What happens when a global powerhouse like Google and a speedy physical and digital racing team like McLaren Racing join forces? Nick Drake, VP of Marketing at Google, and Louise McEwen, Executive Director of Brand & Marketing at McLaren Racing, are driving an exceptional culture of innovation within their teams and together as partners. They share how they are thinking about marketing today, strategies for tomorrow, and what makes an ideal partnership for worldwide impact.
Here is what they had to say on Visionaries and how it could influence your team, talent, and future.
- Forming a Culture of Innovation
- Celebrating Innovative Team Contributions
- The McLaren and Google Partnership
- Finding the Right Partnerships
- 5 Tips for Maximum Innovation
Forming a Culture of Innovation
Louise McEwen: I’ve been at McLaren Racing for five years and have seen our brand rapidly innovate the highest class of international race cars for Formula 1, IndyCar, Extreme E, and esports teams. When I started, we were in one race series and now we are joining our fifth. Most would expect us to innovate and operate at a rapid pace, and we do. Our data shows that we update our F1 car every 17 minutes, 365 days a year. We have a brand provenance of 60 years, embedded in innovation, which started with our founder, Bruce McLaren. In 1981, McLaren pioneered the first carbon monocoque (a structural skin that protects the driver), which became ubiquitous to all racing teams, saved numerous lives, and improved racing capabilities by significantly reducing the overall weight of the car. Fast forward to Lockdown, our innovative mentality enabled us to transform our Formula 1 production line to produce 200 ventilators daily for the UK government. That’s the racing mentality in us, the race never stops, and there’s no finish line.
Nick Drake: Innovation sits at the heart of Google’s company culture. Our mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful; we constantly seek new ways to do that. Employees are encouraged to do “20-Percent-Projects”, where 20% of their time is dedicated to new, innovative projects outside of their core responsibilities. We also encourage our team to extract learnings from failure. By quickly acknowledging where things haven’t worked out, it encourages our employees to learn so that they can go into the next iteration quickly.
Celebrating Innovative Team Contributions
Nick Drake: “Real Tone” is one of the most incredible things that came out of our “20% time”. The Pixel 6 phone can now photograph each skin tone equally for the first time in history. What is most exciting to me is the genesis of this innovation. A young man on my team, Florian Koenigsberger, was 25 years old when he started spending his 20% time on this project. When he was photographing himself or people who looked like him, the quality wouldn’t appear the same as people of lighter skin tones. He requested to spend his time trying to understand why, and traced it back to the invention of Kodak’s “Shirley” cards in the 1950s. Unfortunately, unconscious biases affected color references, and color correction was placed into the film, whether it was still or moving.
Florian worked with a group of engineers at Google to redefine the photo reference library. They optimized the hardware and the AI (Artificial Intelligence) we use to process pictures, and we adopted a new skin tone scale called the Monk scale with ten delineations of skin tone color.
We feel most pride as a marketing team when we develop insights that help our engineering and product partners with their product roadmap. Florian’s discovery is an excellent example of a curious mind delving over five years into an important subject matter, which has turned into a profoundly important innovation, elements of which Google will open source over time. I’ve enjoyed observing and supporting Florian on his path to success. His work culminated not only in the launch of the Google Pixel 6 phone, but he was a Grand Prix winner at Cannes. We were grateful to celebrate his innovative success.
Louise McEwen: I am incredibly proud of our in-house content team which has produced short-form content like, “McLaren Unboxed”, mirroring the success and fan accessibility of our Netflix series, “Drive to Survive.” From a fan perspective, we can’t help but see the positive impact born out of the series. Whenever I go out, the first thing people say to me is, “Oh my God, Drive to Survive!” and it’s usually young women who want to know more and have seen the show. Drive to Survive has opened up our sport and made it more accessible. We’re lucky as a team to have three incredible personalities who shine through on the show; Lando Norris, Daniel Ricciardo, and our CEO, Zak Brown.
The McLaren and Google Partnership
Louise McEwen: When we talk about our partnership with Google, how can I not start off with the Chrome wheel covers, like everyone else is talking about, it seems! Our in-house Creative studio enjoyed working with the Google team as we ideated, looked at the overall identity, and watched Chrome wheel covers come to life. The wheels were one of those genius moments where we could authentically apply the brand. We were the first team to utilize this touch point, and what better than to do so with Chrome’s distinctive branding. It created noise and disruption up and down the paddock. Now Nick and I are dreaming up where to go next!
