September 2023 | 

“Ideas Come from Everywhere”: Google’s Junior Marketers

“Ideas Come from Everywhere:” Empowering Google’s Junior Marketers

For marketers around the world, Google provides indispensable tools, aligned with their mission to “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” In marketing, they run Google ads, use Google Analytics to check on their performance, and post popular videos to YouTube and social media platforms. But what does marketing look like within Google?

For starters, the tech giant doesn’t necessarily hire those with a traditional marketing background. Kate Fleming, head of global marketer skills training, concentrated in Management and OPIM as a Wharton undergrad, and says, “The way Google does marketing is often very different from the way it is done in other organizations. We hire people from a wide range of educational and economic backgrounds with no previous marketing experience, so we have a responsibility to give them a robust education while also learning on the job.” To meet that responsibility, Google reached out to Wharton 13 years ago to develop a two-week Marketing Academy, geared towards junior marketers to learn both marketing basics and current trends.

Fleming was tapped to attend the Marketing Academy when she was a relatively new hire on a global marketing team. A few years later, she was invited back to present a case study, and she got her first glimpse of how responsive both Google and Wharton are to the program’s participants. “Feedback showed a desire for more opportunities to apply the learnings in the classroom, because they are much harder to implement once you go back to your day job. One idea was to bring in a real project, Google Pixel, that we were working on and pose it to the participants as a capstone experience. They would develop marketing plans and bring together all the learning from their two weeks at Wharton. I positioned the case, watched all the presentations on the final day, and served as a judge.”

Evolution of the Program

That case study is just one of the ways the curriculum has changed over the years. From the beginning, the Marketing Academy has covered the basics, including the five Cs (company, customers, competitors, collaborators, and climate) and the four Ps (product, price, place, and promotion). But, says Fleming, “Working with the Wharton team, we always discuss potential new topics and continue to optimize and refine our content. One of the experiments we've done is to split the two weeks: the first module is marketing theory and fundamentals and the second is professional skills including negotiations, working with your CFO, and other topics that are instrumental to the working lives of marketers.”

“Since this was my first year running the program,” says Fleming, “I was really interested to see how that second week of content landed. I would call it a successful experiment, because it performed at the same level if not higher than the first week’s marketing content.”

Wharton marketing professor Eric Bradlow, who serves as co-academic director of the Google-Wharton Marketing Academy, agrees with Fleming’s assessment. “I have heard comments from ‘this changed how I think,’ to ‘I went to business school but didn’t learn these concepts.’ The program has been a highlight for me as an educator, and our initial idea that we could create a cohort of Googlers over a reasonable time horizon (five to 10 years) who speak the language of marketing, and do it the Wharton-empirical way, has been realized.”

The last running of the program also included a session on AI, which Fleming says is “going to change everything about what we do. We are already experimenting with Google Bard [their version of chatbot technology] to create different messages, checking how they perform at a scale that we've never been able to do before. The possibilities coming from AI are endless and actually a bit frightening for some people that work in the industry who are concerned that their skills might become obsolete. What I learned at the Marketing Academy is that the way to succeed with AI is to combine the intuition of humans with the power of AI. So, although AI is going to completely sweep the landscape and change how we do everything, I'm actually quite optimistic.”

Actionable Learning

A tenet of Wharton Executive Education is that classroom learning is only as good as the knowledge that is applied back at work. And for a program that targets junior members of the marketing team, that means results require Google to maintain a culture that lets their voices carry weight.

Fleming recalls, “When I first attended as a participant, we had a campaign for Chromebooks and the tagline was ‘For Everyone.’ During a session on segmentation and target audience, someone raised their hand to ask about the campaign. After the professor watched our video, he said, ‘This is not what you should be doing.’”

That person who raised his hand went back to Google and shared the feedback. He was a junior marketer telling VPs, “We were just at Wharton and they told us that ‘For Everyone’ is the wrong strategy,” Fleming says. “It made us adjust our strategy, by starting to look at different segments and then create specific campaigns for different groups. Based on that one change 10 years ago, I would consider the program a success.” But it’s only one of many insights participants have brought back and implemented.

Reversing the Training Pyramid

“We are not only investing in this program and our people,” says Fleming, “but we are also open to anyone at whatever level coming back and saying, ‘I learned at Wharton that we should be doing it this way.’ At Google, we don’t just say marketing ideas come from everywhere — we live it. Just because you're not a VP, it doesn't mean you don't have good ideas. We want our top talent to be better educated and more thoughtful and to have better insights, and then bring that back to Google where they will be listened to.”

Professor Bradlow says the program was designed to “empower rising stars at Google to advocate for their ideas using market insights and data. The Marketing Academy is impacting the way decisions are made and creating younger change agents who bring our ideas back to their teams.”

The need to pay heed to these less-senior voices has exploded with the surging importance of social media as a marketing channel, says Fleming. “The training pyramid is reversed: you have directors and VPs who have such extensive experience and knowledge and don't need training — except when it comes to social, where they really need the education.”

“When Snapchat came out,” she continues, “as marketers, we decided to download it and try it out. At first, our team sent each other jokes and thought it was pretty ridiculous. But it was how young people were communicating with each other. We ended up invested in a lot of advertising on the platform. It's really about agility of mind and the ability to welcome in new thinking, which is why it's so important for us as Google to invest in younger talent. Sending them to Wharton, which is so respected as a brand, gives them permission to raise their hand in a meeting and share their insights. And we are ready to hear them.”