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CMO50 2021 #26-50: Aisling Finch

  • Name Aisling Finch
  • Title Senior director of marketing A/NZ
  • Company Google
  • Commenced role May 2016
  • Reporting Line CMO APAC
  • Member of the Executive Team Yes
  • Marketing Function 90 staff, 9 direct reports
  • Industry Sector Technology
  • 2020 ranking 26-50
  • Related

    Brand Post

    There’s no doubt every one of us needs to do more to drive diversity, equity and inclusion in workplaces. And it’s something Google senior director of marketing for A/NZ, Aisling Finch, says has been particularly important to her team during the crisis.

    “We have really stepped up our focus and our capability in this area, across hiring and presentation, inclusion and belonging, and in our work partnering with agencies and advisors,” she explains. “All of our interviewers have been trained on culture add versus culture fit, and we’ve taken steps to drive greater diversity in our pipelines. The team has all done Indigenous cultural competency training with Arilla. We’ve tackled policies and processes to improve equity, especially for parents and for managers managing parental leave.

    “In terms of our work, we’ve thoughtfully integrated DEI principles into our creative and media processes with agencies and sought advice from partners like the AFL and CampfireX.”

    Finch is a member of Google’s internal DEI Council for /NZ across all functions. While country manager, Mel Silva, is on maternity leave, she’s stepped up as chair.

    “In this role, I sit on regular listening sessions, champion the development and progress on our overall plan and support as needed with asks and escalations,” Finch says.

    Innovative marketing

    Google’s mission has always been underpinned by ‘universal’ access to information.

    “Building products ‘for everyone’ is a deeply ingrained value, at Google as well as for me personally,” Finch continues. It’s this very sentiment that lies behind Finch’s favourite marketing moment of the past year: Google’s ‘Footy Skills Lab’ enabling AFL fans to participate in the game. The uniquely Australian tool is about democratising footy training for everyone.

    “Every Australian, no matter their ability, gender, location, culture or lockdown status, should have access to spot and community participation. Footy Skills Lab enables that, all you need is a smartphone and footy, and you can access the AI-trainer and tips from the top athletes across AFLW and AFL Wheelchair competitions,” Finch says. “It’s been cool watching what people do with it and seeing the growth in engagement.”

    Footy Skills Lab is built with Google’s machine learning and uses ball detection to track handling, decision making and kicking. Users get a scorecard that can be shared with friends, family, teammates and coaches. The mobile Web app is accessible from any smartphone - all consumers need is a football and some space to move.

    Supporting the tech are tips from athletes across the AFLW and AFL Wheelchair competitions, including Carlton’s Tayla Harris, Madison Prespakis and Richmond’s Akec Makur Chuot. Through audio prompts and closed captioning, the experience is also accessible to people with visual and hearing needs.

    Finch’s role has been to champion the AFL partnership over the past few years, to fund the sponsorship and to secure resources, both technical and marketing. She’s also executive sponsor for the relationship.

    “Fan engagement and the media reaction have been overwhelmingly positive and have exceeded expectations,” she says.

    Commercial acumen

    Another group of customers Google has focused heavily on over the past year is small businesses. With Covid-19 impacting businesses small and large and advertising spend reducing, Google suffered its first-ever revenue decline last year.

    “We saw the opportunity to help A/NZ businesses digitally transform and keep running, but it required a rethink of go-to-market channels, building new capabilities and investing in the right sectors,” Finch says.

    The Google Ads acquisition team partnered with Kochie’s Business Builders, AMEX, Shopify, BigCommerce, ACCI and more to educate small businesses at scale on how Google tools could help them scale up digital capability. With offshore call centres unable to take calls, the team then created first-party chat capability.

    And with each sector experiencing varied impact, Google built a segment model to tailor all scaled comms and creative based on the likelihood of continued investment. It then increased its own digital media spend, despite overall budget being reduced. From this, marketing-driven acquisition revenue grew from a target 18 per cent growth to 87 per cent, breaking its highest quarterly record for marketing driven acquisition revenue.

    In addition, Google has a long running program to help small businesses with their digital skills, Grow with Google. It’s free training that’s been delivered via a combination of online and in-person events.

    “This program is less of a commercial endeavour and more about helping Aussie businesses of all sizes, with our free products and free training, whether or not they choose to then invest in ads,” Finch says. “This has a halo benefit of improving business listings in Search and Maps and provides storytelling examples for our brand.

    “In 2020, we significantly optimised this capability. Firstly, on the back of the bushfires, we moved our activities to bushfire affected areas, then of course with Covid-19 and the impact of lockdowns. We adapted our approach to ensure small business owners could continue to access the training and tools they needed to keep their business running.”

