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The power of in-person, personalized events for Google

Events may not be the first thing that comes to mind when someone mentions Google, but Derrick Djang, head of events for performance ads marketing, saw the power and potential of brand experience when he joined the marketing team. Now that Djang has helped Google create a more targeted events strategy, the company has far greater reach across its key audiences and stronger relationships with advertising industry bodies thanks to a number of hosted events and third-party sponsorships each year.

We caught up with Djang to talk about the impact of the in-person connection for an online company and why personalization is so important for the future of the events industry.

Given that Google is such an online powerhouse, why do you think that in-person events have such a big impact for Google?

DD: A lot of people ask me that! Google builds products to make real life better. Some of that happens online, but most of it happens in person. For example, using Google Maps to get from your house to meeting up with some friends at a restaurant — Google’s technology happens in the digital world, but it gets you to where you need to be in the real world. 

I think that Google still needs to show our products and the magic of our products to people face to face. That’s really why Google plays in the event space. No other form of marketing can give you that one-on-one connection with your customers.

Part of a successful experience is all about knowing your audience really well and meeting their individual needs. How do you tackle that approach to a highly personalized experience with your audiences at Google?

DD: So, we have three major segments of our audience. We’ve got practitioners, who are the people who use our advertising products every day. We have the CMOs, whom we need to convince to spend more money with Google. And then there is this kind of middle area in between the two. 

With our events strategy, I need to make sure that I’m spending my dollars the best way that I can. So what I tend to do is focus on the CMOs with the smaller, more high-touch events. Those are the people who need more training — a more hands-on experience. For practitioners, I focus on scale. I need to be able to reach hundreds of thousands of people through events and not have to spend the same kind of dollar per head as I would on the CMO. 

So, especially during this time of year, when we are doing planning for next year, I spend a lot of time thinking about how we maximize our dollars and maximize reach [for practitioners], and then how I maximize building love and connections with the CMOs.

How do you approach creating great experiences for those audiences?

DD: Again, I think events are the best way for us to build love with our customers. And the only way we can do that is to bring them on our side and make them see the world the way we do. If we can show them that what we’re doing is great for them, and making the world a better place — or just in general making life better — then that’s how you build the love.

And I can’t imagine myself as a consumer seeing an ad and being like, oh, I love Nike because this ad was so awesome. But if Nike brought me in and they let me try a pair of shoes, took me to their campus and let me run around, showed me all the cool stuff that they are doing — then I can see what they are all about, and I can understand their story. I think that’s really the only way you can build love. You can’t do it through an ad or print or things like that. It has to be face to face.

What are some of the ways you try to maximize those dollars and your overall reach?

DD: I think it’s every event marketer’s challenge to prove the value of an event. I remember when I first came into this role I was like, what’s the revenue uplift from this event? How many more sales meetings do we get? And to be honest, those are great numbers to have, but it’s hard to draw the through line back to the event.

What I have actually started doing is using events as platforms to engage the media and engage the press. So a lot of times you think, what are we going to do at this event? I like to take it one step further and say, how do we extend the reach beyond the four walls of this event? We use technology like livestreaming to engage the press, influencers, and social media to bring the messages of all of the experiences that we have in the event outside.

You did a YouTube interview in which you talked about micro moments, which have a really personalized feel to them.

DD: Yes, “micro moments” are part of this new consumer and human behavior where, because we’re always connected, we turn to whatever device is closest or most convenient to find an answer in any time of need.

So if I am at work and I spill tomato juice on my shirt, I can go online and see where can I quickly buy something to take care of this. Or if I am out and about and my shoe breaks, I am going to whip out my phone and see where the nearest shoe cobbler is for me to fix that. And the brands that will win are the brands that are there in the moment when you have that need. I also see that behavior trickling into the event space. 

Do you think that behavior is having an impact on the event space?

DD: When I think about events, and events of the future, I see personalization being at the crux of everyone’s experience. You might have a hundred people at your one event, but everyone takes something different away from it. Everyone’s adventure is slightly different and is tailored to them. I think we need some more help, and some more pushing on the technology side of how we can do that. But I really think that personalization will be what pushes our industry forward.

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