How Google’s Marvin Chow Balances Data With Empathy to Drive Brand Storytelling

Headshot of Heide Palermo

10-year Google veteran and self-proclaimed nomad, dreamer and geek, Marvin Chow credits much of his career success to being curious and self-motivated. In his current role as Google’s VP of global marketing, Marvin is focused on using tech like AI and ML as a force for good, while exploring their creative possibilities. Here, he shares how his team has been addressing the pandemic through data-driven campaigns and the must-have skills to build a marketing dream team.

How did you get to where you are today? 

I grew up as a first-generation Asian American whose parents instilled a very traditional notion of success—get straight A’s and become a doctor. It was clear early on that I wasn’t going to end up on the path they dreamed of for me. I made a lot of mistakes and got into some trouble, but what I lacked in a desire to follow a conventional path, I made up for in curiosity and ability to self-motivate. I really credit these two traits with getting me to where I am.

How has your team pivoted marketing efforts in response to Covid-19?

The challenges facing our various audiences right now are both myriad and frightening. But using technology as a force for good is a key brand value, so teams across Google are focused on using our tools and scale to help—whether it’s aligning our message around “Stay Home, Save Lives” in key markets, sharing insights about mobility trends for public health officials, helping SMBs navigate the situation, offering distance-learning resources for teachers or using search trends to highlight the goodness of humanity and echo our thanks to those on the front lines.

What’s currently happening in marketing that you’re most excited about?

A couple of months ago, my answer would have been about AI and machine learning and how responsible use of technology would separate the brands that thrive from building more personal and trusted consumer connections from those that flounder. … I’d have noted our collective calling to the right side of marketing.

“…we’re in a unique position to listen closely and shape the evolving role our brands should play for [consumers].”

And all of that remains true in many respects. But now, in light of Covid-19, the urgency comes from our calling to make sure our brands are on the right side of history. An economic downturn is looming—and these times tend to set in motion a new wave of how brands connect with people. So, while what’s happening brings anxiety, as a marketer I’m also intrigued and energized. … We don’t know exactly what’s around the next corner, but as champions of the consumer, we’re in a unique position to listen closely and shape the evolving role our brands should play for them.

What are you working on now that’s innovative? 

We’ve been making some great strides tapping into the benefits of machine learning to personally connect with niche audiences at a scale that just wasn’t possible before while freeing up a lot of time and driving better results. Tools like Custom Algorithm use machine learning to show people the most relevant ads by analyzing literally millions of signal combinations in real-time, increasing the likelihood that our ads are served to the most relevant high-value audiences.

We’re exploring ML possibilities for creative, too (after all, we know 70% of an ad’s impact is still determined by creative). One area we’ve played around with is a cool approach to contextual ads. When promoting the Google Home Mini in the U.K., we knew the product usage was high in the kitchen—particularly when people were cooking and had their hands dirty. So, we partnered with The Guardian’s recipe site to start creating auto-generated personalized ads. This involved training an ML model to recognize sweet versus savory images so the creative could be adapted on the fly.

@heidefaith Heide is the senior director of brand community at Adweek and Editor of the Inside the Brand series, including the CMO Moves and Gen ZEOs podcasts, Innovators, Challengers, and Women Trailblazers. She also leads Adweek's Innovators Council.