CMO of Google

Lorraine Twohill

What does your brand stand for, and how does it deliver on that promise every day?
The brand is “knowledge” in one word – access to information. We deliver on this promise through search. We think a lot about curiosity, which is a big part of our culture and company. When people are curious about something, we can give them information on it quickly through search.
What role does simplicity play in delivering on that promise?
People are generally fearful of tech – it can be very complex. We have to overtly think about simplicity every step of the way. When you open one of our apps, for example, we’ll walk you through the key features in a simple way the first time you use it. We think a lot about how we reduce friction and reduce pain for users. All the complexity can be behind the scenes, but the user experience should be simple, if we do our jobs right. You shouldn’t need instructions for something, but if you did, then it should be communicated simply. The simpler you make products, the easier it is for people to get where they need to be. We need to get people what they’re looking for, fast, and simplicity is a core part of our promise. Things have to be intuitive.
How does your organization strive to create simple experiences? Please provide a specific example?
I think engineers tend to build complex things–feature overload is common problem because they have lots of ideas. We tend to focus on singular use cases. An example I’ll give is the new Google Photos app. We worked extremely hard to simplify it and create a clear and compelling app that makes all photos searchable. We had to resist the temptation to overload the product. Chromecast is another example on the hardware side. The team has worked very hard at keeping it simple. Just plug it in and go. From the onset, that was part of the brief – simplicity had to be part of the plan from the very beginning.
What benefits has your company experienced from simplifying?
Faster and greater adoption. We’ve seen it time and time again—if you eliminate friction you get better adoption, better word of mouth, and the product gets used by more people.
How do you strive to keep things “simple” for your marketing team, every day? What’s working?
Two things tend to happen. We try to cover everything, and we have internal stakeholders that get excited about the features of their products. We have to resist the pull to list every feature. We have many internal debates about which things really matter. What is the lead message, what is the lead feature, etc. We try to go out to the world with a simple and singular message.
How do you lead as a simplifier?
I think it’s extremely important as a leader – keep a short list of things that really matter and be sure people know what they are. You have to be able to count those items on one hand and be clear about them. You also have to find ways to clear the friction and eliminate pain. We have meetings called “bureaucracy busters” where we meet and find ways to get the barriers out of the way.
What’s the most recent, simple customer experience you’ve had personally?
I was in Tokyo and I paid with my phone there. It’s an extraordinary experience. No digging for credit cards, digging through the wallet. It was extraordinary. I really came back a believer that we will all be paying with our phones. I also think hotels have gotten a lot better. The Marker hotel in Dublin, for example. The, wifi was free and you didn’t have to log in to get on it. That’s key. I’d stay there again for that reason.
What is the top piece of advice you’d give to other brands trying to simplify?
I think you have to reduce the clutter. There is too much going on and too much being communicated. You have to have a core essence for your brand that is clear. Otherwise you have a lot of tactics and activities that create a lot of noise.
What do c-level execs need to do to operationalize simplicity?
The way you operationalize simplicity is focus. There is too much going and too much to talk about. Apple does a good job of this – the talk about one thing in their marketing at a time. They are very good at focus and creating space.
What are the key indicators that simplicity is driving your business?
You have to look at things like satisfaction and what you can’t live without. Hold ourselves to a higher bar there – can people live without us? I think user satisfaction and happiness at a fundamental level is really important to measure whether you got it right. The end goal is happy customers.
Why do you think it is so difficult for the majority of companies to deliver simple experiences?
People care about all of the cool stuff they’ve built. They feel passionately that all features need to be in the creative, and that everything is important to the story. They get attached to it. It’s impossible to know everything and it’s the marketing team’s job to guide people through that. If you know what your core essence is it’s a good filter. You have to have filters. The hard part of our jobs is to step back from the noise and have some perspective. You have to step back and be the outside-in voice. Determine what really matters and needs to be told.
How do you keep that clarity?
Get some perspective. Which is healthy. We underestimate the importance of perspective. We also need to define the top three things we have to get right, and be brilliant at. If your teams see you doing that they’ll do it too.
What does “simplicity” mean to you?
Peace. I think life has gotten very complex. There’s an awful lot going on–be at peace with realizing you’re human and can’t do it all.