Google’s marketing plan for Home Hub includes bigger deals with fewer publishers

As Google’s portfolio of physical products keeps growing, its taste in media partnerships keeps changing, too.

Since July, BuzzFeed and Tasty have mounted a full-court press of promotion for the Google Home Hub, the voice-powered video device Google unveiled this fall. The Hub has been featured in a video series produced by BuzzFeed creators the Try Guys and on BuzzFeed’s streaming morning show, “AM 2 DM.” In all, Tasty and BuzzFeed have published more than 40 pieces of branded content, some of which features chefs from Tasty’s talent program, including JJ Johnson and Claudia Zepeda-Wilkins. BuzzFeed and Google have also been flogging a heavily discounted bundle available at Walmart, consisting of a 30-piece Tasty cookware set, plus a Google Home Mini, for $89.

Deals of this scale and scope reflect a shift in priority for Google as it looks to keep pace with rivals Amazon and Apple in the fast-growing voice and video device markets.

“We do have an eye, increasingly, toward global scale,” said Julia Chen Davidson, the global head of partner marketing for Google Home. She added that Google plans to focus on driving global sales of its home products, and focusing on bigger partnerships with third parties.

The multi-faceted deal with Google also represents BuzzFeed’s eagerness to prove that its monetization strategies combine well together for advertisers. Though this deal is anchored by a major ad buy from Google, BuzzFeed sees it as a blueprint for future partnerships, said Jen Klawin, BuzzFeed’s svp of brand strategy.

“When you’re building on a new platform, it pays to think about the long term,” said Davidson.

Google knew the Home Hub would be a top priority back in 2017, and it began working with BuzzFeed early on getting Tasty recipes into it. BuzzFeed engineers and product staffers collaborated with an in-house tech team at Google for five months to add 3,000 Tasty recipes to the Home Hub, Davidson said.

The two companies also spent a long time working out how they might promote the product across BuzzFeed’s galaxy of brands and channels. BuzzFeed’s original media plan had focused on holidays and other calendar tentpoles such as the Super Bowl. The idea eventually grew into a plan that focused on driving people to buy the product in-store. “We brought up Walmart almost as a sidebar,” said Jen Klawin, the svp of brand strategy at BuzzFeed. “And they said, ‘Let’s talk about that!’”

BuzzFeed declined to disclose how much Google paid for the package. It was one big deal rather than multiple deals that grew Google’s investment over time.

Google’s vision of how its home and voice products might be used is expansive. It worked with CBS Sports to build an action, its term for a voice-powered third-party app, for fantasy football players; it gave the Guardian money to build a four-person team that would figure out what kinds of story formats work for journalists. In total, there are around 20 different verticals that Google’s Assistant team has built out and dedicated resources to developing, Davidson said.

But it has recently embraced the “more work with fewer partners” ideal that publishers, agencies and brands have emphasized lately, though Davidson added it’s not abandoning smaller partners. Of those 20 content verticals, Davidson said the team responsible for the hardware products has identified five to ten that are most important, including cooking, beauty and news, all of which were informed by user testing, focus groups and interviews.

That team identified what Davidson called “hero partners” for them. Those partners offer some combination of a natural opportunity to integrate into the Home devices, a global, scaled audience, an ability to deliver a commerce opportunity.

For now, publishers dominate that list of partners. But it has already done some partnerships with brands — Sephora, for example — and Davidson expects that more of them will be amenable as the voice devices become more commonplace. “You’ll start to see more brands be interested in this type of partnership,” she said.

“We’re realizing the potential of what a partnership can look like,” Davidson said. “[BuzzFeed] has set the pace and the tone and the standard.”

While the Home Hub belongs in a product category that is barely a year old, Google already finds itself facing stiff competition. Its main competitor, the Amazon Echo Show, launched in the summer of 2017, and it has to keep half an eye on Facebook, which launched a similar product, the Portal, this fall.

It remains far behind Amazon in the market for voice-activated devices in the United States, according to research from Consumer Intelligence Research Partners. And while they are part of the same family of products, said Mike Lewin, CIRP’s co-founder, the video features give them an opportunity carve back more market share.

“Google has made up ground, and the video devices are one way for them to do it, by diversifying how consumers and build and customize the home control systems,” Lewin said.

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