Does Google’s Developer Get-Together Matter to Madison Avenue?

The company's agency envoy explains why it should

Google this week held its annual Google I/O conference for developers, during which it showed off Google Glass X Games-style, unveiled its own tablet and streaming media device, party-rocked Google+ and brought its Chrome browser to the iPad and iPhone, among other announcements. That’s cool for tech junkies, but why should agencies care? Torrence Boone, Google’s managing director of agency business development, has some answers.

Adweek: Why should agencies care about Google I/O?

Torrence Boone: Agencies should care about I/O because we have announced the next generation of products and innovations on our platforms that will allow them to do even more extraordinary work for their clients.

You guys have been announcing a lot during I/O, from Google Glass to Nexus 7 and Nexus Q to Google+ Events to Chrome for iOS. What’s the top takeaway for agencies?

The best way to think about all of these things is they’re an expansion of the toolkit that we’re providing agencies to create immersive, breakthrough, compelling brand experiences for their clients. I like to think of Google as a stage where we enable this fantastic play to unfold, and the agencies are doing that with their clients and we’re providing all of the props and the lighting and the backdrops and all of those enablers that allow agencies and clients to put on this fantastic show ultimately for consumers. So that’s one metaphor that brings it to life. If you think about the Nexus 7 and what that platform implies for big, immersive brand experiences, I think it’s an extraordinary opportunity for agencies to do amazing work, and that’s what we’re focusing on.

After yesterday’s update to Google Play was announced that brings magazines into the mix, we posted a piece that quoted a Rodale executive who liked having another option in digitizing the company's publications. How do you see that relating to agencies in terms of the work they can do?

A couple of things on that point. What’s great about what we’re announcing at I/O is that, again, it’s providing the agencies with this amazing Toolkit. If you think about what great advertising is, it’s all about storytelling. That’s a truism, and I think that will continue on for a long time. It used to be that technology was behind creativity. If you think just three years ago, there were all of these fantastic creative things that agencies wanted to do, but our platforms and the technology just weren’t there to accommodate it. What we’re seeing now is that in many ways the technology is ahead of our creativity, so we’re innovating at a pace that provides all of these new options, new toys, for agencies to play with and to experiment with that allow them to tell those stories in more compelling and immersive ways. If you think about the evolution of the first banner advertisement that ran on the Web and you look at the creative possibilities unlocked by Nexus 7 and HTML5 and the innovations that we’re driving with Chrome and all of the opportunities afforded by cloud computing, there’s a dynamism that is at play with technology that gives creatives and agencies in general much more to work with and the technology is an enabler in a way that it’s never been before. So it should be an exciting time because it will allow a tremendous amount of experimentation, and I think we’ll see even more amazing work because there’s more technology and more tools to play with. I also think coming after Cannes is interesting. We had a large presence in Cannes, and what was extraordinary to me was that agencies and marketers are getting much more facile and comfortable with technology and they’re using it to tell much more compelling stories. The awards that were the standout examples of that were things like Nike FuelBand, which interestingly enough is an evolution of existing technology but it is a brand story built in an incredibly compelling way. And it’s more about the experience and that brand impact than it is about the technology. Ironically technology is ahead of creativity, but I think agencies are becoming more facile with it, and it’s allowing them to do things that they’ve known how to do for a very long time, which is tell compelling stories.

Today Google announced Chrome for iOS, which will sync the browser across desktop, tablets and mobile, as well as a Google Drive app for iOS, which does the same for documents. How do you see that impacting the way agencies work both in terms of collaborating across offices regardless the location but also employees being able to access their work regardless the device they have access to at that time?

It’s a great, great point that I think is very much in keeping with the latest thought leadership work that we’ve been driving with a number of top creative partners, and that’s work that we’ve done around this notion of agile creativity. If think about the way the creative development process has unfolded for the past several decades, what we’re finding is that it is being supplanted by a much more agile, iterative, prolific, risk-taking orientation and all of that is enabled by technology. And we’re seeing that agencies are fundamentally evaluating how they collaborate, how they organize teams. I was with a large group of independent media agency execs a couple of days ago. We had a large summit in Mountain View. One of the execs was talking about how the entire shop was on Google Apps and all of these collaboration tools like Docs and Google+ and Hangouts, the cross-platform implications of having everything in the cloud, how all of that was feeding innovation. We’re seeing that transform the way agencies actually create work, and it’s borrowing a few pages from the Silicon Valley playbook around agility, and technology is enabling that. It’s enabling agencies to do more incredibly inventive work because it’s a new toolkit, but it’s also enabling them from a team orchestration/collaboration perspective. In a productive way, agencies are reevaluating how they work internally to increase the pace and stay connected to the velocity demanded by brand-building today.

