If you were to walk around a public relations firm, marketing firm, marketing department or even a fledgling social media agency's office in 2007, chances are that you would have seen three windows open on nearly every desktop: a Microsoft Word or Excel document, a web browser, and customer relations management (CRM) software like Salesforce, or maybe even a contact manager like Sage ACT!.
In the last four years, much has changed on the social media and CRM fronts, but the biggest change to the marketing professional's desktop is simply the set of tools used to complete day-to-day content-management tasks.
As of 2011, four million businesses have "gone Google," and the number of "marquee" customers is growing to include some big name medium- and large-companies, like Virgin Airlines, National Geographic, and Genentech.
As Google rolled out a robust set of new features in Q1 of 2011, many of the new features seem to be aimed squarely at the needs of marketing professionals, including Calendar, Gmail and other collaboration features. Although Google's relatively new Google+ social network has not yet rolled out to Google Apps users, the network recently hit 50 million users, and it looks like Google will unleash some kind of enterprise collaboration product that competes with Yammer and Salesforce's Chatter, sometime in 2012.
Most of Google's improvements to Google Apps in 2011 don't seem, on the surface, to be aimed at the needs of marketing departments. A closer look, however, reveals that six of Google's key product innovations in 2011 are indeed focused on the needs of marketers in the post-social media age.
Google, perhaps due to their email and chat-heavy culture, is focused on one of marketing's key needs in building these features: time sensitivity. While their integration into the greater marketing ecosystem is mediocre, they have paid attention to a few key needs.
Google Cloud Connect for Microsoft Office
This innovation solved a critical collaboration problem, especially for older marketers or marketers who were averse to using Google Docs - either because they disliked the interface, or just because they preferred the Microsoft editing tools. Anytime a press release or piece of marketing collateral was previously used in the Microsoft environment, those documents were subject to the old check-in/check-out routine on file servers.
Google's Cloud Connect now enables users to share Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents across all devices (including mobile). For marketers dealing with late-breaking, time-sensitive documents like press releases, merger/acquisition announcements or product announcements, Cloud Connect offers a way to blend the advantages of Microsoft's editing platform and Google's security and collaboration advantages. The other obvious use case here is for collaboration with clients who don't use Google Apps.
Desktop notifications for email/chat
If you've ever seen a PR person working on a time-sensitive pitch, you'll notice that they're constantly toggling back and forth between the document and their email. With desktop notifications for email and chat, marketing professionals can cut down on the distraction factor, and zero in on only the emails that matter, while working on time-sensitive deliverables. While one could say that Microsoft's Outlook invented the pop-up email alert over a decade ago, they never came up with the smooth chat integration that Google Apps brought to enterprise.
Priority inbox for email
While the effectiveness of Priority Inbox in Gmail is certainly murky, at first, over time, Gmail's learning ability, allows marketers, especially agencies, to prioritize important clients over not-so-important clients. Agency clients, keep the Priority Inbox feature in mind the next time you pay your marketing agency NET60.
Quasi-CRM and social media functionality for Google Apps
Google has said, over and over, that they have no plans to enter the customer relationship management software market. However, the current version of Google Contacts, for Google Apps, bears more than a passing resemblance to ACT! or any number of the CRM products of yesteryear. For marketers who need a more sophisticated CRM, or something that goes way beyond basic contact management, Google's integration with ZohoCRM and their Salesforce integration, one of the platform's oldest (2008), solve that problem. Oracle's CRMonDemand even offers a middleware connection.
Additionally, Gmail gadgets that integrate with Twitter and Facebook were actually some of the earliest desktop integrations for social media tools. Nobody likes to give Google credit for being an early innovator in social media, but sometimes, it's true.
Event time-zoning on Google Calendar
One of the biggest challenges for marketing and communications professionals is that of coordinating schedules for key executives. One of the biggest challenges of scheduling briefing calls with groups of journalists or analysts is accounting for multiple time-zones. Although Google clearly didn't design this feature for marketing communication professionals, lower-level PR and communications employees must have breathed a collective sigh of relief upon seeing this feature.
Google Apps Marketplace marketing apps
In the last year, a few of the sales and marketing applications used by small and medium business marketers have also made the jump to the Google Apps marketplace. While there are some notable big names missing (ExactTarget and nearly every marketing automation brand), email powerhouses Constant Contact and Mailchimp, as well as ecommerce giant Magento, have come aboard in the last year. Admittedly, this is the weakest link in the Google Apps marketing offering, as only a few big-name marketing software companies have built for Google. The likely key reason they haven't: very little customer data lives in Google Apps so far.
Susan Cline is the Director of Training and Change Management at Google Apps Parter Ltech. She is also the author of several Google Apps courses on Lynda.com. Visit Susan at her website http://susancline.com/ or follow her on Twitter @GoogleAppsSusan.