Lesson One: Never Stop Learning

Few companies can claim that their global brand awareness is such that their company name has become a verb, but Google can. A massive 67% of online searches are now ‘googled’ and the company dominates the world of online advertising too. But even slick multi-nationals make mistakes and the early release of a draft trading statement on Thursday caused the company to cease trading for several hours while the 20% fall in profits was explained to the market.

While all of this is a world of analysts, financial reporting and market sensitivity that is of little concern to most SMEs, the debacle is a clear warning to all of us about two things: the importance of communicating the right messages at the right time and the pace of change in the world of online marketing.

Let’s take the first of those two lessons. Though the figures in the draft statement were accurate, they were not fully contextualised as the statement was not prefaced, as it should have been, by an upbeat quote from Chief Executive, Larry Page.  Its release in the middle of the trading day rather than after the closing bell also meant that there was no opportunity for the company to discuss the figures with analysts, help them evaluate the information in context or ‘spin’ the figures into a more palatable storyline. Getting right both the timing and the contextual spin on any form of communication is absolutely essential, whether it’s informing customers that their account manager is moving on or releasing a press release about some exciting company news. While the stakes for your company might not be as high as they are for Google, it’s always worth taking expert advice on the timing and messaging of important communications.

And what of the other lesson? While quarterly profits may have fallen below analysts’ expectations, we’re still taking about profits of £1.35 billion! However, changes in market conditions mean that Google can no longer charge the same pay-per-click ad rates as they’ve been used to which has impacted on their revenues. The world of online marketing moves quickly and those who use it – as well as those who base their business on it – must be ready to move quickly to keep pace. For the SME market the lesson here is that your approach to delivering an online strategy must be able to evolve continuously, rather than be ticked off a to-do list.  It is no longer enough to have a website; your website must be updated with new content, have an interactive element to it and be integrated with other online channels such as Twitter and LinkedIn. Your Twitter account should be active, not just an icon on your homepage, and you must be ready to embrace whatever new online channels spring up, as they inevitably will.

Google will recover from this blip and continue to diversify: it has both the creativity and the resources to do so. As for the rest of us are concerned, the importance of what we say, when we say it and how quickly we adapt to change are fundamental lessons that, once learned, will continue to deliver value indefinitely.