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CMO50 2020 #26-50: Aisling Finch

  • Name Aisling Finch
  • Title Director of marketing A/NZ
  • Company Google
  • Commenced role May 2016 (joined 2010)
  • Reporting Line CMO APAC
  • Member of the Executive Team Yes
  • Marketing Function 80 staff, 9 direct reports
  • Industry Sector Information technology
  • 2019 ranking 23
  • Related

    Brand Post

    If there’s one thing Aisling Finch has taken from the COVID-19 crisis so far, it’s the need for vulnerability and authenticity in leadership. As the Google A/NZ director of marketing puts it, presenting to the global leadership team wearing a hoodie was definitely a first this year, but an important one.  

    “With working from home, I think people are more authentic and vulnerable. I've always thought vulnerability was important and I'm a big Brené Brown fan, but this year has definitely taken it to the next level,” she comments. “And I’ve become a lot more comfortable with not having the answers.  

    “I still vividly remember in early March updating the team about our new working from home set up and finishing the update with ‘and now let me open up for questions which I'm highly unlikely to be able to answer’.”  

    This level of uncertainty hasn’t stopped Finch and her team launching a raft of informative, useful initiatives over the past six months. As Covid-19 unfolded, Finch says it was clear Google had a critical role to play in providing authoritative information and tapped search data and insights to find the way forward.  

    Unsurprisingly in the first six months of 2020, ‘coronavirus’ was both the most searched and top trending topic in Australia, higher than interest in the weather. “We saw people primarily searching for information, for practical how to and education, and people showing they are keen to support local small businesses and help them get back to business and drive the economy,” Finch says. “Our response has been anchored around those three pillars.”  

    Google quickly launched an SOS Alert, designed to help users who search for ’coronavirus’ or related queries to rapidly understand developments in their local area and decide on appropriate actions to take. When people search for these terms, they will see a top stories carousel, and links to helpful information and safety tips from authoritative sources such as the Department of Health.  

    Google also worked with the Government to share information concerning the top queries related to the health crisis to support and inform government decision-making. The company also used its own platform to deliver support messages of stay at home, and wear a mask through homepage promotions and Google Doodles.  

    When community mobility reports and search trends showed a concerning correlation between people staying at home and an increase in search trends related to domestic violence, Google data helped rapidly shape policy to address the issue, helping justify a $150 million increase in funding for domestic violence support.  

    “We also pivoted our helpfulness campaign to highlight the resilience and strength of Aussies through COVID-19 and the many ways Google is there to help them,” Finch says. This stretched from helping keep kids entertained, to how to avoid crowds when shopping local and better supporting local businesses.  

    Innovative marketing  

    Being useful is nothing new as a brand objective. According to Finch, Google has always brought a “little bit of helpfulness” to Aussies every day. But the search platform has become so ingrained in daily life that it’s often taken for granted.  

    Over the past year, this realisation has seen business push hard to drive up brand advocacy and remind Aussies of all the meaningful ways it can play a role in the everyday. The focus has been around the nation’s love of supporting local, of sport, and helpfulness in the home.  

    Finch’s role was to ensure Australia was prioritised for investment, to drive strategy and support the team to execute. While the product focus areas were Google Search and Google Nest, that was secondary to the brand goal, she says.  

    One initiative was creating a film celebrating the Aussie lifestyle that showed how Google can be helpful. This ran this across TV and digital channels. The company also partnered with TimeOut and local businesses across Sydney and Melbourne to launch ‘Signature Searches’. This came from the insight and search trends showing Aussies often know a place by its famous ‘signature’ dish rather than the restaurant name such as ‘matcha lamington’ or ‘motorcycle oil ramen’.   

    In addition, Google partnered closely with other media owners to create its most ambitious real-time media campaign to date, ensuring helpfulness was contextual in out-of-home media and digital display.  

    For Aussie sports fans, Google partnered with 25 institutions to launch a digital archive showcasing Australia’s rich sporting history called ‘Great Sporting Land’. An alliance with the AFL, for instance, provided footy fans new ways to engage by voting through search for mark of the week. Over 300,000 were votes cast. Search trends were also used to create an emotive AFL Grand Final spot celebrating the highs and lows of the footy season.  

    Despite widening audience targeting beyond earliest adopters, Finch says Google saw its highest ever brand relevance with its broadest ever target market. Results included a +6 per cent uplift in brand advocacy, ahead of a targeted 5 per cent uplift.  