    An example Finch points to is Bliss Gifts & Homewares on the NSW South Coast. While most small operators were suffering, Bliss Gifts & Homewares managed to thrive thanks to digital skills training, embracing their online capability and cleverly adapting through those crises.

    “We also see high attendance, completion rates and we’ve shared some of the stories, such as Bliss homewares, which drove significant +5 per cent master brand uplift among those exposed to the story,” Finch says.

    Business smarts

    At a wider business level, Finch has played a key role in shaping Google’s strategy and response to the News Media Bargaining Code. The code’s intent was to govern the relationship between digital platforms, Google and Facebook and news publishers.

    On 31 July 2020, Google’s product and legal teams began to assess the first draft code. As has been well-documented, this had significant implications for Google’s products and business model. Finch was one of five key leaders locally who led the strategy and response, presented regularly to Google’s global CEO leadership team and leading the execution team locally.

    “I assembled a team of strategists, product marketers, brand experts, engineers, copywriters, UX experts, social analysts and project managers as we built multiple campaigns for multiple scenarios at each stage. We launched our first comms within 10 days of forming the team,” she says. “In terms of strategic North Star, we simply wanted to get a fair and ‘workable code’. That is, one we could live with, that enabled Google’s continued operation in Australia, protecting 1800 jobs, 1.3m business customers and our significant economic contribution in this country.”

    In terms of marketing tactics, both paid and earned media were fraught. The team took the globally unprecedented step of using Google and YouTube homepages to get its message across.

    “Australians were understandably focused on Covid-19 and the economy, so in order to cut through we had to be very clear on the implications for them personally on the products they use every day, and implications for the small businesses we support,” Finch says. “We also needed to highlight independent voices. We asked experts to share their view, such as inventor of the World Wide Web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, and founding father of the Internet, Vint Cerf.

    “We had to debunk the myth Google was ‘stealing’ revenue, and so we asked independent experts, AlphaBeta, to do the economic analysis to demonstrate what really happened to publishers. We also enlisted comedian, Greta Lee Jackson, to help explain through video the unfairness of the proposed arbitration model.”

    Ultimately, the work drove significant awareness and challenged aspects of the code. Google News Showcase also released its curated news product, allowing money to flow to publishers without breaking the way search works.

    “There was a short-lived dip in brand metrics after we initially challenged the code. However, Australians perceived our overall handling of the code as the best among the various stakeholders, and Google’s brand health quickly rebounded to normal levels,” Finch says.

    It’s this example of working on the News Media Bargaining Code Finch also highlights to demonstrate how she’s adapted as a leader over the last year. Her top learning has been to make space to be empathetic and vulnerable, then crack on.

    “Through the news code crisis, the stakes were very high and I felt a huge sense of responsibility. There were times when I was operating on very little sleep, was not operating at my best, and was extremely vulnerable in front of my team,” she comments. “I was prepared for low people leader scores as a result was telling myself to be kind to myself given the circumstances.

    “However, I was beyond shocked when they were even higher than usual. The team was generous and understanding. People can do amazing things in a crisis, with a compelling ‘why’, lots of empathy and clear direction on execution.”

    Data-driven approach

    As to tech and data capability, Google’s sophistication is evident. For Finch, an often-underrated benefit of its platforms is the ability to also understand consumers, various trends and insights, which can help businesses far beyond search as a channel. Finch’s team is increasingly using search insights to understand how Aussies are searching and what matters to them.

    “It’s real time so you can get a pulse quickly. We use these insights in our creative work, most explicitly in our annual ‘Year in Search’ lookback,” she says. “In addition, I use these insights to share with cross-functional teams to inform business decisions, or to improve the product itself.”

    For example, during the pandemic, Google constantly updated search to ensure it’s getting the right authoritative information to Aussies.

    “It’s never been more important to have always on, real-time insights, whether focus groups, trackers, social sentiment or search trends,” Finch adds. “When there’s so much uncertainty, the role of marketing in providing these insights can be incredibly anchoring for business decisions.”

    The second way Finch’s team is tapping into these insights is on the B2B side. For its platform, Think with Google, first-party data from search and YouTube is used to inform trends and narratives, bolstered by third-party research.

    “A great example was our Museum of 2020 at the start of 2021, where we used insights from the Year in Search campaign as well as YouTube insights to look back at 2020 and help advertisers plan for 2021,” Finch says.

    “Think with Google includes articles, films and podcasts and we also have our virtual brekkie series, Rethinking the line, which focused on shopper behaviours and insights. We challenge the thinking of offline vs online, below vs above the line, with insights demonstrating the way ‘the customer line’ of their shopping journey and how to make it a more seamless interaction throughout.”

    The work has been extended into a campaign across trade publications and digital media including LinkedIn. Think with Google has over 50,000 monthly active users and seen strong growth, helping position Google as a thought leader.

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