We’re talking a lot about what you guys are doing for agencies, but how much do you guys solicit insight from opinions and keep agencies in mind when developing these products?

We absolutely spend a lot of time with agencies in soliciting their input and perspective on existing products and on our product road map. We work very closely with agencies on alpha and beta product opportunities, so they are very much connected to our ongoing product development efforts. We have a number of agency councils across different disciplines, be it media or creative, and we use those councils as well as ongoing sources of advice on how we’re thinking about going to market. I was on the executive advisory board for G+ in the very early stages, and agencies were a critical part of how we thought about the platform. They bring fantastic insights at scale because they’re working across various industries and they’re confronting different marketing problems on a day-to-day basis, so we actively solicit their perspective. Their feedback is a powerful source for us in driving the innovation engine that we have going at Google.

You brought up Google+. I hear a lot from agencies that they’re not sure what to do with Google+ so they’re not really investing in it. What are you hearing from agencies and what are you guys doing to address it?

Part of the issue there is that G+ is new. Like with anything that’s new, the ramp in terms of how to connect with all of the possibilities, there’s a natural evolution to that process. But there are agencies who are doing really cool things with G+. Hangout apps are a huge opportunity for agencies to unleash their creativity. We’ve seen brands like Cadbury do really interesting things on their G+ page with Hangout apps. Fiat introduced a new car via a Hangout. Hangouts are just an example of a way for brands to engage their consumers incredibly intimately and to solicit their feedback but also to connect with them in the most human way, which is through video and a real-time experience. That’s one example, and I think that as the platform grows and we see really fantastic upticks in engagement and reach of the platform, I think that that will provide the agencies with much more opportunity to experiment and to try new things.

Google I/O is still going on, but yesterday was a big day with the Glass demo and today I saw a bunch of tweets after Chrome for iOS was announced. What have you been hearing from agencies?

Perhaps we can follow up. We did do for first time this year, which was really exciting, we actually did livestreams of I/O within the agencies. We basically threw mini I/O parties across the agency landscape. I unfortunately was not able to attend any of those; I was out in Mountain View. So I don’t have the direct feedback given that those started yesterday and obviously the event is going on, but my sense from the social graph is that people are really excited about the possibilities that all of these announcements imply. The Chrome example that you brought up and the ability to have a seamless exp across devices, that solves so many of the challenges associated with brand-building in the digital space today. With HTML5 combined with that seamless Chrome exp across devices, one can imagine that creativity will be unleashed. Agencies are just excited about the possibilities. Agencies live in a world of ideas and possibilities, and these announcements just shore up their confidence that they can do really cool things that were never before imaginable because technology has advanced so quickly.

What spurred the in-agency livestreams?

Exactly this dialgoue that we’re having, which is again we believe that we’re creating this amazing toolkit, or palette, for agencies to do really fantastic things. And we also have seen agencies become a lot more technologically oriented, and they are investing in technology driven approaches to the way that they’re developing campaigns. It was the alignment of the stars. We see this evolution in terms of how agencies are thinking about digital and technology and the time felt ripe given the types of announcements that we’re making this year to really elevate the new things that we’re introducing because again they enable this amazing opportunity to create new experiences for consumers. So we wanted to bring it closer to agencies and highlight for them that it’s not just about developers, that Google, even though fundamentally we’re a technology company, our desire is to allow agencies in parntership with their clients to create beautiful, seamless, immersive experiences that connect brands to consumers. Particularly given the nature of announcements this year, it felt particularly important to amp up the visibility of the conference with our agency partners and get them in the mind-set of thinking of Google I/O as way for them to stay on the cutting edge and make sure they’re constantly pushing the envelope with what they’re doing for their clients.