    Business smarts  

    In addition to being a helpful brand, Finch continues to champion Google’s local and responsible credentials. One focus area is in supporting digital skills and the digital economy.  

    For several years in Australia, Google has supported businesses of all sizes with free digital skills, helping them be found online and grow through its ‘Grow with Google’ efforts. Throughout 2019 and 2020, Finch played a key role in driving significant expansion of the program to support diverse business groups, journalists and students. This also involved pivoting the work to quickly respond to the needs of small businesses following the double hit of bushfires and Covid-19.  

    “We’ve expanded our efforts to support new groups; specifically diverse business owners, journalists and students,” Finch explains. “We partnered with key organisations within the Indigenous community to deliver digital skills training. We also partnered with LGBTQIA+ community to deliver bespoke Grow with Google training.  

    “For journalists, we have brought digital skills to newsrooms through online and in-person training workshops to reporters, editors and students.” In this vein, a recent investment was made into Media Literacy Lab, an education program set up with the Alannah and Madeline Foundation aimed at helping students identify trusted sources of information, understand the impacts of hate speech and avoid manipulation.   

    Finch and the team then took ‘Grow with Google’ on the road to bushfire affected areas, and supported local communities in Tumut and Tumbarumba. In recent months, Grow with Google has pivoted to ‘on air’ training and seen Finch’s team deliver a small business resources site to support small businesses during this tough year.  

    Customer-led thinking  

    A commitment to showing up as a truly local brand can be seen in two additional capabilities Finch has passionately championed.  

    One is around the Google Nest smart speaker. Australia has among the highest penetration in the world, and Google Nest continues to hold the highest brand metrics, share and sales per capita globally.  

    From getting a uniquely Aussie product to market and investing in product localisations, Finch and her team have more recently worked to ensure the product continues to reflect the rich diversity of Australia. For example, Google extended a partnership with the AFL to also include AFL Women, and to make sure it’s reflected in its Search responses, Assistant and Google Nest products.  

    “Because these products anchor on historical data this took some work and meant ensuring content for AFLW was correctly surfaced by our algorithm, which is informed from historical search data where there were only AFL queries,” Finch says.  

    Diversity is the second focal point. “As a migrant Australian myself, I’ve long championed a commitment to diverse and inclusive teams and it’s critical we reflect this in our products and marketing work as well,” Finch continues.  

    “We’ve undergone training across the team, we’ve trained our agencies, we regularly audit our work and have specific and measurable goals across all aspects of our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion plan. The #Blacklivesmatter movement was a great catalyst to review these plans, ensure targets were ambitious enough and double down on our commitments.”  

    In addition, the team has undergone Arilla cultural competency training, and updated the Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) as Google Australia.  

    Commercial acumen  

    All this while keeping a firm eye on commercial sustainability of the Google business in advertising. With the economic impact of COVID-19, businesses are even more cautious with their advertising dollars, Finch says.  

    In response, marketing has built out thought leadership and consumer insights in various formats in order to support Google’s commercial partners. This has included Think with Google Virtual Brekkies and webinars for c-level advertisers and agency partners.   

    “With so many people working and learning from home at the moment, our recent digital-only campaign re-introduced Chromebooks into the minds of Aussies at a time when they needed us, showing positive lifts in both awareness and consideration,” Finch says.  

    “We also launched Nest mini in New Zealand, and saw significant uplift in product usage across Nest Wi-Fi and entertainment on our smart devices in the home, like music and streaming. We’ve seen significant growth in Nest sales year-on-year and Nest has the highest brand metrics through the funnel of any smart home brand in the Australian market, with 5x the purchase intent of the nearest competitor.”     

    The work to support local continues as the COVID-19 progresses continues. Finch points to is YouTube’s headline sponsorships of the ARIA Awards for the Australian Music Industry and Aussie Artists.  

    “We exported Aussie music to the world through YouTube’s platform and global social handles, and drove traffic to performance content and livestreamed the Awards to the world on YouTube for the first time,” Finch says.  

    “We built on that great work by hosting YouTube Music Sessions in partnership with ARIA every Wednesday through August to support artists and support acts during Covid-19 times and will be supporting the ARIA Awards again this year. My role was to drive strategy, secure investment in this partnership and drive cross-functional collaboration to execute the partnership across YouTube partnerships, policy, legal, comms and marketing. This also meant securing support from local, regional and global teams across those functions.”  

    The partnership was a huge success, driving a strong narrative of collaboration after much disruption in the industry. And it’s led to increased positive sentiment of YouTube among the music industry and among fans, Finch adds. 

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