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Digital technology that goes well beyond creativity

Torrence Boone wants to help you tell a story. As managing director of agency business development at Google, Boone and his team work with agencies to help them maximize the capabilities of Google’s various products, platforms, and APIs so that they can create innovate and—indeed—courageous marketing campaigns focused on storytelling and creating emotional bonds between brands and consumers. “We help connect the dots and orchestrate how the agencies interface with the entire Google organization, which you can imagine is big and complex,” Boone says. “It’s helpful to have a conductor or a critical lead partner that helps you navigate that possibility.”

Boone, who this year serves as honorary judging chair for Direct Marketing News‘s Caples Awards, nominally partners with agencies, but has increasingly found himself in conversation with brands, as well. “We’re often at the table at the briefing or pre-briefing stage, working closely with the agencies and their brand clients to infuse technology-based thinking early on in the campaign development process, such that at the end of the briefing, when the campaigns are ready to launch, that thinking is baked in.”

It’s a new and exciting shift for Boone, who notes that brands have infinite opportunities as digital technologies become less an add-on to a campaign and more a core feature. “Technology,” he says, “is beyond creativity today.”

Q: What do you mean when you say technology is beyond creativity?

A: It used to be that technology was far behind creativity. We only have to go back five or 10 years in the digital world to see that. Today [technology] is way ahead, so the key challenge is how do we come up with interesting, compelling ideas, stories, and insights that activate all those great tech possibilities?

Q: Do marketers ever get overwhelmed with all this technology?

A: The way to break through it all is to focus on the idea, the crystallized story you’re trying to tell, on consumer insights, and on how those insights actually translate to specific channels—media-based insights, or behavioral insights, as it relates to how people connect to mobile, social, and even their emotional and habitual connections to things like search. Those are important things to keep in mind and can be the focusing elements of a campaign that can help ferret through all of these diverse opportunities.

Q: Google is obviously tapped into many of those channels. What has surprised you most about the way consumers interact with them?

A: Close to a third of mobile-based searches have some location-based intent associated with them, which, from an insight perspective, is really interesting. It proves that there’s a real-time nature to people using their mobile phones for local-based utility. If you’re working with retailers or even small businesses, understanding that behavior and making

sure that you’re findable in the context of that behavior is critical. We find still that many brands are not prepared for that fundamental behavior because they haven’t necessarily

optimized their mobile search campaigns. They haven’t invested as much as they should. They haven’t turned on click-to-call as a function on their mobile campaigns. So they lose out on those critical moments.

Q: How receptive are marketers to new technologies?

A: Agencies are less focused on breaking technologies or trying to take the next big technological leap—what we call breaking APIs. Agencies and brands focus on existing technology platforms to tell stories. Being confident to work with what currently exists will ground marketers and allow them to do what they do best: telling stories and building emotional bonds.

Q: Vendors that develop technology with innovative features and functions might not want to hear that. How can vendors convince marketers to use their wares?

A: The best approach is to link those new innovations to specific business or consumer engagement challenges—if you can show how this new technological platform or innovation can break through for that brand and bring it to life in marketing terms as opposed to technology terms. That’s the key. A lot of the innovations that you see in the valley today, the way they’re cast is not necessarily in marketing speak; it’s in technology speak. So when you’re speaking a different language it’s more difficult to get the traction.

Q: What are some really cool recent campaigns that have used tech in an interesting way?

A: Nike FuelBand [which helps consumers track exercise activity] is connected to the Nike+ underlying technologies. It’s mobile enabled; it’s connected to a desktop experience. There are social components to it. It’s this comprehensive experience that’s based on a really powerful idea but activated in new and integrated ways leveraging technology.

Q: What about campaigns that Google has directly worked on that you’re most proud of?

A: American Express Unstaged is a fantastic one, as is the work that P&G did on Old Spice on the YouTube platform. Going back a couple of years, one of my favorite campaigns ever was “The Wilderness Downtown,” which was not done with a brand—it was done with [the band] Arcade Fire—but the innovation the band made with HTML5 on the Chrome platform is pretty extraordinary, and that was in the early days of Chrome.

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