Google eyes Asia growth

22 March 2011

HONG KONG: Google, the search giant, is seeking to exploit a growing "internet addiction" among consumers in Asia as a means of driving growth across its advertising and mobile operations.

Speaking to the Wall Street Journal, Daniel Alegre, Google's president, Japan and Asia Pacific, argued it will "be some time" before the region's web adspend surpasses North America, but the trends are positive.

"Asia is moving much quicker," Alegre said. "The time frame it takes Asia to become a significant revenue component for the company is short as a result of this new wave of internet addiction."

Video-sharing platform YouTube has a central role in Google's expansion plans beyond search, and is increasingly adding professionally-produced material.

"We are investing heavily in YouTube. From a consumer standpoint, we're closing content deals with local players everywhere across Asia," Alegre continued.

"We're also promoting social features for YouTube in our markets everywhere. That's starting to bear fruit in our markets where YouTube is present."

Asia Pacific houses some of the most advanced digital markets, such as Japan and South Korea, typically early adopters of emerging technologies.

"In markets that are very developed, like South Korea or Japan, because 3G networks are so pervasive and commute times are very long, the migrations to mobile are much faster than anywhere else in the world," said Alegre.

"This means that we really need to be thinking of ourselves as a mobile-first company whereas in other markets, we might be thinking about launching something for the PC."

More broadly, adapting to these conditions requires reconsidering existing models, reflecting the differing habits and preferences of individuals utilising wireless handsets rather than desktop appliances.

"In Asia, we really need to think about how consumers interact with search," Alegre said.

"How do people leverage maps and location-based services on mobile phones and how should ads be shown to consumers on mobile phones?"

Looking internally, the US multinational has also modified its strategy - after finding that many potential key hires in nations including China, Japan and South Korea knew little English.

"We've changed our policy in those markets so that we do hire people that meet our hiring criteria in terms of strong academics, strong industry background but we no longer make it a necessity for them to speak English," Alegre said.

"We need to be more locally relevant in terms of the way we approach the talent pool from a language perspective to ensure we have the best in each market."

This forms part of a wider obstacle facing global corporations hoping to engage staff and publics in diverse outlets, balancing international scale with domestic traditions and cultural values.

"As Google was growing and consolidating our purchases, one Christmas we decided we were going to give away clocks to our clients," said Allegre.

"We sent them everywhere around the world to our partners. We didn't realise though that if you send a clock to Chinese partners it's actually considered a very offensive gift because it means your time is up."

China has been a high-profile issue for Google in recent months, after the organisation pared back its activity in the world's most populous country last year.

"I think there is a misconception of whether Google is returning to China. Google never left China," Alegre said.

"We continue to service our customers as well as our advertisers. There are very large opportunities not only in terms of search but export as well."

However, recent accusations by Google that the Chinese government is blocking its Gmail platform may also threaten to reignite past troubles.

Data sourced from Wall Street Journal/Financial Times; additional content by Warc staff