "People will forget what you did. People will forget what you said. People won't forget how you made them feel."

Everyone knows Google mastered the art of connecting ads to intent in search. It's pretty clear that Google has now mastered yet another art form: telling a story and connecting brand and product with a not-so-subtle emotional nudge. Can you do that, with or without a think tank?

Kevin Ryan is CEO of the strategic consulting and project management firm Motivity Marketing. Follow him on Twitter at @KevinMRyan.
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