Sandeep Goyal
Mar 30, 2021

Blog: What brands can take away from the Google Year in Search report 2020

The author states that ideas from the Google Search Report may appear deceptively simple, but are really a compass pointing smart strategists in the direction of consumer thinking

Photo by Rajeshwar Bachu on Unsplash
Photo by Rajeshwar Bachu on Unsplash
Google believes that the year 2020 exposed a simple truth: that there is no universal human experience. To move forward, you need to look backwards. To get ready for what’s next, it’s therefore essential to understand what matters most to consumers. Google Search data illuminates just that path forward. The Google Year in Search 2020 Report is a must-read for all marketers, across geographies. It provides perspectives that appear deceptively simple, but are really a compass pointing smart strategists in the direction of consumer thinking. 
Let us look at some of the interesting highlights from across Apac.
Confronting stigmas: People are confronting stigmas and discreetly educating themselves, even on taboo topics.
  • +35% in searches related to body positivity; for example, “quotes against body shaming”
  • +40% growth in mental health-related searches like “how to take care of mental health”, “mental health tips”, and “mental health test”
  • +25% in searches about gender equality
Considering others: People are considering others’ unique needs, too, and looking for ways to accommodate them.
  • +250% in searches for “what to say to someone depressed”
  • +2200% in searches for “employing people with disabilities”
  • +250% in searches related to disability etiquette. This was especially true in India
Google says that only 1 in 5 people feel represented in the ads they see (according to Global Web Index), which presents huge opportunities for brands to innovate and grow. The report provides some interesting examples: 
  • Consider the individual journey of each consumer (sometimes literally). Ikea giving its consumers a distance-based discount is an eye-opener. 

