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Online Extra: Q&A with Google's VP of Marketing

David Lawee

, vice-president of marketing for Google (GOOG), admits he has the easiest job in marketing. It's not that he doesn't have to do any work, but Google's brand has taken on such an aura that he says he doesn't have to do much of the usual care, feeding, and policing of the brand—let alone run any television or print ads. Even so, its brand equity rose 44% in Interbrand

's latest ranking, the highest growth of the top 100 companies.

Essentially, he says, Google subscribes to a philosophy of branding by doing: creating products that many people love rather than shouting about them in ads. In a recent conversation with BusinessWeek's Silicon Valley bureau chief Robert Hof, Lawee talked about some of the unusual methods Google uses to promote its brand:

How does Google think about its brand?

The honest answer is that the first thing we think about is our products. First and foremost, we're always thinking about what's best for the user. We have a true north that's always easy to touch back to.

I see this in meeting after meeting. There may be various constituents trying to decide what's the best thing to do, and we say, well, what's the best thing for the user? And the decision gets made pretty quickly. Having that consistency makes it very easy for someone like me who's kind of the brand steward. I'm not policing as much as I might if we didn't have those values.

What's your job, then?

When you have a great story to tell, you just have to tell it. Your job as a marketer is infinitely easier. We have a great story to tell. We [give] $5,000 bonuses [to employees toward] their Prius purchases because we care about the environment. We just put in the largest installation of solar panels of any North American company.

When I walk people around the campus, I show them the poster set up by a Googler to show all the different people he's met while at Google—world leaders, Bono, all these ridiculously, unbelievably high-profile people that relatively junior engineers had the opportunity to meet. So when I take people around the campus and show them the story, that's basically what I've tried to do.

It's easier to do a thousand little things than one 30-second spot, if you have the world's attention.

Being the most popular search engine, you have the world's attention, right?

We're a very innovative company, not just in terms of the products that we're creating but the way that we're organized. The mission of the company is so ambitious, and more than anything, that's what people gravitate to.

A lot of little things go into our brand.

Anything innovative, for example?

Our consumers feel a sense of ownership with our brand. When we went to European markets, we had a challenge. It was easy to localize the products for [Britain], for example. But localizing the brand, for an American company in Europe, is actually a pretty tricky thing. It's not something that a lot of American companies have been really successful at.

So we had this idea, you know we have these doodles of our logo? We had this idea of a doodle-for-Google campaign. We sent it out to 8,000 schools, to create a U.K. doodle for Google. We had 180,000 students participate and send us back doodles. And then we had that voted on by millions of people online.

That was a level of engagement with our brand where we got the consumers to actually create our logo. I see brand guidelines from companies that are sometimes 200 pages thick in terms of how to use their logo. And we're here letting kids basically design our logo. It's a level of engagement which is possible in the Internet era which wasn't possible before.

Is it more of a challenge now that you have these other brands, like YouTube?

I think it gives us more flexibility. There are things that we can do with the YouTube that are more appropriate for the YouTube brand. We want the YouTube brand to be much broader than a narrow niche of user-generated content. The YouTube-CNN [Presidential] debate is a fun way of involving consumers in our whole brand effort. It makes it pretty obvious it's a mainstream event and a mainstream platform.

You don't do any real advertising of the Google brand, do you?

We do co-marketing of Google's brand—we have done things with Dell (DELL), for example, on TV and print. And we've done things with Palm (PALM) and mobile carriers. There is an opportunity for us to partner and use our brand. It's not a cost thing as much as a better story for us, to have our customers or our partners advocating our story. It's a better way to strengthen our brand image.

We don't really want to tell the world. We're a pretty humble company. We don't always come off that way. But we don't actually want to be out trumpeting ourselves and beating our chest. That actually doesn't feel comfortable for us.

Have you ever done any brand advertising just for Google?

We do a lot of direct marketing. But not brand marketing.

Does it ever seem strange that many other companies do brand marketing on Google but Google doesn't do so itself?

We do a ton of advertising on our own networks. We're the biggest user of our own products. We run ads on all our properties. Our goal from the marketing perspective is to use our products and become as knowledgeable about our products as we can be.

What accounts for the big increases in Google's brand equity, especially the last couple of years?

Since I joined Google, I go to more countries in the world where people say, 'Oh, Google.' When I went to Japan a year ago, they didn't know what Google was. Now, four months ago, I got a lot different reaction. They get all excited.

I was going to speak at a chief marketing officer conference in February, and I got in the back of a limousine. I was talking to this limo driver, and I was trying to work on my speech, but he was really eager to talk. He asked me what company I worked for, and when I said Google he started going on about how he started advertising on Google, and now he has three limos and how amazing this is. I thought, fabulous, you just wrote my speech for me. There's a lot of those stories.

Some of Google's sub-brands, such as Froogle [a product search service], haven't worked out. And some brand experts criticize Google for very plain product names, such as Google Apps For Your Domain. Do you think there's room for improvement?

I think you can always improve. We test things and then we see how they work and then we test them again and see how they work. It's that constant iterative process that's been so successful. But we have found that because people spend microseconds before they make decisions on the Internet, being plain-spoken really works.

Like, Google Product Search works better than Froogle—people will more quickly click on that.

What does the Google brand stand for, ultimately?

We try to emphasize trust, humility, responsibility, innovation, user focus. We typically try to emphasize quirky. You can do those things via marketing, but if they don't seem authentic, people quickly dismiss them. That's really where the strength of the brand comes from. People trust that Google is not going to get paid for putting some search results higher than others.

You can't say you're innovative. You actually have to be innovative. The best marketing for innovation is to put out a new product or improvement every two weeks. We're releasing stuff almost every day. That's much better than an ad saying we're innovative.

Branding by doing.

Exactly. The more successful you are, the more humble you need to be. Things a startup would say would be things that we would never say.

Is there anything Google needs to do to counter the growing perception that Google is too powerful?

One thing is using the brand for good. In the [initial public offering], way before we had this great brand equity, the founders were committed to that. It's not some after-thought strategy to recreate ourselves. They had set aside 1% of the equity, 1% of the profit to a foundation to be named later, which now exists. You can't fake these things.

Do you consider your job easier than the usual marketing job?

It's easier. I think I have the easiest marketing job in the world. I have unbelievable products and I have a great story to tell. So, yeah. But staying on top of everything is a huge challenge.

What's the biggest challenge ahead?

The challenge for us is to continue to outdo ourselves. That's a challenge for a lot of brands. Brands aren't static things. They're like people. They grow, they learn, they evolve. Now we're almost 10 years old. We know we have a lot to learn. But we're trying to be our own person. That's a little bit different from the way branding used to be done.

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