Anytime I hear of an event at Google’s New York City headquarters, I RSVP ASAP. Not only does the internet giant have a cool venue, great food, and branded freebies, their presentations are always well done and interesting. The Google team has a treasure trove of consumer research at their disposal, so as a marketer it’s great to see what insights they can offer to my industry alongside new cultural and social trends they’ve discovered.
I brought two friends to Google’s Chelsea offices, which are housed in an old industrial loft and feature sweeping views of midtown Manhattan. The event we were attending was for the launch of the company’s new proprietary app, Primer. Created “for marketers, by marketers”, it’s an education platform that hosts lessons on branding, promotion, customer retention, and other areas of interest to people in the mar-comm world. Each lesson takes just minutes to read; they’re designed to be bite-sized so that you can take one in while you’re stuck on your commute or waiting for a meeting to start. Right now, Google claims that there’s a 60/40 split between their original content on Primer and articles they’ve sourced from outside. They hope to increase that divide in their partners’ favor in 2016.
Before the Primer presentation, we were given access to an appetizer buffet and top-shelf open bar. The food was great (highlights included pork sliders, spring rolls, and vegan dark chocolate brownies) but the fact that I could drink Stoli with club soda was even better. Google employees walked through the crowd giving live demos of Primer on tablets. I didn’t participate, but I was told that they “treat their testers well.” I was already being treated better by Google than most of the guys I’ve dated, given that they paid for my meal and alcohol. They even gave us all free external battery chargers for our phones, which is something no man has ever provided me.
Once we were well fed and watered, we sat down for a brief info session and Q&A about Primer. The development team's director explained how they assembled a group of marketers and aimed to create a program that appealed to their own cynical, impatient peers. They considered what they’d like to know about nurturing customer relationships and built an app that would help them learn. As Primer's director explained it, “We build new tech tools all the time. Why not make a tool for us?"
A lot of Google’s marketing and advertising products require certification if you want to claim it as an expertise (Analytics, Doubleclick), leading users to absorb info on a surface-level that won’t stick with them after they take their qualifying test. They hope to combat this with Primer, since anyone can take a few minutes from their day to educate themselves with the app. You have the freedom to dive as far into a specific subject as you want, which will allow you to apply the skills you learn through Primer’s lessons in more areas of your life. It’s a “carrots not sticks” approach that they believe encourages personal rather than professional growth. It’s information for the sake of being informed.
Most importantly, all of Primer’s lessons are short. The team behind the app knows that the average attention span is shrinking by the day, so their design doesn’t allow time for distraction. They also hoped that by making the lessons quick they could revamp people’s methods for killing free time. We spend so much time siting around on our phones scrolling through the same pictures on our Instagram feed we’ve already seen four times today – why can't we use those moments to learn about new marketing techniques? There are plenty of articles on UX experience, audience trends, and ad tech that designers and creatives will find useful, too. Google’s hope is that anyone who can spend 4 minutes retweeting celebrities’ sage words of wisdom can appreciate the opportunity Primer gives them to teach themselves a new trick instead.
The 30-minute presentation ended and we were all invited to continue drinking and eating. Both the vegan brownies and Stoli supply didn’t last the span of the evening, but I’m not afraid of switching my liquor up mid-game. Dewars in hand, I decided to spend the next hour and a half attempting to network. I’m usually pretty terrible at these things, but the belly-full of vodka and chocolate I had gave me a false sense of bravado. I’d been to countless industry events over the past few months, and I was determined to make a professional connection at one of them.
I got as far as forcing awkward small talk with a very tall guy while in line for a drink before I gave up. It started to go downhill when I used the opening line, “You are very tall!”
The bartenders, on the other hand, found me incredibly charming. I guess anyone can appreciate a woman who likes her scotch neat. The fact that I’m great at small talk with people giving me free stuff also probably played in my favor. No one who served me that night left without a compliment on their hair or ability to dance to the late-aughts throwbacks being played by Google’s in-house DJ.
[Author’s note: I don’t know if Google has an in-house DJ, but since they do have a full-time chef and soundproof bathrooms I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch.]