There's more to a doodle when working for Google
WILD GEESE: Lorraine TwohillVice-president of global marketing, Google, Palo Alto, California
WHAT BRAND manager in their right mind would let children design their own versions of the company logo to which they are global guardian?
“People feel like they own a part of us and the doodles really help,” says Lorraine Twohill, vice president of global marketing at Google.
Describing the Doodle 4 Google competition she started at the company’s London office six years ago, she says, “We really believe you need to be playful and you have to take risks.”
Leaving a permanent pensionable marketing job with Bord Fáilte in the late 1990s, attracted “by this internet thing”, was also a risk, one that has brought the Carlow native to Palo Alto, California, and to the helm of one of the most ubiquitous brands in the world.
Graduating with a degree in international marketing and languages from DCU in 1992, she and her best friend left Ireland for Spain, having both bagged milk-round places with Australian food ingredients company Burns Philp.
“We convinced them to hire both of us . . . and, of course, we needed money to buy smart clothes, so we asked for an advance. They must have thought we were complete lunatics, but off we went.”
After a firm grounding in marketing at Burns Philp, Twohill jumped ship to Bord Fáilte. It was a time when brand Ireland was shrugging off the shamrocks and shillelaghs in favour of a Cranberries soundtrack.
“We were all just four years out of college. All we knew was that if we worked at Levis, we would do it this way. It’s a brand, we’re developing a brand and it’s going to be cool. We’re sick and tired of the leprechauns. It needs to be new, young, fresh, vibrant Ireland, the Ireland we knew,” says Twohill.
As country manager for Italy based in Milan and later overseeing the northern European market from Amsterdam, she says, “getting paid to tell people how wonderful Ireland is was the dream job”.
It was at Bord Fáilte that she also got the bug for the web and, while slow to leave the job, the lure of working for an internet business saw her move to European travel portal, Opodo, in the late 1990s.
“You could see that people were not going to walk into a travel agent any more, they were going to do this on the web,” she recalls.
“And the scary thing about the internet is that you have data every day. From 9.30am you knew how you were doing and you could quickly dial up or down web campaigns in a country. That really trained me on the web and I saw how huge this was going to be.”
Working side by side with Google to drive traffic to Opodo’s sites, it wasn’t long before an executive spotted her talent and asked her to make a trip to the US “for a chat”.
“That chat turned out to be 22 interviews, sitting on a bean bag, then a large bouncing ball and at one stage with a dog wandering in.” She joined Google’s nascent London office in 2003.
“I think the Americans didn’t know quite what to do with me,” she recalls of her early days in the job. “Suddenly, they had this person in Europe saying, ‘I don’t think this product can launch yet, it’s not quite ready for Europe’.”
What she found scary was just how much they listened. “I didn’t expect that. You suddenly realised that you really had to know your stuff.”
Twohill ended up heading up marketing for Google in EMEA before moving with the company to Palo Alto three years ago.
Though describing being custodian of one of the best known brands in the world as “quite scary”, she says she could not be more passionate about Google and its brand.
“People love Google. They don’t see us as a commercial entity, they almost see us like a movement, so I have to think very carefully about the decisions we make because of that.”
The decision to collaborate with Lady Gaga last year to promote Google’s browser Chrome, soliciting YouTube videos of the singer’s fans singing her latest hit paid off.
While Chrome had clocked up 100 million users with marketing messages of speed and safety, Twohill says the company wasn’t going to get the next 100 million without reaching them on a more emotional level.
“What Lady Gaga has done with the internet is just remarkable,” says Twohill of the pop star’s special and unmediated relationship with her “little monsters” fan base.
But what of the flack Google gets on privacy or its Street View product? “When you’re small and disruptive, it’s good. When your bigger and disruptive it’s tougher,” she says.
“Because so much of our technologies are ground breaking and are pushing the boundaries, it’s so important we help people to understand our intent and what we are trying to do.”
Last year chosen as AdWeek magazine’s Grand Brand Genius and this year recognised by the Irish Technology Leadership Group (ILTG) as one of the Top 50 Irish Americans in technology, Twohill is clearly making a splash in her adopted country.