  • Tone and timing matter. Don't push taboos too soon (which could come off as a stunt), but show your support by connecting with audiences when they're ready. The Google report illustrates this with a welcoming social post from W-Singapore that went viral and earned the brand high praise. 
Higher purpose: As global crises test their values, people are looking for ways to do more for their communities and the environment – and they expect the same from brands. Future-gazing site notes that while sustainability concerns aren't new, consumers have shifted from seeking eco-status to avoiding eco-shame. It also says that business in 2021 will be shaped by purposed business professionals creating new products and services that are sustainable, inclusive and profitable.
Environmental impact: Confronted with their own personal consumption habits during lockdowns, people have been reassessing their impact on the environment
  • +1000% in searches for “eco-friendly masks”
  • +65% in searches for “reusable” compared to +30% in previous year
  • +125% in searches for “eco-friendly packaging” compared to +55% in previous year
  • Community connections: Social distancing – and isolation, in many cases – brought a desire to proactively connect to our wider community by giving back
  • +2000% in searches for “find volunteer activities” in the past two years
  • +150% in searches for “donate” compared to +15% in previous year 
  • +75% in searches for “how to help” compared to flat growth in previous year. This in fact is a very India-specific trend that Google has highlighted
Google believes that for brands, going beyond corporate social responsibility and environmentalism, is really about expanding where you can make meaningful connections with (and for) consumers. Meeting their personal functional and emotional needs should be a given. Now, it's just as important to actively support their communities and take actions to integrate sustainability into your business. 
  • Create new ways for consumers to connect with each other and their environment. Google quotes an excellent initiative by Converse, the athletic shoes brand that is helping create air-purifying city murals. 
  • Make your business values and internal practices a visible part of your external brand. How Shiseido gives its Japanese consumers an inside view of its R&D facilities illustrates this best. 
Whole selves: Google believes that lines are blurring in the roles people play, and consumers are looking to have more specific needs met at any one time. As innovations in one industry (on-demand taxis) can drive expectations in another (on-demand groceries), the burden is on brands, not consumers, to keep up.
Work-life efficiency: Efficiency is more important than ever, as people struggle to manage work and home needs under one roof.
  • +60% in searches for “to do list”
  • +35% in searches for “childcare” compared to +10% in previous year
  • +130% in searches for “kids at home”-related activities compared to flat growth a year ago
  • Belief-driven buying: Personal beliefs and preferences are driving more buying decisions.
  • +30% for halal-related searches
  • +150% in searches related to plant based meat in Japan
  • Local language: People are seeking out brands that truly speak to them.
  • +70% in searches for “translate English to Indonesian text”
  • India saw over 90% growth in searches for “translate English to Hindi”
  • 35% of top searches in the past year were in non-English languages across key APAC markets
Google’s big take on the subject is that people bring their whole selves to your brand, not just their consumer identities. A wider understanding of a brand’s audience ultimately means a wider business opportunity. For example, the Google Report emphasizes, about 60% of Internet content is in English, but native English speakers comprise only 5.4% of the global population. Which is why Google urges brands to:
  • Speak to consumers like a local. Google in fact quotes Flipkart as a great example of vernacular voice assistance. The voice-first conversational AI platform built by Flipkart’s in-house technology team has solutions for Speech Recognition, Natural Language Understanding, Machine Translation, and Text to Speech for Indian languages. These solutions are capable of understanding vernacular languages such as Hindi, e-commerce categories and products, and tasks such as searching for a product, understanding product details, placing an order, etc. can’t get better than that.
  • Rethink your business boundaries. Google praises Hyundai’s concierge home service for its Genesis car.  
Sweet Relief: One of Google’s key learnings is that happiness never goes out of style and during adversity consumers especially welcome brands that spark joy in their lives and create a safe space for them to take a break. Consumers are discovering new kinds of downtime.
  • +1900% in searches for “staycation” (Hong Kong, by the way, was the top global market for this search)
  • +700% in searches for “drive in theater” in Japan
  • +55% in searches for “mukbang” eating shows in Malaysia 
  • Small indulgences: Small indulgences are big, especially when times are tough
  • +25% in searches for “chocolate” compared to +5% the previous year. This statistic comes from Pakistan but one can be sure consumers all over were seeking comfort in small indulgences as mentioned before
  • +125% in searches for “gaming chair” in Thailand
  • +65% in searches for plant-related terms like "plant rack" and "indoor plants". My wife would certainly agree with that data point from Thailand
  • Sharing love: Social distancing is inspiring creative ways to share the love
  • +95% in searches for “balloon delivery” in Singapore compared to previous flat growth 
  • +50% in searches for “adopt a puppy” compared to previous flat growth
  • +60% in searches for “where to use gift certificates”
Google’s hypothesis is that brands that surprise and delight can reap the rewards of consumer love – especially when they do it with empathy for people's unique experiences and challenge.
Google suggests to brands that they understand their consumers' point of view to make things fun in a more personal way. Google here quotes its own example for work done on Avengers. In conjunction with the release of Avengers: Endgame, Google had a special Easter egg for users last year.If you searched the term 'Thanos' on Google and clicked on the Infinity Gauntlet icon the right, the icon would animate into the Thanos infamous finger-snap that wiped out half the universe's population in the previous Avengers: Infinity War film. Fortunately for users, the finger-snap on the Google browser would only eliminate half of the search results. So you could sit back and watch the results disintegrate into dust. And if you clicked on the Infinity Gauntlet icon again and the results would return!
Humour works. So Google says be funny, too. (In good taste, of course!). Google mentions Mars chocolates’ Sticky Searcuations as a winner of an idea.
Future Proofing: Google’s last big learning from 2020 is that in a year that nobody could have predicted or planned for, there's been a new wave of interest in managing the things you can control, future-proofing our lives wherever possible and seeking more assurance from brands to ensure peace of mind.
  • Economic prospects: People are strengthening their economic prospects by boosting their skills, financial knowledge, and side hustles
  • +35% in searches for “stock investing” compared to -10% in previous year in Vietnam. Must have been pretty much the same elsewhere too
  • +400% in searches for “fundamentals of digital marketing” from previous year's flat growth. Not surprisingly, this surge was from India
  • +215% in searches for “side business remote” from previous year's flat growth In Japan. India would not have been far behind
  • Health management: Proactive health management is on the rise
  • +60% (New Zealand) and +116% (Australia) in searches for “blue light glasses”
  • +160% in searches for “maintain health”
  • +20% in searches for “benefits of” solutions such as alternative medicine, from previous year's flat growth
Google urges brands to account for their consumers’ desire for peace of mind, lower appetite for risk, and forward-planning mindset when crafting business strategy and communications. Future lessons therefore: 
Nett nett, the overall learnings of the report can be summed up as follows: 
1. Nods to diversity, equity, and inclusion aren't enough. It takes empathy for the sheer variety of situations consumers face, and authentic outreach to those seeking help – both that impact the experiences for your brand.
2. Expand your territories to make meaningful connections with (and for) consumers, beyond traditional corporate social responsibility. Actively support their communities and integrate sustainability into your brand values.
3. Challenge your business to reexamine and redefine traditional industry norms. A wider understanding of human needs means a wider business opportunity.
4. Brands that surprise and delight can reap the rewards of consumer love – especially when they do it with empathy for people's unique experiences and challenges.
5. Account for your consumers' desire for peace of mind, lower appetite for risk, and forward-planning mindset when crafting your business strategy and communications.
This concludes the three-part series on the Google Report. 
Dr. Sandeep Goyal is chairman, Mogaé Media. 
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