Nick Drake: This whole partnership started because, as a marketeer, I have to consider what will get our users excited about the first forays into what Google calls the Ambient Age, where our devices, fueled by AI, will understand the context of human behavior and help make processes more manageable; particularly, in the Android ecosystem.
While we were thinking of how to showcase ambient computing to our users, Formula 1 racing came to mind, and we especially admired McLaren’s ambition to be a data-driven team. Immediately, we were driven by how we could help McLaren by bringing AI to their Telemetrics [the science and technology of automatic measurement and transmission of data by wire or radio (American Heritage, 2011)], and speed up levels of their communication with Android 5G. We thought it would be a fantastic opportunity to demonstrate ambient computing by helping the team understand what’s happening during a race, enabling them to communicate faster and more clearly, and allowing them to quickly appraise various things about the car.
Finding the Right Partnerships
Nick Drake: More than McLaren’s background in innovation, their human values were significant as we considered organizations to partner with. From a sustainability perspective, McLaren had the same aspirations and goals as Google, and they were the first Formula 1 team to achieve significant benchmarks on their journey. They’ve also done considerable work on gender equality, which aligns with our values. They are profoundly kind people, which matters when forming a partnership. We love spending time with everybody at McLaren; they treat all their partners like family members.
Louise McEwen: A successful partnership is about those shared values, and innovation is essential. Having a partnership with Google, one of the top ten brands in the world, provides an incredible opportunity for us to learn from them and offer our unique global platform in return, spanning 23 races per year, in Formula 1 and our Extreme E series.
Google’s diverse portfolio of products and services makes that connected journey better for our race team but also enables us to send vast amounts of data back in real-time to the McLaren Technology Centre during a race weekend. That said, it’s not only about car performance but also the human element. We’re the only race team that has published a Sustainability Report [..it focuses on four key pillars: Net Zero; Circular Economy; Diversity, Equality & Inclusion; and Health and Wellbeing (McLaren, 2022)], which shows our commitment to the sport and uses our platform to drive change for a better future. It’s exciting that there are Google products that can help us maintain the sustainability agenda and promote well-being for our entire team.
💡 5 Tips for Maximum Innovation
By Louise McEwen and Nick Drake
- Have specific objectivity about what you’re trying to achieve.
- Celebrate successes when you have them.
- Pick brand partners with shared values.
- Add value to your partnerships and help one another win.
- Prioritize building a close relationship with your partners.
Visionaries, hosted by Nadine Dietz, airs every Tuesday at 9 AM PT and is brought to you in partnership with The Wall Street Journal. Each week, two new visionaries share their game plan and how that impacts today’s teams, talent, and hybrid work environment.
Louise McEwen, Executive Director, Brand & Marketing, McLaren Racing:
Louise McEwen is Executive Director, Brand & Marketing at McLaren Racing, responsible for the narrative and strategy of the brand while also overseeing the creative visual identity of the team’s entire racing portfolio. Louise began working with McLaren as a consultant in 2014 before joining as Brand Director in 2017, a role that grew to comprise strategy and marketing and now represents a pillar of the commercial leadership team. Before joining McLaren, Louise was at Vodafone Group for nine years, working across its global sponsorship properties and brand experiences, including the title partnership with Vodafone McLaren Mercedes. Louise has also been agency-side, working at Octagon Sports Marketing on many sports and entertainment platforms. Louise has a degree in Sports Science & Social Science from Loughborough University.
Nick Drake, Vice President, Global Marketing, Google:
As Vice President of Platforms & Ecosystems Marketing, Nick oversees global marketing for some of Google’s key products and services, including Android, Developers, Partner Marketing, Chrome browser, Chrome OS, Education, Enterprise, and Google Play. Nick has more than 20 years of marketing and advertising experience on the agency side at TBWA/Chiat/Day and at major brands, including Adidas and Quicksilver. Before joining Google, Nick served in several leadership roles at T-Mobile as a member of its Senior Leadership team, including Executive Vice President, Chief Innovation Officer, and Executive Vice President of Marketing & Experience. Nick started his career as a professional rugby player and England Sevens representative.
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