Google and Big DataEver the innovator, Google is very adept at using technology to shatter existing paradigms. From smart glasses to artificial intelligence, asteroid mining to passenger-less cars, the gang from Mountain View loves to tinker with and re-shape convention. Given the company’s track record, it should come as no surprise that for years now Google has been engaged in an ongoing effort to use big data to improve employee happiness. By all accounts, these efforts are working: for the fourth consecutive year, Fortune magazine has named Google the best company to work for, leaving tech rivals Apple, Facebook, Amazon, and Microsoft in the dust.

More than a mere reflection of the future of HR, I think Google’s approach to creating employee happiness serves as a microcosm of the future of marketing.


Google’s employee-centric ethos is widely cited by many an HR manager as the acme of good corporate governance. Whether it’s the free gourmet food or the generous compensation packages for beneficiaries of deceased Googlers, the search giant has always taken care of its own.¹

Google’s use of quantitative data to maximize happiness, however, suggests that someone over there has been reading their Mills or Bentham. At the root of it all is POPS – the colloquial acronym-nickname of Google’s branded HR function, “People Operations.” As one might expect, POPS is driven by a high-tech data tracking program that analyzes employee responses to various benefits. This data even helps determine the company’s Googlegeist – Google’s very own happiness metric (No, I didn’t make this up).¹

Aside from setting Googlegeist, POPS uses big data to analyze – and subsequently influence – virtually every aspect of Google employees’ lives, from how much they should invest in their retirement portfolios to how much they should eat at the cafeteria. POPS even figured out that the ideal lunch line is 3-4 minutes long (doesn’t waste time, but long enough to meet new people), and that 8-inch plates are preferable to 12-inch ones, as they encourage workers to eat smaller portions.¹

Talk about stealthy micro-managing…


In 2009, a group of hardcore number crunchers from Google launched Project Oxygen, a plan to mine large amounts of internal POPS data to quantifiably determine the characteristics of effective managers. They gathered more than 10,000 observations about managers using over 100 variables, and then coded the comments to discover patterns in the data.²

Patterns they found; eight of them, in fact. After discovering the eight characteristics that make an effective manager at Google, they implemented a comprehensive training program to transform data into action. It worked. Google was able to demonstrate a statistically significant improvement in manager quality in 75% of its worst-performing managers.²

In other words, Google used data analytics to refine an internal process which in turn positively impacted a key performance indicator.


Google was able to utilize the data collected on its employees accomplish two objectives: 1) influence the behavior of its target audience, in this case Google employees, and 2) improve a key performance indicator, in this case the quality of its managers.

To be sure, the future of marketing is digital, integrated, and data driven. To meet the ever-increasing demands of today’s tech-enabled social, local, mobile consumer, businesses are turning to new marketing technologies such as ad retargeting, predictive recommendations, and anticipatory computing engines. All of these rely on the ability to take existing data to influence future action.

Consumers want efficiency, simplicity, and convenience; they are willing to be influenced, as long as the experience is relevant. They are essentially saying, “You should know what I want. Get it right – give me what I want when and where I want it, and I will give you my business.”

Just as Google is using employee data to optimize the employee experience, your brand should be using target audience data to optimize the consumer experience.

Or, as Prasad Setty, head of POP’s “people analytics” group notes, “What we try to do is bring the same level of rigor to people decisions that we do to engineering decisions. Our mission is to have all people decisions be informed by data.”¹

Welcome to the future of marketing.

¹ Slate, “The Happiness Machine

² New York Times, “Google’s Quest to Build a Better Boss


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