CMO50 2022 #23: 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 Information technology and media
  • 2021 ranking 26-50
  • Related

    Brand Post

    Leaning into diversity, equity and inclusion definitely requires bravery, Google’s senior director of marketing for A/NZ, Aisling Finch, says.

    “The more you learn about different communities, the more you realise how much you don’t know,” she says. “To help with this, I’ve found it’s important to surround yourself with great advisors, from the direct team to also partners and external experts.

    “Through our work over the past year, I’ve learnt a ton about different communities we’ve represented in our work. For example, people affected by Alzheimer’s, people using a wheelchair, different First Nations communities across the country. Advisors have helped to us navigate that education curve and not only avoid major missteps, but really elevate different communities.”

    Innovative marketing

    With a mission from the beginning ‘to organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful’, this commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) has repeatedly come to life in the work Finch and her team have undertaken at Google.

    Among the most recent examples can be seen through its partnership with the AFL. In 2021, Google and the sporting code teamed up to build a product to democratise footy training for everyone called ‘Footy Skills Lab - Made by Google’.

    In 2022, thanks to user feedback and further consultation with AFL’s Disability Inclusion team, Google looked to make tool more accessible to more people, improving the features for those with vision needs, hearing needs and those who use a wheelchair. Additional features launched included optional closed captions, playback speed choices, enhanced visual queues and additional tips and coaching for people with a wheelchair.

    “Engagement, press and social reaction have been overwhelmingly positive and have exceeded our expectations,” Finch says. “This is an Australian conceived and built product, which global product teams are now looking to rollout elsewhere as other sporting codes globally show interest.

    “This initiative is also a tangible proof point of Google contributing locally, engaging in a sport Australians are deeply passionate about, and building a product for everyone with an important Australian partner. My role has been as driver and champion of the AFL partnership overall since its inception in 2016, and to fund the sponsorship and this product build specifically. We developed the product in collaboration with AFL based on fan, player and coach insights.”

    Customer-led thinking

    DEI efforts stretch right across Google’s internal team approach too. Finch points to investments into hiring, a team sense of belonging, and marketing work.

    For example, Google has taken agency partners through inclusive marketing training and assesses all agencies regularly on progress around DEI as part of business reviews.

    “We’ve also reviewed every step of the creative process to ensure we are elevating diverse voices and creating work with diverse talent from concept to production,” Finch says. “And we’ve made a local commitment to the Unstereotype Alliance [UN Women] to ensure we’re holding ourselves accountable and sharing and receiving feedback from others.”

    Then there’s exhibiting DEI in products and creative. An example is Pixel Real Tone, which debuted in October 2021 with the launch of Pixel 6. The feature improves how the camera captures people with darker skin tones. It’s designed to be ‘the world’s most inclusive camera’, addressing longstanding historical bias.

    To launch this feature locally, Google partnered with Nine, PedestrianTV, Refinery29 and Getty to update their image libraries to reflect the rich diversity of Australians, shot on Pixel 6. Simultaneously, a campaign launched with a film featuring Ghanian-Australian artist, Genesis Owusu, a subsequent four-time ARIA winner. A print and digital campaign then demonstrated Real Tone and was produced end-to-end by diverse talent.

    “This initiative provides updated image libraries for major Australian publishers, helping take a step forward on representation,” Finch says.

    The campaign itself drove strong positive sentiment, including a 7 per cent uplift in purchase intent for Pixel 6, “which was only a secondary goal of this aspect of the Pixel 6 campaign,” Finch adds.

    Business smarts

    Helpful, local contribution, meanwhile, is the catchcry behind Google’s ‘Digital Future Initiative’.

    “In order to grow trust, we know we need to double down on demonstrating both local contribution and being responsible,” Finch continues. “Our strategic pillars as a country team are to focus our efforts on being ‘helpful, local, and responsible’. From our product build to our go-to-market plans, marketing and storytelling, we strive to be genuinely helpful, local and responsible.”

    To demonstrate this, Google puts its product through ‘localisation’ processes, from recognition of Australian accents to boxing AFL results in search. “We also demonstrate local contribution by supporting businesses with digital tools and skills, and partnering well and contribute locally in every aspect of our go to market planning and execution, including our partnerships and marketing,” Finch explains.

    “Finally, we’ve demonstrated our contribution quantitatively through our Economic Impact Reports. In 2021, we saw an opportunity to double down on our local commitment in Australia and play our part in helping to equip Australia for an increasingly digital future, and to help solve uniquely Australian challenges.”

    This led Google Australia to announce a $1 billion, five-year commitment to Australia’s digital future in November 2021. The ‘Digital Future Initiative’ includes infrastructure, skills development, research and partnerships. A project already being executed with CSIRO uses artificial intelligence (AI) to contain Crown of Thorns starfish who pose a threat to the Great Barrier Reef.

    “This program builds on several years of investing in Australia’s digital skills, through programs like Grow with Google,” Finch continues. “We know individuals and businesses taking advantage of digital skills can thrive. But many don’t know how to get started, and there’s a real risk of a widening digital divide, and an opportunity for Australia to invest in the skills of the future.

