5 things Google Doodle teaches us about content marketing

Messing with brand logos used to be sacrilege for marketers. Then Google came along

Since 1998, Google has been adding little extra touches – static or animated – to its homepage logo.

The first one – a stick man with its hands in the air – was a tongue-in-cheek signifier that Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin were out of the office.

Google's first Doodle
The first Google Doodle, 30/08/1998

In that case, they were at Burning Man Festival in the Nevada desert.

Like Google itself, the idea has grown far beyond expectations. And it’s not just window dressing. Google Doodles are a good example of when output becomes content – regardless of whether it was pre-planned or not.

Here are some lessons to learn from those technological scribbles.

1. Brand values

AKA ‘the big one’.

Google’s own description of its Doodles pretty much lays out its business case for keeping them.

They are “fun, surprising, and sometimes spontaneous changes […] to celebrate holidays, anniversaries, and the lives of famous artists, pioneers, and scientists.”

Google has been going to great lengths to show the world its fun, surprising and spontaneous nature for years. From funky offices (wellness centres and gardens) to famously generous employee perks (massage credits and gourmet restaurants), it wants to portray itself as business 2.0.

Starting with the company logo. A familiar sight in brand guideline documents are very stringent rules about what to do and what not to do with the business logo.

As marketers, do we need to rethink that particular sacred cow? Doodle shows that it’s possible to rejig a logo while retaining or enhancing it as a recognisable symbol of your business.

Not every brand will suit that kind of playful tinkering with its motif, but at the very least it’s a good moment to consider if your logo could be working harder to showcase your brand values.

2. Be a curator

Google used to be the path to information. Increasingly, it is the information.

From Google Snippets to Google My Business information, more and more the company is keeping users on its page, rather than sending them off elsewhere.

And that’s not even mentioning the likes of Google News, Google Flights etc.

Doodles are all part of this drive. Take today’s example: 18th century English cookery writer Hannah Glasse (pictured above). Click on the Doodle and Google curates an all-you-need glimpse of her life and work.

Here’s what you see:

Google Doodle 28/03/2018
Google Doodle 28/03/2018

With notable dates, fun facts and anecdotes, the Doodle essentially unveils a mini content hub of a figure that you may or may not have heard of.

Acting as a curator is increasingly important for brands. Take virtually any subject and there is likely to be too much information out there.

Your brand needs to take the reins and recognise what your audience will be interested in – even if they don’t know it yet. Then figure out the most efficient way of cutting through the noise and getting it to them.

3. Content starts conversations

As you might expect, Google wants its users to get involved in creating Doodles and accepts idea submissions by email – direct to the Doodle team.

It stops short of actually accepting externally designed Doodles however – reflecting an issue all marketers have come across: what do we do about user-generated content?

For all the talk of involving audience in the content process, there is a point where you have to keep hold of your brand ‘in-house’.

But if you can involve your audience directly into the content-creating process then you will stand out a mile in the marketplace.

Make it explicit: why not put the call out on social media for article or video requests? Or open up the comments section and engage with those posting. With careful moderation, neither has to be the quagmire their reputation might suggest.

It’s also a great opportunity for lead generation. ‘Saw this and thought of you’ is one of the most effective methods of driving business, likewise ‘You asked for it, so here it is’.

For example, RBS Group’s ContentLive and Unum’s Clive content hub, created by Progressive Content, both have a ‘request content’ function that allows users to submit their suggestions for future articles, infographics or videos. A couple of short questions to establish the brief and the in-house editorial team gets cracking.

4. Invest in design

Clearly, it’s pointless comparing resources with Google and its team of dedicated doodlers.

But in fairness, crisp and attractive design has always been a priority for Google.

As it should be for your own brand. There are too many businesses hiding their often-excellent content within functional-but-dour websites. It’s not just what you say, it’s also what you’re wearing while you say it.

Design excellence is not about who in the office can use Photoshop or InDesign, it should be the thread that weaves through everything you do – from the website to internal emails. Even office décor can play a part in building that sense of unity and vision.

If your design department isn’t involved in every strategy meeting, every project catch-up and every marketing decision, you’re missing a trick.

5. Consistency

It may have started as a fun out-of-office signifier, but the Doodle has become a regular feature of Google, and therefore web, life.

It might seem obvious but if something you’re doing is connecting in a way you hadn’t predicted – do more of it.

And that means making sure your organisation has the talent and resources required to make it happen.

The regularity of the Doodle has engrained it as a visual reference point for the business as a whole. Think about how you achieve that with your own brand. Do you have consistent content output schedule? Ad-hoc doesn’t cut it if you want to make your brand stand out within your sector.

There’s another obvious quick fix too. If you don’t have a content calendar, make one. (If you don’t know how, here’s a useful guide.) Doodle reacts to holidays, birthdays and notable dates, there’s no reason your content can’t do the same.

So if you think your marketing is more scribble than Doodle, these five lessons can help turn it into a work of art.

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