    “We reignited the in-person version of our foundational Grow with Google digital skills for small businesses, a program that has run for several years and has now trained over 700,000 individuals. My role in this initiative has been to help shape the strategy, bring insights, pitch the concept for global funding and resource, work cross-functionally to launch the multi-year initiative, and drive ongoing governance, execution and impact, as well as a drumbeat of positive stories from the work.”

    Following the launch of the Digital Future Initiative, Google saw its highest ever sentiment tracking among key opinion leaders and audiences shaping business and politics.

    Data-driven maturity

    On the data front, Finch and her team are using insights from Search to inform strategy and creative development. A combination of Search insights and market research has proven particularly impactful in Google’s ‘helpful, local, responsible’ strategy, as well as in creative work, she says.

    “For our ‘helpful’ pillar, we learned Australians have shifted their focus and expectations from personal ‘helpfulness’ to community and societal level ‘helpfulness’,” Finch comments. “Australians are seeking ways to help their neighbours, local small businesses and community, as well as broader helpfulness to society.

    “In 2021, we saw a 75 per cent increase in search queries for ‘volunteer opportunities near me’. Our research told us 86 per cent of respondents expect brands to act beyond their product or business to contribute to society and the rest of the world.”

    From these insights came the concept of Google being an enabling tool that ‘helps you help them’. In turn, this informed campaign work throughout 2021 and 2022.

    “This has been our most successful creative platform to date in driving brand lift, and the most successful country globally within Google in terms of uplift achieved,” Finch says. Results included +7.7 per cent in advocacy, Google’s primary KPI, as well as 6.2 per cent uplift in net impact to society and a 4.4 per cent rise helpfulness.

    All work was created by the local team. “We also learned – perhaps unsurprisingly – local creative drives much stronger results than work simply adapted from global,” Finch says. “Our other learning was our multi-year partnership with AFL not only demonstrates local contribution, but also acts as a creative vehicle to feeling local and Australian.”

    Insights from Google Search and market research also informed Google’s strategy around ‘responsible’. Notably, rising concerns about safety online: Privacy and data breach-related searches, for instance, have grown 30 per cent.

    “A proof point of some of the work we do in this space, for example, is Gmail phishing protections, which block more than 100 million scam and spam emails every day,” Finch says.

    The ‘Safer with Google’ campaign aims to grow awareness of these tools and share tips on how to be safer online. Three bursts of this campaign have been orchestrated over the past couple of years and Finch reports improved awareness of Google tips and tools as a consequence. Perceptions of Google’s commitment to keeping people safe online are up 21 per cent, respect for people’s privacy is up 24 per cent, and take-up of the product features has increased.

    Commercial acumen

    B2B remains the core revenue engine, and revenue from advertising still accounts for 81 per cent of total revenue. The marketing function is both directly responsible for driving Search Ads revenue, for the small and mid-market segments, as well as partners with sales teams for larger customers.

    “Ads customer acquisition and ads customer growth are the key drivers of these sources of revenue, and despite lapping the significant growth seen through digitisation during the pandemic, we continue to see strong YOY growth,” Finch says.

    A key tactic employed was expanding mid-funnel campaigns to address both emotional and functional barriers to signing up for Google Ads. This resulted in the fastest growth in new customer enquiries in the company’s history. In addition, the marketing team implemented behavioural economics principle around ‘forced-choice’ versus default opt-out in signup flow, addressing lagging opt-in rates in and driving significant incremental acquisition revenue.

    Another commercial win Finch points to is implementing a ‘shift-to-value’ strategy across creatives, media, cross sell, co-marketing and incentive offers, all aimed at reducing acquisitions of unprofitable longtail customers. This resulted in an 8 per cent reduction in 24 months.

    “Another key area of growth within the Ads business is YouTube where we see growth, and also significant competitive pressure from established and new media channels,” Finch says.

    Overall, these initiatives have increased marketing’s contribution to Ads revenue growth, outpacing the core businesses growth rates five-fold.

    Leadership impact

    In complement, Finch cites a strong culture and number of practices in place around engagement, performance and development of teams.

    “However, the past couple of years have definitely required a reassessment of the old norms, and a need to land global guidelines in ways that work for local teams,” she says. “The other key adjustment during the pandemic from my team’s perspective was about connection, which was both connection with each other and connection to our shared strategy.

    “Career development has been another area that’s required a lot of adjustment. Historically, there has been tremendous opportunity for talent to build their careers moving to other countries, regional roles, global roles. There’s also a proud history of then ‘boomeranging’ back to Australia. This became difficult during the last couple of years, so as a marketing leadership team we’ve established new processes to more proactively provide movement and opportunity across different product areas locally.

    “We’ve had great feedback on these efforts and seen big jumps in our annual engagement survey.”

    These include +21 per cent lift on ‘satisfied with my overall wellbeing’ and +16 per cent on ‘my work group is a place where I can succeed to my full ability’, Finch adds.

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